At home, Bill Irwin had recognised that the varieties and clones available in New Zealand were unlikely to result in wines of the style and quality that they were seeking. By the early 1970s his letter writing and discussions internationally and with government scientists were beginning to bear fruit. He had selected a number of the varieties and clones that were to become the foundation of the Irwin vineyard, notably UCD7 Cabernet Sauvignon and UCD4 Gewurztraminer. By now, these and several others were out of quarantine, a number virus free, and established in the Irwin vineyard. As well as planting their own vineyard, Bill separated the various varieties and clones in a number of rows and made the wood available to the industry. His selection and importing continued for a second round in the late 1970s, concentrating on clones of Merlot, Malbec and Pinot Noir, which added to the library of New Zealand varieties.
New Zealand On A World Map Photo Gallery
Denis Irwin returned from his OE in 1973, made his first what he calls ‘sort of homemade wine in 1974, and by 1975 was on his own. Andrew Ewart, another Gisborne Department of Agriculture employee, helped him with the chemistry. The Irwin Gewurztraminers, Chardonnays and Cabernet Sauvignons captured consumers and wine judges alike. Two years after making his first commercial wine, his 1977 Gewurztraminer was fourth in that class at the World Wine Show in Paris, and his 1980 Chardonnay was ninth in New York out of the top 100 New World Chardonnays. His Gewurztraminers were unquestionably one of the wines that caught the attention of national and international consumers and wine writers. His own description of what he was trying to achieve is in marked contrast to the aroma-wheel and fruit-flavour descriptions that typify current wine assessment: ‘I want to be making long, elegant-style wines, with fibre. Backbone and fibre is what I’m looking for. And he was also definite about the direction in which he wanted to take his customers:
We were appealing to those people who were experienced in European styles of wine. That was really what I was basically leading the palate to – especially with the Chardonnays.
Denis Irwin made his first forays into international marketing with a tasting in Los Angeles in 1979 and Japan and Hong Kong in 1980 and 1981. Although he discovered strong interest in his wines, he found it difficult to establish reliable distributors, largely because he was not producing the volume they required. With the New Zealand market tightening in the mid-1980s he made the decision to develop his Australian market through Melbourne rather than Sydney. This venture developed much more impetus than originally intended when he discovered Gisborne, Victoria and bought 200 acres of land there with the idea of trading on having vine and wine enterprises in both countries. He also purchased a hotel in Melbourne, the Rose of Australia, as a means of improving the cash flow of his businesses and as one avenue for his distribution. It listed 300 wines for sale by the glass, and Denis became quite an identity in the Melbourne wine and food scene.
While in Australia, Denis was fortunate to have the talented Hatsch Kalberer as the Matawhero winemaker. Bill Irwin had died in 1985. Denis returned to Gisborne, New Zealand and Matawhero for the 1989 vintage. Extracting himself from his Australian investments had taken effort and time but he had come out of the experience debt free. But Matawhero Wines was not in good financial health. Putting his Australian restaurant experience to use, he started Scottie’s Bar and Grill in a former bank building to provide the cash flow to get the wine business back on its feet. However, in 1994, Denis and his wife had a serious accident driving home to Gisborne from Hawke’s Bay in a hailstorm. They both recovered from the accident and Denis worked again in the vineyard and winery, but in attempting to move the vineyard to being organic and reducing spraying he struggled to control the fungus diseases. New owners, the Searle family, took over the winery and in 2009 announced that they were rebuilding the Matawhero brand.