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Hawke’s Bay’s area in vines, 1960, 1980, 1990, 2010 suitability of these localities for vines is attested by their long, continuous period in production and the qualities of the wines produced from them, although the vineyards of Greenmeadows have now largely succumbed to the urban spread of Taradale and Napier. Two wineries, Mission Vineyards and the Church Road winery of Montana (Pernod Ricard), were later to benefit from their newly urbanised location in Taradale by being close to their local and tourist markets.
By 1980, vineyards had begun to disperse away from these original nodes and occupy land along the lower parts of the valleys of the Tutaekuri and the Ngaruroro. Planting also intensified around the three 1960 nodes, but initially few vineyards were planted on the alluvial soils of the Heretaunga Plains. McWilliam’s had three substantial vineyards in the Esk Valley by 1980, but it also dominated the Taradale-Meanee area where Mission was also well established. Two large vineyards which McWilliam’s had planted on the right bank of the Tukituki River near the coast are still in production.
These new plantings did give a clue to the future environments that the vine would inhabit. Along the Ngaruroro River, vines had reached Fernhill and Omahu where Matt Love had planted on either side of the river. Further downstream on its left bank, Nigel and Mark Read had planted. Towards Dartmore, on the left bank of the Tutaekuri, Ron Smith had planted vines and signalled the emergence of a later migration of vineyards to the terraces formed by all three main rivers. By 1980, therefore, grape growers owned the majority of the vineyards of Hawke’s Bay, some of which were on the fertile parts of the Heretaunga Plains where high yields of Muller Thurgau were possible.
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The distribution of vines is quite different by 1990. Despite the vine-pull scheme of 1986, small parcels are now scattered relatively evenly over the alluvial parts of the Heretaunga Plains. They are small because grape growers and relatively small wine companies are still growing most of the vines in Hawke’s Bay. Vines have also appeared on the parts of the plains that are less suitable for orcharding and cropping because the soils require irrigation or are more difficult to cultivate. Grapes are now discernible on the gravels of Mere Road and off Gimblett Road and in the Ngatarawa Triangle, as it has become known. Both areas have stony and sandy soils where grapes are less vigorous. During the 1980s, tongues of vines also became denser along the lower Tukituki and the left bank of the lower Ngaruroro west of Taradale.
In 2010, vines occupied much larger, continuous chunks of land. Wine companies have been moving towards growing a higher proportion of their own grapes, many aiming to have at least 50 per cent or more of their vineyard directly under their own control, although often under complicated ownership structures. They have chosen to expand on large sites where they could capture the economies of scale of large parcels of vines on relatively flat land, much as had happened in Marlborough. The extensive terraces on the left (northeastern) bank of the Ngaruroro were an obvious opportunity. Pernod Ricard and Delegat’s acquired land there. Nobilo (Constellation Brands) bought land on the Ngaruroro’s right bank east of Gimblett Gravels. Earlier, Craggy Range, Villa Maria and others had been quick to take up the opportunity to buy land offered by Milburn Cement (Fraser Shingle) off Gimblett Road after it was unsuccessful in its plans to strip-mine these gravels. The vine landscape of Hawke’s Bay was transformed.
Interpreting the changes
Hawke’s Bay has had a noticeable presence of vines longer than any other region in New Zealand. Indeed, the vine may have occupied a much larger area of land had not Hawke’s Bay also been the nation’s most versatile and productive horticultural region. It has the natural attributes to grow almost all middle-latitude fruits and vegetables. The region continues to produce most of New Zealand’s pip and stone fruits and much of its vegetables for canning and freezing. Heinz Wattie’s sources products for local production and for export to Europe, Asia and the Pacific rim from Hawke’s Bay. Its major processing plants are here. In the last two decades, strong export markets for squash and other cucurbits have also been developed.
Competition for land is, therefore, intense on the Heretaunga Plains and other pockets of easily cultivable land in the region, and consequently land prices are high. When landowners began to increase their area in vines from the mid-1970s, this ‘crop’ had to compete for space with others. In the technical jargon of the economic geographers and economists, the economic rent (roughly equating with net income per hectare) is higher for intensively farmed crops such as asparagus or even peas than for grapes for wine. Fortunately, grapes are able to thrive on land of lower fertility where their roots are able to explore more deeply for nutrients and moisture than annual crops. Alternatively, the nutrients can be ‘fertigated’ in the drip irrigation that also sustains the vines during the growing season. Low to moderate yields are indeed a prerequisite for producing grapes with the qualities to make fine wines. A comparison of the distribution of orchards with the distribution of vines in the early twenty-first century is thus revealing (Figure 6.5). Orchards have replaced large areas of vines on the more fertile, alluvial soils of the Heretaunga Plains.
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