Grape growers and grape varieties on the Poverty Bay flats
The vineyards of any winegrowing enterprise evolve as more suitable varieties are discovered, new clones emerge, or the demographics of wine drinkers change and people favour different wines. Philip Gregan, CEO of New Zealand Winegrowers, talks about the influence of ‘legacy’ on the mix of grape varieties grown in different regions of New Zealand. He is referring to the varieties and clones of grapes that were available and popular when the region was first planted but have subsequently been pulled out and the vineyard replanted with other varieties. Some parcels of the previously popular varieties almost always remain from the period when different dynamics were driving the taste of consumers.
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Nowhere is this legacy influence stronger than in Gisborne. It was the first of the ‘new’ regions to supply the emerging table wine production of the late 1960s. In addition, it was the first region where Auckland wineries recruited grape growers in large numbers to supply them. Farmers, booksellers, accountants, iwi, lawyers, teachers, hydrology consultants and 10-acre block holders responded enthusiastically and planted grapes. Their impact was well documented. The Ministry of Agriculture published five surveys of New Zealand viticulture at five-yearly intervals from 1960
The tonnes per hectare is an underestimate because a proportion of grapes in each region were not bearing as the vines had recently been planted to 1980. Frank Berrysmith, its Horticultural Advisory Officer (Viticulture), authored those of 1960 and 1970 which appeared in the New Zealand Journal of Agriculture, but the 1975 account, published as a booklet, is especially useful because it distinguishes grapes being grown for wine from grapes grown in glasshouses and outdoors to be consumed as fresh fruit. It also separates and tabulates grapes grown by landowners to sell to wineries and grapes grown by the wine enterprises themselves (Table 5.1).
The 1975 report captures the growth of the industry two years after grapes had been planted in Marlborough. Between 1965 and 1970, the area of vines in Poverty Bay grew from 27 to 278 hectares. By 1975 it had reached 612 hectares and was the fastest-growing vineyard region in New Zealand. Auckland still had 750 hectares planted but had reached its peak and was about to decline. Hawke’s Bay’s vineyard had started to increase, but with only 537 hectares of grapes had been passed by Gisborne. While Marlborough is present in the table, the rows and columns for its production are blank because the grapes are not yet bearing, although the report does document (in remarkable detail) that 175 hectares of grapes have been planted in the emerging region. Its vineyard then consisted of 323,542 vinifera vines and only 76 hybrid vines (vinifera x labrusca crosses). At 1850 vines per hectare, the planting is at conventional spacing for the time. It reflects the width of tractors and other machinery available in New Zealand rather than judgements of yield per hectare or per vine.
By the mid-1970s the regional pattern of the ratio of vinifera to hybrid grapes shows a strong north-to-south trend. Only in Northland and Auckland are hybrid varieties close to or above 50 per cent of the vineyard. Further south, the vinifera varieties are more than 70 per cent of the vineyard in all regions – even in the Waikato where vines planted in the Te Kauwhata Viticultural Research Station influence the result. Thirty-five per cent of Northland’s vines were viniferas, 53 per cent in Auckland, 71 per cent in the Waikato (Mangatangi and Te Kauwhata), 81 per cent in Gisborne (referred to as Poverty Bay in the original table), and 80 per cent in Hawke’s Bay. Marlborough’s 99 per cent of vinifera vines is a remarkable adjustment in a very short time. A few years earlier, companies had been recommending that Gisborne growers plant a proportion of their vineyard in hybrid vines. By 1975 the national total was viniferas 72 per cent and hybrids 28 per cent. The days of planting hybrid grapes were over despite their resistance to disease in the more humid climates of the North Island and their variable resistance to phylloxera.
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