Government viticulturalist Romeo Bragato retired in 1909 and the Department of Agriculture’s viticultural division was disbanded. The industry went into decline. Imported wine was often cheaper (due to low tariffs) and usually better, so local standards dropped further. The New Zealand Viticultural Association, formed in 1911, went into recess between 1918 and 1939.
There were about 70 vineyards with licensed winemakers by 1913, but producers went in and out of business quickly. In 1925 about 40 vineyards were licensed to make wine, including the first in the southern hemisphere founded by a Chinese person, Joe Ah Chan, who established the Gold Leaf Vineyards (later Totara Vineyards) near Thames that year. The number of vineyards leapt to 100 by 1932.
The 1930s economic depression took its toll: there were no bidders when the government’s viticultural research station at Te Kauwhata was put up for auction.
Red, red wine
Tom McDonald started making wine in 1921 when he was just 14 years old. In 1927 he bought Taradale Vineyards, producing mainly fortified wines. Red wines were his passion. His 1965 cabernet sauvignon showed that good red wine could be made in New Zealand.
Changes in licensing laws affected the industry. A ‘no licence’ zone began in the Eden electorate in 1908, meaning that vineyards could produce wine, but not sell it in their own district. The zone bisected Assid Corban’s Henderson vineyard, so he sold his wine just outside the boundary. In 1918 the zone extended to include all of Henderson.
The heyday of the prohibition movement was over by 1920, but restrictions continued. Concern over the quality of wine led to tighter licences for winemakers after 1914. From 1917 diners were no longer able to consume BYO wine in restaurants after 6 p.m., and hotel dining rooms could not serve wine after 8 p.m. There was a ban on further wine-shop licences from 1920.
Higher tariffs on imported wine from the mid-1930s boosted the market for the local product for a time, but government policy could be fickle. Cheap Australian wine flooded the market in the late 1940s, and the local industry suffered. The minimum quantity of wine sold at vineyards was reduced to just over a litre in 1955, and eventually a single bottle (750 millilitres) in 1959. Licences were granted to more wine shops, increasing the number of outlets where people could buy wine.
More vineyards were established, especially in West Auckland and Hawke’s Bay, where Australian firm McWilliams began planting from 1947. Winemakers adopted new techniques: in 1958, Corbans introduced stainless-steel wine tanks – more hygienic than wooden vats.
Expansion sometimes came at the expense of quality. Wine was adulterated with food colourings or dyes, had high levels of bacteria, or was made from sugar, water, and fruit other than grapes. Separate licences for the manufacture of fruit wines were needed from 1953, but watery wine continued to be made until the early 1980s.
New drinking tastes developed. Migrants from Europe during and after the Second World War wanted table rather than fortified wines. Some New Zealanders who served overseas during the war experienced new ways of dining and developed a taste for wine. The country’s first food and wine society began in 1954.