Nick Nobilo’s Vinoptima produces Gewurztraminer from deep, rich, alluvial clay soils in inland Poverty Bay. The pumpkins growing through the fence next door tell a tale of fertility. Vinoptima Estate (right); Warren Moran (farright) characteristics. They are extremely young, most being deposited since 1930 when accelerated erosion in the headwaters resulted in regular flooding at an average of more than one flood a year for the following 20 years before flood control was in place. The deposited materials aggraded the Gisborne Plain with layers of sediment. These regular floods restricted vegetation growth so that organic matter and nitrogen in the soils was initially low.
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But with the fine sediments also came lime (calcium carbonate). Pullar suggests that with every 8 centimetres of silt deposited came about 25 tonnes of lime per hectare. The high calcium of the Waipaoa soils means that they take up water in winter and dry out in summer. Vines are able to perform in this regime especially if the reduction in soil moisture occurs slowly. Indeed it may be an advantage if, as the season advances and ripening of grapes proceeds, the vines access deeper soil moisture and nutrients. Managing the available nitrogen in the vineyard and in the wine is important, but possible here, given that in many soils it started out low. Now that flooding is better controlled, cover cropping and other organic practices are common and grape growers are managing the nitrogen status of these soils.
Other soils of the flood plain are older and deeper with better-developed topsoils largely because they have been inundated less frequently and have been consistently growing crops for longer. These include the five phases of the Matawhero soils and the seven phases of the Waiherere soils that Pullar identified. In addition, he recognised a separate group of soils (with nine categories within it) that he called ‘gleyed recent soils’. These are sticky, clay-based soils. Most needed artificial drainage before they were suitable for cropping or intensive grazing. The Poverty Bay flats present, therefore, a more subtle diversity of soils than many other winegrowing regions of New Zealand.
Enterprises in the New Zealand filiere: wine producers and grape growers
The intense competition between Montana and Corbans that enlivened New Zealand winegrowing during the last four decades of the twentieth century was sparked in Auckland, lit in Gisborne in the late 1960s, before jumping Cook Strait to Marlborough in 1973. By far the most important stimulus to growing grapes in Gisborne was the decision by Montana, followed closely by Corbans and other Auckland wine enterprises, to expand aggressively there by letting contracts to local grape growers. Gisborne was the first region where the two companies were in direct competition for grapes, although Frank Yukich had already begun to use his West Auckland connections to buy grapes from anyone who would sell them. But things moved quickly and by 1973 Yukich had extended Montana’s interest to the South Island and Corbans again followed. Despite Montana planting rapidly in Marlborough, Gisborne continued to have a larger area in vines. Not until the early 1990s did Marlborough’s vineyard reach 2000 hectares, an area that Gisborne and Hawke’s Bay had both attained in the early 1980s.
The form that the New Zealand wine filiere would take for the next half-century emerged in Gisborne in the late 1960s. The rapid growth of New Zealand winegrowing required considerable capital for both vineyards and cellars. Wine companies offloaded some viticultural costs and responsibilities by offering contracts to landowners interested in growing grapes, but as mentioned above, Corbans was the only Auckland wine enterprise to buy land in Gisborne and plant grapes on it. This family – almost communal – company continued to act as it always had, assessing land carefully and proceeding cautiously, even planting a small experimental vineyard with a wide range of varieties on each site that it purchased. In 1969, Corbans purchased a total of 121 acres on the Poverty Bay flats (almost 50 hectares) – 76 acres on Riverpoint Road near Matawhero and 45 acres off Bond Road in Ormond.