The last two decades of the twentieth century saw the realisation of the third major stage of regional dispersion away from the two traditional regions of Auckland and Hawke’s Bay. By 2000, Canterbury (mainly the Waipara area) had replaced Auckland as the fourth largest grape-growing region in the country and both Central Otago and the Wairarapa were growing fast.
In these last two cases local landowners and purchasers whose scale is small have led the growth, with the major corporations and the medium-sized established wine companies slow to buy land or plant grapes. Canterbury, Central Otago and the Wairarapa each has a distinctive group of mainly local, pioneering firms (usually family enterprises) which both grow the grapes and make the wine. The many small vineyards in a region such as Central Otago have found innovative solutions to overcome their lack of scale. The Central Otago Wine Company, for instance, has made individual batches of wine under contract to the owners of small vineyards who market their own wine. Since the early 1990s, new capital has entered the industry in each of these regions and has increased the scale of operations.
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Since 1980, the main vineyard regions have also experienced some revealing local readjustments. The forays into new localities have been influenced by both high prices for land in the core regions and a more sophisticated search for new vine environments with the potential to make fine wines. Existing enterprises, both intra- and extra-regional, are diversifying their production by buying land in regions with special qualities for particular varieties or in localities with a different potential from their existing site. New enterprises, often with substantial capital, sometimes from overseas, are seeking their own new and distinctive sites, often in localities where the vigour of vines is lower.
Numerous examples exist of these new areas being explored within traditional regions. In Marlborough the move into the Awatere Valley to the southwest of the region is a good example. In Hawke’s Bay the planting of grapes on sites such as the upstream terraces of the Ngaruroro River or the rapid development during the 1990s of the Gimblett Road locality created another layer of local complexity. Even in the Auckland region, a new array of mainly small vineyards and wineries have appeared, this time about an hour’s drive from the northeastern edge of the city, at Matakana east of Warkworth. Simultaneously, the area in grapes and the number of wineries have increased rapidly in the prestigious Auckland locality of Waiheke Island.
Alongside this regional growth and specialisation, a corporate geography has also developed to shape the wine industry. Auckland’s position as the original home of many wineries has seen it develop into the industry’s corporate centre. Early decisions by companies such as Montana and Corbans to relocate or extend their original winery in Auckland have proved to be locationally sound. In a small economy such as New Zealand, where the major local market is concentrated in Auckland, the suppliers of bottles are in Auckland, and Auckland is the main export port for wine, it makes sense to have processing, storage and bottling facilities there.
And such decisions have affected which facilities in the filiere of the enterprise (the network which contributes to the production of fine wine) go to other regions. Montana and Corbans both had crushing plants, fermentation tanks and some storage facilities in Gisborne, Hawke’s Bay and Marlborough. When the Villa Maria group (the third largest company) was created in the mid-1980s, in addition to its Auckland winery it had two in Hawke’s Bay (now Vidal and Esk Valley). It makes wine in all three while maintaining its main bottling and distribution centre in Auckland, the home of the original Villa Maria. Some of the middle-sized wine enterprises transport grapes or partly finished wine to Auckland for finishing. By the beginning of the twenty-first century, increasing investment in wineries by medium-sized firms began to flow into the fastest-growing grape regions. Small family firms almost always have on-site wineries.