The Hawke’s Bay wine industry was so different it could have been in another country, perhaps Australia. Four enterprises – McWilliam’s Wines Ltd, McDonald’s Wines, Glenvale Wines and Vidal – dominated winegrowing in Hawke’s Bay. Each made over 50,000 gallons (227,500 litres) of wine annually. In Henderson, Corbans (85,000 gallons) was the only winery with a similar level of production. In 1960 the four Hawke’s Bay wineries were responsible for 86 per cent of the region’s production. Using the categories of New Zealand Winegrowers in the twenty-first century, all of these wineries would be in Category 2 – over 200,000 litres. Only two other wineries in Hawke’s Bay – Mission Vineyards and Te Mata Vineyards Ltd – produced over 5000 gallons of wine annually in 1960.
The marketing of Hawke’s Bay wine was quite different from that of the West Auckland family businesses. The region’s large enterprises sold almost all of their wine through wholesale liquor outlets, hotels, or wine shops. McWilliam’s Wines, when merged with McDonald’s in 1962 and managed by Tom McDonald, was producing over half of the Hawke’s Bay wine. The two main New Zealand breweries and wholesalers of wines and spirits, New Zealand Breweries and Dominion Breweries, were substantial shareholders in McWilliam’s. The sales by region of McDonald’s Wines just before merger shows clearly the close relationships it had with the established retail outlets of the South Island, where some of the powerful importers and wholesalers of wine and liquor were dominant. Only 11 per cent of its wine was sold in Auckland and 14 per cent in Wellington compared with almost 50 per cent in the South Island and almost 18 per cent locally in Hawke’s Bay.
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None of the Hawke’s Bay vineyards in 1960 were far from the coast. They formed a discontinuous belt from Bay View and the Esk Valley in the north, where Glenvale Wines of the Bird family was located, to Havelock North in the south. In between, one of Vidal’s substantial vineyards was right on the coast at Te Awanga, and Mission Vineyards and the McDonald winery at Greenmeadows west of Napier formed another node. The headquarters and winery of Vidal was in Hastings and McWilliam’s winery was in Napier, but both firms had vineyards in several localities.
Grapes of European origin (Vitis vinifera) were much more important in Hawke’s Bay where they represented 64 per cent of the total area in vines. In the Auckland Vineyards and wineries in Auckland and Hawke’s Bay, 1960 R ion they represented only 24 per cent. This dominance of vinifera varieties is partly explained by Hawke’s Bay being free of the pest Phylloxera vastatrix at the time. Vines in North America, including Vitis labrusca, are resistant to this disease and hybrids of American vines and vinifera vines are also resistant to varying degrees. Indeed, the American vines were originally imported into France for breeding as French scientists experimented by crossing them with vinifera varieties. The resistance to disease of these crosses partly explains their importance in Auckland where over 75 per cent of the vines were hybrids. The hybrids and labrusca varieties are more robust in heavier soils and able to resist various fungus diseases in regions where rainfall and humidity are higher. Heavy soils and high humidity dominated those parts of Auckland where vines were grown at the time.
Dalmatians who settled in West Auckland in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries did not choose it for the suitability of its natural environment for vines, orchards and market gardens, but rather for the opportunities that the nearby urban area offered as a market and for employment. Moreover, its heavy, largely clay soils made the land cheap. These Dalmatians had plenty of experience with clay and other difficult soils from their gumdigging in Northland and other parts of the country. Persistent hard work in clearing the land and working the soils of Henderson-Oratia made it possible to grow grapes and fruit trees (especially apples) and vegetables for the Auckland market. Chain migration to the same locality from within New Zealand and internationally brought increasing numbers of Dalmatian settlers to Henderson-Oratia and later to Kumeu-Huapai.