European settlers with a strong tradition of winemaking and wine drinking played a key role in New Zealand’s wine industry.
The first generation of French settlers at Akaroa in the early 1840s planted vines. The Roman Catholic Marist order had a lasting impact, especially in Hawke’s Bay from the 1850s.
The French began the wine industry in Central Otago. In the 1860s, gold miner Jean Feraud produced wine from his Monte Christo vineyard near Alexandra. French-born Hermanze Beetham, with her husband William, planted vines at their Wairarapa property from 1883.
The French influence on winemaking was strong through the 20th century, with local producers visiting France for ideas, advice and training.
Germans and Spaniards
Germans pioneered winemaking in Nelson in the 1840s, and in Gisborne in 1921 when Friedrich Wohnsiedler established a vineyard. Alsatian migrant Israel Wendel planted a vineyard around his Auckland home in the 1870s. He later opened Wendel’s Wine Bodega, New Zealand’s first licensed wine shop.
Spanish winemaker Joseph Soler (who anglicised his name from Jose Sole) produced wine from his Whanganui vineyard from the late 1860s. His wines won major prizes at international exhibitions in 1880 and 1886. His nephew Anthony Vidal joined him in 1888, then set up his own vineyard in Hawke’s Bay in 1905.
Lebanese migrant Assid Abraham Corban planted the Mt Lebanon Vineyards at Henderson in 1902. Trading as Corbans wines, at first he sold wine from the back of a truck that travelled around the region. Assid Corban took a leading role in organising New Zealand’s wine industry, and was an early member of the New Zealand Viticultural Association and the New Zealand Wine Council. Corbans was the country’s largest winery by the 1960s.
Dalmatians (Croatians) had the most significant influence on New Zealand’s wine industry. In the 1890s prejudice and then legislation forced them from the kauri gumfields where they had worked, so Dalmatian families began planting grapes and producing wine, mainly around the West Auckland area and in Hawke’s Bay.
The three Frankovich brothers were among the first to turn to wine production. Between 1899 and 1913, they expanded their vineyard on the Whangaparāoa Peninsula until the 4.5-hectare property produced over 18,000 litres of wine a year. Fourteen Dalmatian vineyards were working around Herekino by 1906. In 1916 Josip Babich and his brothers planted vines at their Kaikino property, then shifted to Henderson in 1919.
More Dalmatian wineries started in the 1930s and 1940s. These included Selaks (planted by Marino Selak from 1934); Nobilo (planted by Nikola Nobilo from 1943); Soljans (planted by Frank and Rona Soljan from 1939); San Marino (later Kumeu River), where founder Mate Brajkovich crushed his first grapes in 1944; and Delegat’s (planted by Nikola Delegat from 1947). Of the 80 or so small vineyards around West Auckland in the 1950s, Dalmatian families owned about 90%.
Some of the wineries originally founded or worked by Dalmatians became the country’s largest wine producers. Andrew Fistonich, founder of Villa Maria, became a licensed winemaker in 1949. In 1944 Ivan Yukich produced the first vintage for what would become Montana Wines.