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Gisborne was also one site where the brewing companies and wine and spirits wholesale and retail outlets took a renewed commercial interest in wine producers. They were seeking to colonise the filiere by taking a financial interest in selected producers who supplied them with wine. For almost 50 years the Wohnsiedler family’s wine business in Gisborne had been marketing its port and sherry to hotels via the licensed trade. In 1960 it was in need of capital to continue in production. The Wellington regional distribution company W. and R. Smallbone Ltd took a one-third interest in Wohnsiedler’s Waiherere Wines, and Campbell and Ehrenfried took another third. By 1972, New Zealand Wines and Spirits had bought Smallbone and owned half of Campbell and Ehrenfried, with New Zealand Breweries (Lion) owning the other half. Montana bought the remaining third of the Wohnsiedler enterprise. Such convoluted transactions occurred because Campbell and Ehrenfried had earlier financed Montana in its rapid expansion, and in the revised form of New Zealand Wines and Spirits was later to squeeze Frank Yukich into a position where he had to sell Penfolds.

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The sudden inclusion of a new group of protagonists – grape growers – in the filiere had repercussions for the regional organisation of the wine companies and the power structure within the winegrowing of the region. Wine enterprises had to develop organisational structures that encouraged their growers to produce grapes of quality. These had to be transformed into distinctive wines that appealed to the spectrum of the New Zealand wine-buying public. Its taste was beginning to become more sophisticated but opportunities existed for a range of table wines of different qualities and price points, some in bottles and some in ‘bag-in-box’ – plastic bags of several litres inside cardboard casks.

The larger companies appointed viticulturists in each grape-growing region. They were the private-sector equivalent of farm advisory officers of the Ministry of Agriculture, and in some cases the same people. Montana, for instance, appointed Warwick Bruce in Gisborne and Gary Wood (formerly of the Ministry) in Hawke’s Bay. Bruce describes his role:

In 1971, I moved down to Gisborne My role as field officer was to regularly visit the growers and advise them on aspects of the viticulture then in the lead-up to vintage, to field test the grapes and arrange for the harvest and trucking to the winery. I think we had 20 to 25 growers at that stage.

Having skilled staff in the winery able to handle the detailed scheduling was just as important, especially during vintage. For over 40 years Roger McLernon managed the day-to-day operation of the Montana winery in Gisborne, until his retirement in 2008. Life during the vintage became temporarily a little less hectic for him especially after Montana had acquired both the Penfolds winery in 1986 and in 2000 the Corbans. These Gisborne fermentation and storage facilities are the site where much of the base wine for Montana’s very successful sparkling wines, notably Lindauer, has been produced.

However, when Montana acquired Corbans in 2000, the merged company’s policy of buying more land in Gisborne changed. Instead of being a buyer of land, Montana became a seller. Here was the opportunity to reassess its Gisborne vineyard land in the light of its experience in Marlborough and more recently in Hawke’s Bay. In the early 2000s it offered to sell land to a selection of its Gisborne growers on very favourable terms. A number of them, including John Clarke, the chairman of Gisborne Winegrowers, took up the offer.

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