Further vineyard and winery expansion
The expansion of the wine industry in Marlborough to the present occurs in three further stages: the remainder of the 1980s, the 1990s, and the 2000s. In each stage a different geography of the vine emerges, strongly influenced by the expansion of existing enterprises and by new grape growers and wineries entering the industry. In the early 1980s, with neo-liberal reform looming, it would have been difficult, perhaps impossible, to predict Marlborough’s future sequence over these next three decades.
Marlborough probably fared better than any other wine region during the difficult economic times of the mid- to late 1980s. Certainly, no other region had a renowned Sauvignon Blanc cellar built in the same year that central government announced a vine-pull scheme to save the New Zealand wine industry. Cloudy Bay, although started by an Australian, found friends in New Zealand because Corbans (Brierley) and the Australian firm Wolf Blass jointly owned the Marlborough Cellars winery. These associations certainly influenced the Rapaura area and Marlborough internationally.
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‘Mate, do you want to try a real Sauvignon Blanc?’ asked Ross Spence of David Hohnen at the Cape Mentelle winery, Margaret River, Western Australia in 1984. When Joe Babich got a bottle from the boot of their car, many lives were changed. Hohnen was on a plane to New Zealand by the end of the year, had hired Australian Kevin Judd as winemaker, and bought some land opposite Corbans on Marlborough’s Jacksons Road. By the end of 1985, the Cloudy Bay winery was built. In the meantime, Hohnen had made his 1985 vintage of Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc in Corbans’ Gisborne winery under telephone instructions from Kevin Judd who was making the 1985 vintage for Selaks in Auckland with grapes from Marlborough. Hohnen’s grapes had been supplied by Corbans who had agreed to relinquish some of their Marlborough crop provided that in the 1986 vintage their Stoneleigh brand could be made in the Cloudy Bay winery.
By 1989, when the Corbans winery was built, half of Cloudy Bay’s grapes came from their own vineyards under the direction of their new viticulturist, Ivan Sutherland, who with Allan Scott and Colin Muir was among the first grape growers for Cloudy Bay. Until 1989, when he started his own brand, Scott was national viticultural manager for Corbans and encouraged Rapaura locals to grow for the Stoneleigh brand.
A third prong to this node of Rapaura terroir pioneered by Phil and Chris Rose was the Nobilo/Selaks/Webber triumvirate whose vineyards on Hammerichs Road backed onto the Cloudy Bay operation. The largest part of these vineyards was not developed until 1987 when, together with Corbans and Cloudy Bay, they reinforced an alternative concentration of vineyards and wineries to those in the Southern Valleys. By the early twenty-first century, John Webber had almost 300 hectares in vines and was one of the largest grape growers on the Wairau Plain.
Despite such developments, instability and uncertainty characterised much of the 1980s. Corporate battles for control of Corbans, Cooks, Penfolds, Montana and McWilliam’s, combined with a perceived oversupply of grapes that triggered the vine-pull scheme of 1986, resulted in no net increase in the area in vines in Marlborough until 1989. In reality, 210 hectares were pulled out in the South Island, almost all of it in Marlborough, and replanted the same season in different varieties. The statistical illusion of no growth reflects the inadequate information from central government agencies in a perpetual state of reform after 1984, until the Wine Institute of New Zealand (later New Zealand Winegrowers) took responsibility for collecting its own data on the area planted in vines from 1989.
Marlborough’s Southern Valleys, reaching in toward the Wither Hill ranges from the Wairau Plain.
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