I have carried out extensive surveys on our own and surrounding properties using a backhoe. The variability is quite incredible, and almost without exception, the southern side of the Wairau Plain will require deep ripping to some extent. I believe the majority of the soils in both regions will support grapes, and as mentioned earlier, feel that climate is a greater limiting factor.
Winemaker Kevin Judd is just as unequivocal on the reason for the distinctiveness of Marlborough’s Sauvignon Blanc when he insists that ‘it’s primarily climatic’. The two points of view are not necessarily contradictory. Few grapes were planted when John Marris thoroughly explored the region’s variability in soils.
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The general skills and knowledge about growing crops that its farmers brought to viticulture were fundamental to Marlborough’s success. Grape trellises are little more than slightly sophisticated fences. Landowners and contractors in the region were quick to realise this and bring their ingenuity to bear to adjust their designs and speed the planting. No individual captured the spirit of contract grape growing more adroitly than the late Henk Ruesink. When payment for Sauvignon Blanc was by the tonne and grapes were in short supply, he configured his trellising and adjusted his pruning to maximise the vineyard’s yield of the variety. As John Forrest considers his own learning curve in establishing their vineyard he reflects on the skills of the Wairau and Awatere farmers who adopted grape growing:
That’s an unsung strength of our Marlborough industry, and why we’ve been so successful so quickly – you’ve got this intellectual pool of farmers who had all the skills to be grape growers, just weren’t growing grapes. They were growing sheep, or maize or barley.
Marlborough’s Sauvignon Blanc is truly New Zealand’s Sauvignon Blanc.