No other Auckland companies seeking grapes in Gisborne bought land there in the 1970s and 1980s. Montana under Frank Yukich was more interested in buying the last third-share of the Wohnsiedler winery in Waiherere as an initial base for their activities in Gisborne, although it did include a vineyard that was later replanted. In an interview in 2006, Yukich commented on the difficulties they faced in Gisborne in the late 1960s and early 1970s:
We had around about 30 to 40 growers when the grapes started coming in the price wasn’t high enough and everybody was saying that there wasn’t enough money in it. We went through a very difficult period. Grape growers also began to challenge the way in which the prices for grapes were being set.
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Describing an exchange in 1975 after he returned from South Africa, Denis Irwin recalls these times from the grower’s point of view:
Yes, the contract was with Montana. I was one of the first people to take Frank [Yukich] on, in terms of price. He had a meeting here at the Gisborne racecourse. Frank got up and he said, ‘Okay, boys, you’ve all seen your contract, you’ve all seen the price this year and sorry about the drop but we did our best.’ So, of course, I stood up and said, ‘Point of order Mr Chairman. According to the terms of my contract, price is supposed to be negotiated between the company and the grower – there were certainly no negotiations as far as I was concerned.’
Having a representative group of growers collectively bargain with representatives of the companies initially solved such issues. But the differences smouldered for over a decade until the Commerce Commission ruled in 1991 that the rights of individual growers to do their own bargaining had to be respected.
Other, mainly Dalmatian-owned, enterprises from Auckland such as Babich, Matua Valley, Nobilo and Selaks also set about competing for grapes in Gisborne but bought no land. Because most were smaller, often with the family members advising growers and negotiating over price for grapes, the most successful were able to establish close working relationships with their growers. Some made a point of identifying the names of their grape growers on the labels. Names such as Judd, Tietjen and Witters began to be recognised by discerning consumers. Another wave of planting occurred in Gisborne when Frank Yukich bought Penfolds in 1977 because he sought new grape growers and lured some away from other companies.
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