Hawke’s Bay, with its much lower precipitation (under 800 mm compared with over 1400 mm in West Auckland), lower humidity and higher sunshine hours, is a more suitable natural environment for growing grapes to make table wine. In addition, its soils are more varied and versatile. They include loams, clays and river-deposited gravels.
These natural advantages of Hawke’s Bay became clear from the 1960s when table wines became more important. But the heavier soils and higher precipitation in West Auckland have not precluded excellent wines being produced there, provided the standard of vineyard management and vinification is high.
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Enterprises such as Kumeu River Wines have persistently demonstrated these capacities. Moreover, West Auckland Dallies were to continue to have a major role to play in the evolution and resilience of the New Zealand wine industry.
In addition to the concentrations of viticulture in West Auckland and Hawke’s Bay, two other smaller nodes are worth noting – Te Kauwhata and Gisborne. They had different origins and different local economies in the 1950s. The establishment of New Zealand’s Viticultural Research Station at Te Kauwhata in 1902, with Italian-educated viticulturist Romeo Bragato heading it, had stimulated the area’s viticulture and winemaking, but also orcharding and other smallholdings. By 1960, Te Kauwhata was growing primarily table grapes (Albany Surprise) and apples, although some wine.
In the early days of the New Zealand industry, bushy vines produced grapes in great quantity. Dick Scott Collection, Auckland War Memorial Museum – Tamaki Paenga Hira, PH-2008-4 was being made in the locality. This research station remained active until the middle decades of the twentieth century and Te Kauwhata later received a temporary stimulus when Cooks Wines, founded by the Auckland entrepreneur David Lucas, planted vines there in 1969 before establishing a modern winery in the 1970s.
Gisborne had a much smaller area in vines in 1960, with the Wohnsiedlers of German origin growing 20 hectares of grapes and making wine there. Wattie’s established a vegetable processing plant on the Poverty Bay flats in the 1950s which stimulated horticulture more generally, and many smallholders on the Gisborne Plain became skilled in growing fruit, vegetables and other crops. Gisborne was to play a key role in the initial establishment of modern New Zealand winegrowing in the 1960s, 1970s and into the 1980s.