These new grape growers had much to learn about growing grapes for table wine. However, being mainly families with horticultural knowledge, they learned quickly. Most of them initially grew Muller Thurgau and aimed for high yields – often at least 10 tonnes to the acre (24 tonnes to the hectare) – to gain maximum revenue. Muller Thurgau was, of course, ascendant by 1980 with 1819 hectares of it planted in New Zealand, whereas Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, the two vinifera varieties with the largest share of the national vineyard at the time, had only about 750 hectares between them. In these early years of the modern wine industry, contracts between grape growers and wine companies gradually evolved as both parties negotiated their way.
Map Of South Island Of New Zealand Photo Gallery
One crucial difference distinguished Hawke’s Bay from Gisborne in this period. From the late 1970s to the mid-1980s a group of family enterprises, intent on making table wine from their own vinifera vineyards, entered Hawke’s Bay winegrowing. They wanted nothing to do with the practices of some of the earlier Hawke’s Bay winemaking fraternity, including the infamous ‘black snake’ – the black hose that snaked across the cellar floor and added water to the juice or wine in the tanks, often in large quantities.
In one sense, Chris Pask was the earliest into winegrowing of this group, but while he was growing grapes and aerial topdressing, John Buck was learning the wine trade and culture of wine in the United Kingdom and France, while Kim Salonius, having enrolled in a Master’s degree in medieval history in Germany, was working in the vineyards and cellars of Alsace. Alan Limmer was completing a double major in chemistry and soil science at Waikato University followed by a Master’s and PhD in soil science. Meanwhile, Alwyn Corban was completing his formal training with a BSc majoring in mathematics but also doing chemistry and physics at the University of Auckland, followed by a diploma in food technology at Massey University and a Master’s in oenology at the University of California, Davis. New Zealand’s ‘knowledge economy’ started much earlier than some would have us believe.
Together with some of the existing Hawke’s Bay enterprises – notably McWilliam’s Wines, Mission Vineyards, Vidal and later Esk Valley under Villa Maria – these winegrowers demonstrated that Hawke’s Bay could make table wines of excellent quality. They established a reputation for wines produced in this region that attracted a much larger group of new entrants during the 1990s, and by the 2000s, firms funded from overseas capital.
Hawke’s Bay is the most versatile of all New Zealand’s grape-growing regions. Although it grows only about one quarter of Marlborough’s total area in vines, it has nine varieties each with over 100 hectares planted. Marlborough has five. This difference derives mainly from Hawke’s Bay’s ability to grow and ripen (in most years) the red varieties of Bordeaux – Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Malbec. These four varieties make up over one third of the Hawke’s Bay vineyard with Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon dominant. By 2000, the area planted in Merlot in Hawke’s Bay had begun to approach the amount planted in Cabernet Sauvignon. Since, the preference for Merlot over Cabernet Sauvignon has progressively increased until its area is almost three times larger (Table 6.1). In Hawke’s Bay, Merlot ripens a few weeks earlier and more evenly than Cabernet Sauvignon.
Hawke’s Bay also asserts its versatility through the willingness of many of its experienced viticulturists and vinifiers to experiment with varieties originating from Mediterranean Europe such as the lower Rhone Valley, Languedoc, and parts of Italy and Spain. Such regions have longer and hotter growing seasons than most of New Zealand, especially the South Island, whereas in Hawke’s Bay winegrowers have demonstrated that some vinifera varieties from these hotter European regions will ripen with acceptable regularity.
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