The varieties pulled out in Marlborough under the Lange government’s Wine Industry Assistance Package of 1985-86 demonstrate the scattergun approach that most growers had taken to their original plantings. Out came 57 hectares of Muller Thurgau leaving 383 in the ground – still more than three times the area of any other variety in Marlborough at that time. More than 10 hectares each were also removed of Gewurztraminer (40 ha), Riesling (30 ha), Pinotage (16 ha) Chenin Blanc (15 ha), Chardonnay (11 ha) and Semillon (11 ha). Even by 1985, the year the Cloudy Bay winery was registered, people were reading their taste buds. Of the 53 hectares of Sauvignon Blanc planted, only 0.5 were removed in 1986. By 1990 the area in Sauvignon Blanc in Marlborough had reached 211 hectares; and by 1995 with 845 hectares planted, it was the dominant variety.
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In this newest of the major winegrowing regions, grape growers and wine companies used the $6,175 per hectare provided by government to improve their mix of varieties. By now, they had learned which ones performed well on some of Marlborough’s different sites and what the market was demanding. Many enterprises also replanted varieties on resistant rootstocks to overcome the phylloxera that was identified in the Wairau Valley in 1982. In the first rush to plant, most vines had been cuttings on their own roots. The pool of knowledge and practical experience that had accumulated in Marlborough in its first seventeen years of growing vines and making wine was to prove invaluable in the next period of growth.
Enterprises that were beginning to expand were adversely affected by the high interest rates of the late 1980s. Jane Hunter, for instance, was forced to sell her vineyards and later to buy them back when the economy stabilised. John Marris ran into similar difficulties with the large apple orchards that he had recently established. To recover his financial position, he had to call on his experience in property sales and development by buying a hilly block of land and subdividing it for rural residential blocks, some parts of which were later planted in vines to supply Wither Hills. Champagne corks certainly stopped popping after New Zealand’s 1987 stock market crash.
Overall, apart from a small area of vines in Conders Bend – an indicator for the next decade – and larger areas in the upper Brancott and on the fan of the Taylor River, west of Blenheim, the pattern of vines in 1989 shows little change since 1982. Some growers had increased the size of their vineyards, but few vineyards had been established beyond the boundaries of the 1982 plantings.
By the early 1990s the area in vines began to increase steadily again. So too did the investment in wineries, with more than 30 beginning during the decade (Figure 7.5).