Wellington New Zealand Map

Regional revolution

Strong growth in the area in vines has characterised the period from 1960 to 2010 and beyond (Figure 3.1). From a low base in 1960, the planting of vineyards quickened after 1975 before a flat period between 1982 and 1985. The government-sponsored vine-pull scheme of 1986 saw over 1500 hectares of vines removed. More vines were planted immediately, and after 1995 planting again accelerated.

The growth showed little signs of slackening until the recession of 2008 slowed plantings in some regions, but most enterprises have recovered, and now many grape growers and wine enterprises are planning substantial increases in their vineyards. Accompanying the increase in area in vines has been substantial investment in wineries and associated plant by both large corporate and family firms.

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The New Zealand industry that developed is highly oligopolistic. At the millennium, four firms – Montana, Corbans, Villa Maria and Nobilo – produced about 80 per cent of the wine. Almost 350 mainly family winemaking firms, and about 700 family-based grape growers, made up the rest of the industry. Over the last twenty years, takeovers and mergers have transformed the ownership structure of the largest firms. Montana bought Corbans and then in 2000 Pernod Ricard acquired Montana. In 2011, contract winemaker and exporter Indevin Partners New Zealand made use of the fermentation and storage tanks in Gisborne that had been underutilised as the New Zealand wine industry focused its attention on the rapid growth of the Central Otago, Wairarapa, Marlborough and Hawke’s Bay regions.

In 1960, grape growing and winemaking were concentrated in Auckland and Hawke’s Bay (Table 3.1). Together, these two regions grew 85 per cent of New Zealand’s total area in vines. Since 1960, a series of regional growth spurts have transformed the distribution of vines in New Zealand. Four main stages are discernible. First, in a frequently neglected phase of the industry, an expansion took place in the Auckland region during the 1960s and early 1970s. Associated with this development was growth in the nearby Waikato region, dominated by the Te Kauwhata locality. Second, during the 1960s and period in 1990, Hawke’s Bay has been one of the top two regions by area in vines and has played a distinctive and vital role in the New Zealand industry.

The expansion in vineyard area gained real momentum after 1965. Auckland was the region that grew most rapidly in the period 1965 to 1970. Three major firms – Corbans, Montana and Penfolds – began a rapid expansion of their vineyard area (Figure 3.3). Each had different motives for relocating or expanding. Corbans, the largest enterprise at the beginning of the expansion, was being pressured by urban encroachment close to its vineyards in Henderson, West Auckland. It could capitalise on this land’s urban potential by selling some vineyards and buying and developing more suitable land cheaply within reasonable distance of its winery. Meanwhile, the Yukich brothers had become closely involved in their father’s 5 hectares of grapes and small winery called Montana in the Waitakere Ranges. Working from a restricted site, they began a period of aggressive expansion of their business that accelerated when the American firm Seagram bought 40 per cent of Montana in 1973. By the end of the century, Montana would be making wine from about 3000 hectares of grapes. Finally, Penfolds of Australia entered the New Zealand industry by acquiring a large family vineyard and winery in Henderson owned by the Averill family.

From today’s perspective and state of environmental knowledge, it seems surprising that in their first large plantings these three firms all chose sites on the outskirts of the Auckland metropolitan area. Within a decade all except Corbans’ Merlot vineyard in Kumeu were out of production. Had this expansion taken place a decade or so later it is likely that the choice of sites, even within the Auckland region, would have been more sophisticated and the vineyards of higher quality. In the 1960s, however, knowledge of suitable varieties and clones, of canopy management, and the virus status of New Zealand vines was rudimentary. The South Auckland vineyard of Montana would have been much more successful had it been located in the eastern lee of the Hunua Ranges. The Penfolds vineyards near the west coast were within 10 kilometres of the very successful Rothesay vineyards of Collards in the Matua Valley that is much less exposed and receives noticeably lower rainfall on more versatile soils. Two of the Corbans vineyards in Kumeu were later sold and revitalised. Under different ownership and with better canopy management, they have produced some fine Merlot.

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