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Vineyards alongside natural and built drainage of the Wairau Plain
Soils of the Wairau Plain were completed, this water spilled out from the Wairau and along the shallow floodway of the Opawa River and over the plain. In the waning of the most recent glaciation, about 20,000 years ago, the volume of water would have been much greater and the gradient of the river steeper because sea level was lower and the Cloudy Bay shoreline 40 kilometres or more further east.
Coarse gravels from this period of aggradation are more than 300 metres deep, underlying the younger alluvia that are the parent materials of the soils of the Wairau Plain. These soils can be best understood as deriving from the fans of the main rivers -the Wairau from the west and the Waihopai, Omaka, Fairhall and Taylor from the south. From Blenheim for about 5 kilometres towards Cloudy Bay are swamp deposits to the north and lagoon deposits to the south. Beach deposits in a crescent-like shape are also about 5 kilometres wide at the line of the Wairau diversion which runs from State Highway 1 at Tuamarina direct to Cloudy Bay.
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All soils of the Wairau Plain are, therefore, derived from post-glacial alluvium or beach deposits. They are young. The oldest are those of the undissected higher terraces of the Southern Valleys where dates on the Taylor fan have them at less than 4000 years. The soils of the higher flood plains parallel to the Wairau, Waihopai and other rivers are more recent and mainly gravelly (Figure 7.3). The large, delta-like area of younger terraces from Renwick to the beach deposits is mainly younger than 1000 years. In general, the alluvial sediments in the soils of these younger terraces become finer closer to the sea. This is especially the case where the recent natural course of the Wairau turns sharply towards the southeast near Spring Creek. Within each of these broad categories up to fourteen soils have been identified and described, but even these do not capture the complexity of soils found on some single vineyards of just 50 hectares.
The Yukich gamble?
Inside the cover of a manila folder dated July 1973 are listed the nine properties that John Marris helped Frank Yukich buy for Montana over ten days and nights (Table 7.1). The third protagonist – and a very influential one – was Wayne Thomas. Formerly a government plant scientist in the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research in Auckland, he was now in charge of national viticulture for Montana. Thomas assembled the evidence that convinced Yukich that Marlborough was the place for Montana to expand its vineyard. Frank Yukich had already toyed with buying in Hawke’s Bay, but land was too expensive there, especially when local owners got wind of his intentions.
Their reconnaissance on the ground in Marlborough was clandestine and hasty – far from the meticulous field analysis that might be expected for such a major investment. As John Marris described it: