First wine production
New Zealand’s wine industry is as old as European settlement. Missionary Samuel Marsden planted the country’s first vineyard at the mission station in Kerikeri, in late 1819.
The arrival of British Resident and wine enthusiast James Busby in the Bay of Islands in 1833 marked the real start of winemaking in New Zealand. Busby had learned the craft in Bordeaux, and had written two books on grape growing and winemaking.
Plants from his family’s vineyard in the Hunter Valley, New South Wales, were used for the vineyard he planted around his residence at Waitangi in 1833. French explorer Dumont d’Urville drank an early vintage in 1840, describing it as ‘a light white wine, very sparkling, and delicious to taste’. 1 Perhaps this was a type of chardonnay, said to be Busby’s favourite wine.
A vintage estate
New Zealand’s oldest surviving winemakers are Mission Estate, set up in Hawke’s Bay in 1851. The Catholic Marist brothers moved south from their Whangaroa vineyards, growing grapes in Gisborne in 1850 before planting their first Hawke’s Bay vineyard at Pākōwhai in 1851. Moving to Meeanee in 1858, they planted another vineyard, and sold their first red wine commercially in 1870. The brothers first grew grapes in Greenmeadows in 1897. Mission Estate’s winemaking has been based there since 1910, although the Marists are no longer involved.
A few other vineyards were planted in the late 1830s and early 1840s. Around the Whangaroa area from 1839, the Roman Catholic brothers from the Society of Mary (Marists) grew grapes to produce wine for sacramental purposes.
None of these vineyards lasted long, but during the 19th century, there was a steady planting of grapes for wine from one end of the country to the other. Most vineyards made small amounts of wine for their owners, but some winemakers sold to the public. English winemaker Charles Levet and his son made a living from their 2.8-hectare vineyard on the Kaipara Harbour between 1863 and 1907.