This was a period of consolidation and new investment. Well-funded grape-growing enterprises appeared, some with capital accumulated from other industries, some with an affiliation and written agreements to supply particular wineries. Local landowners who had been waiting more cautiously on the sidelines began planting. Even more migrants from the North Island purchased land and planted grapes.
From 1990 the total area in vines was very much influenced by plantings of Sauvignon Blanc as its distinctive qualities and acceptance on the local and international markets became widely recognised. In 1989, Marlborough had 144 hectares of Sauvignon Blanc in production. At the millennium the total Marlborough vineyard reached 4000 hectares with about half of it in Sauvignon Blanc.
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Unfortunately, no maps of vineyards exist for 2000, but the 2003 Marlborough District Council map of vineyards shows a transformed Wairau Valley (Figure 7.5). The western end of the valley has been occupied by vines at a speed and to an extent unprecedented in the region. The higher flood plain and undissected terraces bounded by the Wairau and Waihopai rivers and State Highways 6 and 63 has become the largest area of continuously planted vines in Marlborough and New Zealand. The wide entrance to the Omaka Valley is almost as solidly planted as the Brancott. Availability of water has strongly influenced this rush to the west. The strong aquifer there, together with the availability of land in large parcels, attracted the big companies such as Delegat’s and Montana, while smaller companies such as Seresin could also find suitable parcels of land in this western rectangle.
The geography of local entrepreneurial association has gradually become less marked in Marlborough, but still lingers. Montana’s original plantings in the Southern Valleys were supplemented in 1994 by the acquisition of land in the Rapaura area where a large block was leased on the southern side of Rapaura Road less than a kilometre from the original Roses’ block. In the late 1990s it became even more committed to the higher flood plain when it purchased the radiata pine forest at Conders Bend, felled the trees and planted mainly Sauvignon Blanc. Montana initially branded this Sauvignon Blanc as Conders Forest. Infilling occurred everywhere that vines were already planted at the beginning of the 1990s and new areas were pioneered. Nobilo planted a large vineyard on the pea gravels of the Rarangi coastal area, while from the mid-1990s vines were established on the more accessible eastern bank of the Waihopai by both Spy Valley and later Nobilo.
In the early 1990s the vine leapfrogged to the Awatere Valley. Two main stimuli were important – local initiative, from landowners in the Awatere of which Vavasour Wines was the earliest with its first crush in 1989, together with the possibility of buying less expensive land, of similar potential for viticulture, as in the Wairau Valley. Both small and large enterprises were important in the Awatere’s development as a viticultural region.
Villa Maria Estate Ltd saw the possibility of increasing their vineyards by securing land in the Awatere and getting investors involved in a viticultural enterprise to supply them with grapes. Seddon Vineyards and later Terra Vitae Vineyards were born. Other investment groups such as Brackenfield followed. Saint Clair Family Estate also committed to the Awatere in the early stages of the valley’s development – a vision influenced by Neal Ibbotson’s knowledge of the Awatere from his previous career as a land valuer and viticultural consultant.
Just before the millennium, with the terraces upstream of State Highway 1 in the Awatere catchment rapidly being acquired for vines, Montana made the bold move of planting their large Seaview vineyard on the gentle slopes overlooking the Pacific on the right bank of the Awatere. While these maritime-influenced slopes make early spring and late autumn frost most unlikely, sea breezes reduce daytime temperatures during the summer months providing cooler growing conditions than most of the Awatere. The Montana initiative was paralleled by Peter Yealands beginning an aggressive planting programme on rolling land further away from the sea than Montana’s property.