Napier New Zealand Map

Napier New Zealand Map

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, therefore, Central Otago – not Marlborough or Wairarapa or Nelson or Hawke’s Bay – became the focus of the climate/vine debate in New Zealand. Between 1967 and 1972 the journal Wine Review (edited by Dick Scott) ran a series of articles on the Ministry of Agriculture’s grape trials on R. V. (Larry) Kinnaird’s orchard at Earnscleugh, Central Otago. Scott visited the trial and wrote four short pieces. S. J. Franklin (Horticultural Advisory Officer, Alexandra) published two articles, one in Wine Review and one in the Journal of Agriculture. Scott’s characteristically provocative piece titled ‘Otago (2) High hopes meet official caution’ exposes the tensions he perceived between the official views of the Department of Agriculture and those of the local residents and politicians. Under the heading ‘Lukewarm Officialdom’ Scott’s angle was that:

Given an ounce of encouragement there will be no shortage of individuals ready to pioneer a Central Otago viticultural industry. Sharp frosts and searing summers, isolation and irrigation – these are no deterrent to the enthusiasts Wine Review spoke to on a recent visit.

The difference between the advice of the North Island scientists at the Te Kauwhata Viticultural Research Station and the Central Otago advisory officer, Steve Franklin, is revealing. In May 1967, in answer to a written enquiry from an Otago resident interested in planting grapes, the representative of the research station replied:

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Penfolds, I am told, looked at the South Island for wine production but settled on the North Island. My advice to you is to do likewise; or at least go into your venture with the knowledge that you may come across insuperable problems.

The local view was more informed and less extreme. For a start, Franklin showed more intimate knowledge of Central Otago’s sites:

Heat trap areas are known to ripen stone fruit somewhat earlier than the average for the district. Such heat trap areas could be ideal for production of early to early-mid-season grape varieties. One has to live in Central Otago for several years, and spend time poking round the district, to get to know these spots or to realise their extent.

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