Responsible for kickstarting premium red wine production in New Zealand, Te Mata’s Peter Cowley has done much to make its chardonnays a success, too.
"I’m a Bordeaux man, always have been,” confesses Peter Cowley whose understanding of blended red wines is in hot demand. We judged together recently at the NZ International Wine Competition and when Cowley commented on wines in the cabernet sauvignon and merlot classes other judges listened. For more than three decades he has produced New Zealand’s most iconic wine, Te Mata Coleraine, a super-stylish red that is currently a blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot and cabernet franc.
Cowley joined Te Mata as their sole winemaker in 1984, two year’s after Coleraine’s inaugural vintage. At that time New Zealand had a modest reputation for its ability to make decent white wine, but the country was not even on the map as a red wine producer. That all changed when Coleraine arrived. It represented a coming of age for New Zealand red wine.
Cowley’s future career as a winemaker was sparked during high school while working part-time washing dishes at an Auckland restaurant. A wine waiter at the restaurant shared his enthusiasm and any leftover wine at the end of each shift. Cowley began to read about wine and to hunt around for new labels to satisfy his thirst for knowledge. He completed a Bachelor of Science (Chemistry) at Auckland University and then a Graduate Diploma in Wine from Roseworthy College, near Adelaide. He was awarded the inaugural Hazelgrove Scholarship, which involved microbiology research projects at the Australian Wine Research Institute. After a vintage at Rouge Homme Winery in Coonawarra, under John Vickery, Peter returned to New Zealand.
A thoughtful, decisive and very experienced winemaker, Cowley is quick to credit others in the team for the company’s success as a super-premium winery. “Te Mata is reasonably small,” he explains. “Our winemaking/viticultural team of four share an office. We get on very well together and work well as a team. There is no room for big egos.” Cowley’s job title is technical director. His right-hand man is Phil Brodie, a registered valuer who had an epiphany, went to university in Wagga Wagga and gained a winemaking degree. Marty Wallace is assistant winemaker and Larry Morgan is Te Mata’s viticulturist.
Cowley may be a “Bordeaux man” but he also has a passion for the wines of the northern Rhône. Te Mata Bullnose Syrah is a Rhône-style red with subtle power and distinctive floral characters. Cowley is part owner of the Bullnose vineyard with Te Mata partner, Michael Morris.
To avoid any suggestion that Cowley is totally fixated on red wine, it is worth noting that chardonnay is high on his list of wines and that he has made a significant contribution to the success of Te Mata Elston Chardonnay.