New Zealand and Wine
05 Jul 2021
Here's a very brief run down of the history of wine in New Zealand, we're still a baby, but we've grown faster than most new world countries! Thanks Marlborough, and thanks Sauvignon Blanc
Compared to the Old World, it may seem as though the New Zealand wine industry is young, however vines were planted as early as the 1819, focussed in the landing port cities up in the Northland.
Samuel Marsden, an English missionary, was the first to bring vines to NZ but the Scotsman James Busby was the first recorded winemaker. His dreams of a new world wine industry were crushed by the rapid spread of the vineyard disease, powdery mildew and of course the devilish aphid Phylloxera which had already wiped out most of Europe's vines.
The 1920’s and 1930’s saw growth of both plantings and general wine consumption, albeit of not much significance. The second world war led to significant industry growth as tariffs were increased on imported wine, encouraging local demand. The wines made were typically off dry whites and light reds made for quick consumption. As the laws in the 60’s relaxed, restaurants and retail outlets were able to stock and sell wine, and as winemakers were able to experience and taste wines from around the globe, the quality of New Zealand-made vino began to evolve.
The relaxation of import laws in the late 1980’s saw the arrival of Australian wines, which competed heavily with our domestic market. In order to create more demand, winemakers shifted focus to export - with the emergence of Marlborough’s distinctive Sauvignon Blanc, the push was aggressive. Fast forward to present day, we’re on track to export over $2 billion all over the world.
As NZ wine continues to flow around the globe, the wines are getting better and with it, hopefully the farming methods follow suit.
Whilst the organic revolution has begun, it's slow to collect momentum and continues to be a difficult task to convince growers to change. The process for converting a vineyard from ‘sustainable’ to organic takes at least 3 years and there is an initial loss in terms of yield. An old winemaker friend from Central Otago compared the process to like spending your whole life eating McDonalds then flipping your diet to vegan. Of course your body will take a shock - the vines react but are healthier once they adjust.
How do we convince growers to move to organics? We vote with our wallets, we buy more organic wine. It’s easy to underestimate the difference that this will make. 10 years ago we were all buying caged eggs; the idea of free range was reserved for the weekly farmers market. Now supermarkets predominantly sell free range. That is where we hope to see the NZ wine industry heading. Good wine, after all, comes from good vineyards.
In terms of winemaking, we’re at the beginning of a renaissance. NZ already has amazing winemakers with hundreds of kiwis making incredible wines overseas. I would like to think the new generation of winemakers are focused on organic and conscious, hands off winemaking; wines that reflect site and wines that put the environment at the fore.