Map Of North Island New Zealand Towns

One drawback upon the cultivation of the vine, the olive and the mulberry is that the English really know nothing about it. To cultivate them to any extent we shall require French and German cultivators, to whom the most liberal encouragement should be given.

Similar arguments were made in the regional press over the qualities of German settlers. The Nelson Examiner, commenting on the arrival of a shipload of settlers from Germany in the early 1840s, wrote: ‘No immigrants are more valued than the Germans and we hail the intended cultivation of the vine by them with unfeigned pleasure.’

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Vidal vineyards, Havelock North, Hawke’s Bay, 1920s. Spanish immigrant Anthony Joseph Vidal established Vidal Estate in 1905. French, German, Croatian, Spanish, and other continental Europeans nourished a small tradition of winemaking in New Zealand through the years of restrictive liquor legislation, when most New Zealanders preferred beer. Henry Norford Whitehead, Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand, 1/1-004863-G

Nevertheless, some settlers of British origin were important in establishing commercial vineyards in the nineteenth century. Most ofthem were wealthy landowners who preceded their planting by investigating winegrowing in Europe, California or Australia. Beetham planted vines in the Wairarapa in 1883. Tiffen’s vineyard to the west of Napier in Hawke’s Bay grew to almost 15 hectares by 1905 but declined when a prohibitionist became manager of the farm. Chambers planted a hectare of vines at Te Mata in 1892 and established a winery there. The Levets of Whakapirau (now Wellsford) were of more modest means, arriving in New Zealand as Albertland settlers in 1862. They established a vineyard and commercial winery near the Kaipara Harbour in the 1860s.

The Croatian-born, Italian-trained scientist Romeo Bragato provides a lively evaluation of the potential of the New Zealand industry at the end of the nineteenth century. His south-to-north journey from Central Otago reads something like the rural excursions of Arthur Young or even Robert Louis Stevenson into the continental Europe of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. His enthusiasm for the potential of New Zealand and its regions for vines is unbounded, and two characteristics of his observations are particularly relevant to the themes of this chapter: first, he was able to observe vines growing in almost every region of New Zealand; and second, the vines that he mentions are mainly Vitis vinifera.

Two of his other discoveries also provide a clue to the future. He identified Phylloxera vastatrix, the root-aphid that had devastated the European vineyards from the late 1860s, as well as other diseases that had earlier caused severe problems in Europe, notably oidium or powdery mildew. Nevertheless, most of the vines he observed were healthy and well cared for. Geographically, therefore, by the opening of the twentieth century vinifera grapes had been grown in most regions of New Zealand. Much of this regional experience was to wane or disappear in the next 60 years. Although Bragato’s investigation of New Zealand’s prospects for viticulture resulted in the establishment of the Te Kauwhata Viticultural Research Station in 1898 and his appointment as Government Viticulturist there in 1902, he left for Canada in 1909, disillusioned by his experience when he did not receive the support from the government that he had expected.

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