Grape Growing and Wine Making
Grape vines were first planted by the Rev. Samuel Marsden at Kerikeri in 1819. James Busby who came to the Bay of Islands in 1833 as the British Resident, planted vines at Waitangi and made wine, some of which he sold to the Imperial troops stationed at the Bay of Islands. Charles Darwin, when he visited New Zealand in 1835, observed grapes growing at Waimate and recorded this in his book, A Naturalist's Voyage Round the World. French settlers established vineyards in 1840 at Akaroa, in the South Island. Wine was made commercially at the Bay of Islands from 1856 to 1866 and, in 1865, French Roman Catholic missionaries established a vineyard in Hawke's Bay for producing sacramental wines. Lack of experience in growing vines in the New Zealand soils and climate handicapped early attempts to establish vineyards. The advent of the root-destroying phylloxera insect in the Auckland Province about 1890 retarded progress there for a time, but quarantine measures checked the migration of the insect. It was not until 1964 that phylloxera was found to have migrated to the extensive vineyards of Hawke's Bay. Areas further south are still free from phylloxera. In 1898 the Government set aside an area at Te Kauwhata as an agricultural experimental station, the first experimental wines being made there in 1902. Most of the vineyards throughout New Zealand have been established from stock and scion wood supplied from the Te Kauwhata station, which is still the centre of viticultural research. One of its greatest contributions has been the importation, testing, and distribution of a large range of grape varieties.
Viticulture made little real progress until the turn of the century, when a few large vineyards were established in Auckland and Hawke's Bay, and by 1914 the area had increased to approximately 280 acres of wine grapes, producing 90,000 gallons, and 105 acres of table grapes. There was a gradual increase until 1938 when import control regulations raised the duty on imported wines, reducing the amount imported. In 1939 there were an estimated 422 acres of vineyards, producing 174,000 gallons of wine. During the Second World War, with an influx of American servicemen and an acute shortage of all spirits, there was a ready market for New Zealand wines and large new areas were planted in vines. Wine production rose quickly and much inferior wine was marketed. In 1946 a Royal Commission on licensing investigated the wine industry and made recommendations for improvements. A more competitive market has since brought more efficient production and better wines.
New Zealand wines have won a number of awards in international wine competitions. Restrictions on the importation of wines and spirits and the high taxation on spirits and beer have served to promote sales of local wine. Production has, however, always rapidly overtaken and exceeded the demand. In 1957 a Select Committee was appointed to inquire into the state and prospects of the wine-making industry. This led to easier sales of local wines, with a fresh impetus to further production.
In 1964 there were 137 licensed grape-wine makers and production was estimated at 1,604,428 gallons from the estimated total area of 1,045 acres in vineyards. In 1960 the Department of Agriculture conducted a precise field survey of the vineyards and the actual area covered by vines, excluding headlands and other working areas, was 958 acres. Grape-wine production in 1960 was 878,148 gallons. There were 863 acres in wine grapes, 72 acres in table grapes, and 23 acres in grapes for juice. Vineyards were located mainly in Auckland (425 acres), Hawke's Bay (387 acres), Waikato (63 acres), Gisborne (45 acres), Northland (21 acres), Thames (10 acres), Bay of Plenty (3 acres), and the South Island (4 acres).
The most extensively grown grape in 1960 was Albany Surprise. It occupied 145 acres and was mainly grown for table use and for grape juice. The variety originated as a mutation of the American grape Isabella in a vineyard at Albany, near Auckland, hence the name. The two leading wine varieties were the Franco-American hybrid grapes called Baco 22A (107 acres), and Seibel 5455 (68 acres), followed by Chasselas (53 acres), Black Pinot (52 acres), Palomino (50 acres), and Riesling Sylvaner (45 acres). These last four grapes are vinifera or European grapes. Then followed Seibel 4643 (43 acres), Gamay Gloriod (34 acres), Pedro Ximines (29 acres), Seibel 5437 (27 acres), Baco No. 1 (25 acres), Iona (23 acres), Seibel 5409 (17 acres), Cabernet (16 acres), Black Hamburgh (15 acres), Malbec (14 acres), Baco 9–11 (11 acres), White Muscat varieties (11 acres), and Niagara (10 acres). These include vinifera, hybrid, and American varieties. There were many minor varieties. Vineyard extensions since 1960 have been mainly with the varieties Palomino, Pinotage, Riesling Sylvaner, and various Franco-American hybrids.
The large vineyard areas of Auckland and Hawke's Bay together comprise almost 85 per cent of the national total. In Hawke's Bay vinifera varieties predominate, while in Auckland these are subordinate to the Franco-American hybrids. Most of the Auckland production comes from numerous small growers, mainly of Yugoslav origin, whereas in Hawke's Bay several large vineyards accounted for most of the grapes grown.
New Zealand growers should be grateful to the French vine genetists for the Franco-American hybrid grapes. These were imported by the Department of Agriculture from 1927 to 1930. Because of their fertility under adverse climatic conditions and resistance to fungous diseases, the Franco-American hybrids have made viticulture in the higher rainfall areas (Auckland and Northland) far more economical than it would have been with vinifera grapes.
Equipment and hygiene in most New Zealand wineries compare more than favourably with those overseas. Vineyard management generally conforms to a high standard of efficiency and operations are, on an average, more highly mechanised than in many other countries.
Although the New Zealand climate is recognised as being particularly well-suited to the production of still and sparkling white table wines, the people, like most who are of British descent, prefer the stronger sweet wines, such as sweet sherry, port, muscat, and madeira types. Though the industry has mainly produced these sweet fortified wines, it has also kept pace with the growing demand for table wines. In 1960 table wines comprised nearly 16 per cent of all wine made. Production of dry sherry has also increased.
Up to the present the high cost of grape production in New Zealand and the traditional bias of overseas wine markets have discouraged concerted efforts to develop a wine export trade. Greater interest has, however, recently been displayed by the industry in this direction and the prospects for export to Pacific countries have been rather encouraging. There is also a largely unexplored potential on the home market for good outdoor dessert grapes and grape juice beverage.
To assess the prospects for the production of commercial brandy in New Zealand, the Government granted experimental brandy distillation licences to some wineries in Auckland and Hawke's Bay. These experimental brandy distillations commenced in 1964 in conjunction with similar trials at the Te Kauwhata Horticultural Research Station.
The best-quality dessert grapes are produced in glasshouse vineries and are much dearer than those grown outdoor. In 1960 there were approximately 439,000 sq. ft. in glasshouse vineries, mainly at Auckland (215,100 sq. ft.), Canterbury (54,150 sq. ft.), Manawatu (53,700 sq. ft.), and Oamaru (43,700 sq. ft.).
by Francis Berrysmith, R.D.OEN, Government Viticulturist, Department of Agriculture, Auckland.