Throughout the 1960s, the Corban family continued to expand their footprint in West Auckland. In 1969, they bought 121 acres in Taupaki. Here the family (from left, Khaleel, Wadier, Assid, and Najib, and on right, David and Joe) bless the new plantings. Marti Friedlander, Auckland War Memorial Museum – Tamaki Paenga Hira, PH-2008-4 larger area in vines than any other region. As well as planting its own vines, Montana again let contracts to landowners in the region. The Marlborough bonanza had commenced. By 2000 it was growing over 40 per cent of New Zealand’s grapes and by 2010 over 60 per cent.
Several economic and environmental advantages favoured the expansion in Marlborough. By viticultural standards, land prices there were low because the Wairau Plain was being converted from quite extensive sheep farming with some cropping and commercial seed production, and large areas of land were available. Marlborough’s low annual rainfall, long growing season and mainly well-drained soils of low to moderate fertility suited many varieties of vines, although uncertain rainfall demanded irrigation, especially in their establishment phase. Most growers continued to irrigate, in difficult periods and with careful monitoring, even after the vines were established.
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Although regional shifts were occurring, all major grape-growing regions – Gisborne, Hawke’s Bay and Marlborough – grew rapidly in the late 1970s and early 1980s. For instance, in the five years between 1980 and 1985, both Gisborne and Hawke’s Bay each added over 1000 hectares to their area in grapes – a rate of growth that surpassed that of Marlborough. The rapid expansion of the early 1980s had its detrimental effects. Intense competition for a share of the market saw prices for wine in New Zealand plummet in the mid-1980s. That drove a number of companies into receivership and led to several takeovers and mergers. In 1986 the government sponsored a vine-pull scheme as an economic remedy, providing a subsidy of $6,175 per hectare to remove vines. This response was quite uncharacteristic of the neo-liberal Labour government elected in 1984 and indicates the lobbying power of firms in the wine and liquor industry at that time. The total direct subsidy for the vine-pull scheme was almost NZ$10 million. Growers removed over 1500 hectares ofvines, most of it from Gisborne (586 ha), Hawke’s Bay (534 ha), the South Island (210 ha) and Auckland (162 ha).
In retrospect, the vine-pull scheme was an unexpected opportunity for the wine industry. By the mid-1980s, viticultural knowledge and practice in New Zealand had improved considerably. The scheme encouraged some wine companies and grape growers to change the varieties of grapes they were growing, to improve the virus status of their vines, to find a better combination of rootstock and variety, to modify their trellising systems and to plant the best available clones. Although for many wineries problems of cash flow necessitated the uprooting of vines, the majority of enterprises quickly re-established their area in grapes. Some grape growers took the opportunity to leave the industry, but the recovery of the area in vines in the major grape-growing regions demonstrated that by far the majority of growers remained. New grape growers and wineries more than replaced those which left. By 1995, Marlborough and Hawke’s Bay both had more land in vines than ever before, and even Gisborne, where the largest area in vines had been pulled, had surpassed its 1985 total by the late 1990s.