20 April 2001 Honorary Doctorate for Te Mata Estate Winery Head
Contributions to the growth of the New Zealand wine industry by Te Mata Estate Winery chief John Buck will be acknowledged with the award of an honorary Doctor of Commerce degree by Lincoln University at its Graduation Ceremony in Christchurch Town Hall on Friday 27 April.
Buck purchased Te Mata in 1974 after earlier years in wine retailing and wholesaling and study in Britain and Europe. Ancestrally it is New Zealand's oldest winery and early last century it was also the country's largest winery.
Today Te Mata's Coleraine Cabernet/Merlot is regarded as among the country's top reds and its Elston Chardonnay ranks among the best white wines.
Buck's wines fulfil his belief, stated 30 years ago in his book Take A Little Wine that New Zealand wines are perfectly able to stand on their own merits internationally. And he proves it by exporting his wine to 17 overseas markets.
As chairman of the Wine Institute of New Zealand at the start of the 1990s he and institute CEO Philip Gregan transformed the organisation into the modern, corporate-style body it is today. He remains a member of the Institute's Resource Management Committee.
In addition to having chaired the Wine Institute he is a past chairman of Hawkes Bay Vintners and a past chairman of what is now the Air New Zealand Wine Awards.
He is a wine consultant to Air New Zealand and a member of Lincoln University's Viticulture and Oenology Industry Advisory Group, the linking body between the University's Centre for Viticulture and Oenology and the industry.
Known in the industry as a great visionary who also has a remarkable ability to get things done, John Buck set out in the late 1970s to make great red wine. He did it and established the standard for everyone else in the industry.
Beyond wine Buck has a wide involvement in community affairs and the arts. He initiated the Hawkes Bay Charity Wine Auction to fund the local hospice, Cranford; he initiated and continues to sponsor the New Zealand Poet Laureate scheme; he has commissioned work by leading New Zealand artists; he hosts opera productions at Te Mata; he is a past member of the Hawkes Bay Regional Development Council and a past member of the Hawkes Bay Rugby Union, of which he was Advisory Board Chairman and a director.
John Buck's Lincoln degree follows the award of a New Zealand Commemoration Medal in 1990, an OBE in 1995 and a Fellowship of the Wine Institute of New Zealand last year.
Citation: Doctor of Commerce (honoris causa) John Kenneth Buck
Madam Chancellor –
Lincoln University wishes to acknowledge a singular contribution to a remarkable industry with the award of the degree Doctor of Commerce (honoris causa) to John Kenneth Buck of Te Mata Estate Winery, Hawkes Bay.
John's contribution to the New Zealand wine industry has already been recognised by the award of a 1990 Commemoration Medal and, in the Queen's Birthday Honours List of 1995, an OBE.
Then, last year, he was honoured again, with the rare distinction of a Fellowship of the Wine Institute of New Zealand.
Primary production in New Zealand in the latter half of the 20th century saw many hitherto minor industries and activities blaze new trails of domestic and export-earning brilliance. Prominent among them was winemaking.
In a remarkable example of what can happen in less time than the biblical three score years and ten, wine consumption in New Zealand moved from a mere half-bottle per capita per year in 1950 to more than 15 bottles per head per year by the end of the century. And the export situation was equally spectacular, going from virtually nil in the 1950s to 19.1 million litres by 2000!
Of course grape-growing and wine-making has been going on in New Zealand for longer than three score years and ten. In fact the man we honour today is the inheritor of New Zealand's oldest winery, founded in 1896. But the industry we know today is an example of how, with imagination, enterprise and energy, a new product from primary production – the growing and harvesting of grapes, making· use of New Zealand's soils and climates – can become a winner in just one lifetime.
As mentioned, John Buck operates what is ancestrally New Zealand's oldest winery, established in the 1890s by a Bernard Chambers. It was once too – in Edwardian times – New Zealand's largest winery. Known today as Te Mata, it was acquired by John and Wendy Buck, with business partners Michael and June Morris, in 1974.
Its purchase was a defining moment in John's life for earlier he had announced to friends that he intended to "shake up" the New Zealand wine industry.
The move to Te Mata followed a period with the Douglas Myers' family company Campbell & Ehrenfried in Auckland, which in tum had followed a period in his own wine retailing and wholesaling businesses in Wellington. And before that there was wine study in Britain and Europe and work with wine merchants in London.
Friends describe John as a "great visualiser", a "big picture" man, who once he has a clear impression in his head of what he wants to do goes on to show that he also has the application and capacity for detailed work to achieve it.
This he did with Te Mata. Bought after an eight-year search for somewhere to fulfil his dream, it was run down and in a state of faded glory on purchase. Nevertheless, it possessed valuable characteristics in a Bordeaux-like climate and long-growing season. John took these attributes and transformed the property into one of New Zealand's finest wineries.
Te Mata's Coleraine Cabernet/Merlot is widely regarded as among the country's top reds. For two years in a row its cabernet sauvignon component won the top national award for reds, although Te Mata has not entered competitions since 1982. Similarly, among the whites, Te Mata's Elston Chardonnay ranks among the country's best.
John's wines fulfil his own belief, stated back in 1969 in his book "Take A Little Wine" that, vis a vis the overseas product, New Zealand wines are "perfectly able to stand on their own merits" and proving the point he now exports his wine to 17 overseas markets.
A pragmatic, practical streak has always characterised John's activities.
As Wine Institute CEO Philip Gregan has said: "John set out in the late 1970s to make great red wine. He did it and established the standard for everyone else in the industry. He did it for himself, but he also did it for the industry."
Another colleague notes likewise: "John achieves and does the job. But he is also very dedicated in ensuring that the industry as a whole benefits."
He has a high standard of expectation of his staff, but asks neither more nor less than what he himself would do. He aims at the pinnacle of achievement and to produce the best product available.
Described too as a "political animal", John thrives on wine industry politics and in this area his contribution has been substantial.
Coming to the Chairmanship of the Wine Institute in 1991, he and CEO Philip Gregan formed a "wonderful team" transforming the old committee based organisation into the modern, corporate-style body it is today, representing all licensed New Zealand grape wine makers, and although now retired from the Board he remains a member of its Resource Management Committee.
In addition to being a past chairman of the Wine Institute he is also a past chairman of Hawkes Bay Vintners, a past chairman of judges at what is now the Air New Zealand Wine Awards, and he is as well a wine consultant to Air New Zealand.
In relation to Lincoln University, John is a member of the Lincoln University Viticulture and Oenology Industry Advisory Group which is the linking body between our Centre for Viticulture and Oenology and the industry.
When the University was establishing this group we looked around for influential people in the wine industry and John was an obvious inclusion. His service is highly valued, as is his role as host at Te Mata when Lincoln viticulture and oenology students go on their annual field trip. The educational visits to Te Mata are always regarded as a highlight and John takes a keen interest to ensure that the students derive the greatest possible educational benefit from their visit.
Madam Chancellor, in all of these areas John has excelled.
First of all, scholarship: He learnt all he could about his subject, then wrote a book about it.
Secondly, practical application: He went out, bought a winery and has set national benchmarks with his production from it.
Thirdly, industry politics: He has always involved himself closely in industry affairs and activities and he helped transform the Wine Institute into the dynamic effective, business-like body it is today.
Fourthly, education: He is helping to lay the foundation for the emergence of the next generation of wine producers through membership of Lincoln University's industry advisory group and through hosting student field trip visits to his property.
And he isn't slowing down. Building starts in October this year on his next winery, Woodthorpe Terraces.
And as if this weren't sufficient, there are many further sides to John. He has an immense breadth of community involvement outside his specialist area. He has shown himself _ to be the "good citizen" as well as the exemplary winemaker. He initiated the Hawkes Bay Charity Wine Auction to fund Cranford, the local hospice. He initiated and continues to sponsor the New Zealand Poet Laureate scheme. He has commissioned work by various artists including Ralph Hotere, Grahame Sydney and Ion Brown. All his building work is undertaken by close friend Ian Athfield. For three years in the 1980s he was a Hawkes Bay Regional Development Council member, and for five years in the 1990s he was on the Hawkes Bay Rugby Union, first as Advisory Board chairman then as a director. Indeed we have heard it said that he had a role in getting current All Black coach Wayne Smith to return to New Zealand from Italy to be available for the position when it opened up.
So, while "rugby, racing and wine" doesn't yet have the ring of that older, better known refrain, we are sure John's persistence will one day see it accepted into the lexicon of Kiwi quotations.
May I present John Kenneth Buck for admission to the degree Doctor of Commerce, honoris causa.
Ian Collins, Journalist, Lincoln University, Canterbury, New Zealand