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Negotiations over the price the wine companies were prepared to pay for grapes in Marlborough were initially reasonably amicable but inevitably became contentious:
We used to like negotiating with Mate Yukich, because he was such a gentleman. And he would sit down and you’d have a few drinks with him and you could guarantee by the end of the day everyone was happy. We got into difficult circumstances with some of the CEOs of Montana and of course in later years with Peter Hubscher of quite protracted and sometimes not very nice negotiations.
The price for Marlborough Muller Thurgau during the late 1970s and early 1980s was usually ‘between $350 and $450 a tonne’. With yields over 10 tonnes per hectare, growing grapes compared favourably with the income from other crops cultivated on the Wairau Plain, although trellising and other setting-up costs were high. Phil and Chris Rose continued to grow for Montana for fifteen years.
They also kept buying and planting more land and supplying these grapes to other wineries, including Hunter’s, Nobilo, Matua Valley and Penfolds. In the vine-pull scheme of 1986 they decided to pull out their Palomino vines but these wineries convinced them to pull out their Chardonnay instead. With their higher yields and low production costs, the hybrids, and other varieties from the previous era, persisted longer than expected. Over the same winter, the Roses replaced these Chardonnay vines with cuttings of Sauvignon Blanc on their own roots. Despite the presence of phylloxera in Marlborough, in 2001 these same Sauvignon vines continued to produce their best fruit.
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To keep their enterprise viable they also sold 37 of the 257 acres they started with. Selling this land, including the house on it, recouped half of the cost of the original property. While their grapes came into bearing, they continued to use their orcharding skills to grow several other crops. These included 10 acres of apricots, 15 acres of nectarines, and until the winter of 2001, 50 acres of apples.
In 1992 the Roses bought 150 acres on Rapaura Road and a further 10 acres nearby as a possible site for their winery, because by now they fully appreciated the advantages of these more meagre soils for growing grapes, provided they could irrigate them, especially in their early years. Phil Rose evocatively refers to the Rapaura area as a ‘sort of strugglers’ flat’. He remembers this land from his childhood and how the sun burnt it off in summer and it was really just wasteland apart from ‘some quite old established orchards, many of them quite small’. Without irrigation these would have been difficult sites on which to grow grapes but Phil Rose knew much about irrigation from his experience irrigating and processing their lucerne crops. With these additional land purchases they planned to have a total of 300 acres of grapes planted by the spring of 2002 with 200 acres of it in Sauvignon Blanc.