A decade later in 1990, the vine pull of 1986 had seen almost 200 hectares of Muller Thurgau removed in Gisborne, but with 457 hectares remaining (including some new plantings) it still occupied more than twice the area of any other variety. The rapid rise of the Muscats reflected their distinctive aromas, high yields and versatility in
The Ministry of Agriculture publication of 1980 does not include the data to calculate yield per hectare enhancing the flavours of blended wines. The increase in Muscats, together with Chardonnay climbing to third place with 162 hectares planted, had restored most of the area in vines removed in the vine pull.
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The region’s vineyard was back to over 1400 hectares but many varieties were still being cropped at very high levels. The yield of Muscats in 1990 was 23 tonnes per hectare, Muller Thurgau 19 tonnes per hectare, and Reichensteiner (a complex cross of varieties, with Muller Thurgau one parent) 18 tonnes. In particular vintages of the early 1990s a few varieties averaged as much as 30 tonnes to the hectare, or a startling 225 hectolitres of wine per hectare. Yields of Chardonnay at 12 tonnes per hectare and Gewurztraminer at 9 tonnes per hectare in 1990 were at more appropriate levels to attain the intensity of flavours necessary to make table wines of quality, although still, in Chardonnay’s case, more than twice as high as the Grand Cru vineyards of Burgundy. By 1990, Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Rhine Riesling were among the top ten varieties. Palomino, Baco 22A, Gamay and Pinotage had dropped out.
At the millennium Chardonnay had leapt to almost half of the region’s vineyard. With the declining Muller Thurgau and Muscats added, these three made up 70 per cent of the area of Gisborne’s vineyard. Two red varieties, Merlot and Pinot Noir, were now amongst the top ten, although most of the Pinot Noir was being vinified as a white wine for Montana’s base wine for the Lindauer brand of sparkling wine.
By 2010, Chardonnay was 53 per cent of the Gisborne vineyard. Pinot Gris, with 185 hectares planted, had climbed rapidly to second and had the distinction of being among the four most-planted varieties in the history of Gisborne’s grape growing. In the search for a red variety suitable for Gisborne’s conditions and the public’s palate, Merlot had reached third place, Gewurztraminer regained fourth and the versatile Muscats still had over 99 hectares in production. Like Marlborough, Gisborne had a single dominant variety and four varieties with over 100 hectares. The only other time Gisborne had achieved this feat was in 1980, but only Gewurztraminer had been common to the top five varieties in both years. The top four varieties – Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Merlot and Gewurztraminer – now comprise over 70 per cent of the Gisborne vineyard. Andrew Ewart’s wish for ‘top-quality’ varieties in Poverty Bay had been realised just 34 years after he made his call.
Gewurztraminer has had a constant presence in Gisborne, with 113 hectares in 1980, hanging in at 76 hectares after the vine pull of 1986, before falling to 40 hectares in 2000 and climbing back to 106 hectares by 2010. Its yields in Gisborne have always been moderate, although it also retains the reputation of being difficult to grow. Its Gisborne story has more chapters to come. Pinot Gris had jumped to prominence in less than a decade with 175 hectares planted by 2008. In the previous decade, wine made from Pinot Gris, or in its Italian style Pinot Grigio, had become very trendy, especially in the United States and Canada but also more widely.
The recent popularity of Pinot Gris amongst Gisborne’s grape growers has much to do with demand influencing the price companies are prepared to pay for it. In Gisborne, buyers pay noticeably more for Pinot Gris than other varieties, although its price, as well as that of most varieties, is higher in all other regions. The average price for all Gisborne varieties at the 2008 vintage was NZ$1,130 per tonne. Pinot Gris grown in Gisborne averaged $1,810 per tonne compared with $1,961 in Hawke’s Bay, $2,268 in Marlborough and $2,910 in Central Otago. Chardonnay (Mendoza and Clone 15) averaged $1,159 per tonne in Gisborne, $1,672 in Hawke’s Bay, $2,845 in Marlborough and $3,000 in Waipara. Yields per hectare and the availability and quality of grapes in the different regions influences these prices. Yields are lower in most of these South Island regions while the higher costs of production, especially for expensive irrigation schemes in regions like Central Otago, increases production costs. These are partly offset by lower costs for disease control.
Harvesting Pinot Gris at Ashwood Estate’s vineyard in the Matawhero area.
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