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Featured Publication
August 2002

Canterbury Grapes and Wine 1840 - 2002
by Danny Schuster, David Jackson & Rupert Tipples

Canterbury Grapes and Wines cover
published in 2002 by Shoal Bay Press
ISBN 1 877251 12 7

Anyone who has read about the history of New Zealand wine should know that the first grapes planted in the Canterbury region were planted by the French at Akaroa on the Banks Peninsula in 1840. But there is a huge void in the history until the first 'commercial' venture in the region, that of St Helena Wine Estate on the northern outskirts of Christchurch at Coutts Island - which is not really an island by the way. St Helena escalated the region into prominence when the 1982 St Helena Pinot Noir won a gold medal, the first pinot noir gold of the 'modern day' competitions. The history and development of the region since that success is well documented in wine guides and so forth as many more wine producers are now producing from Canterbury.

But what of the gap between 1840 and the planting of grapevines at St Helena in 1978? This book has the answer thanks to the unparalleled research of historian Rupert Tipples, who gives a fascinating insight into the development of the region and the lost years.

The history section covers three chapters - the early years from 1840-1895; The Lincoln Connection which took off in 1973; and Commercial Production, which covers more recent times.

Tipples relied on the assistance of Peter Tremewan, a French lecturer at the University of Canterbury, in searching through the archives of the Akaroa settlers and to translate any references to grape growing from the Archives Decazes and Archives Nationales in Paris. He also relied on the oral testimony of many who were involved in the development of grape growing and winemaking at Lincoln College, now Lincoln University, previously not well documented until this publication. He writes in his acknowledgments that a single opinion was regarded as of no significance, two opinions that agreed suggested a possibility and three concurring opinions were accepted as evidence that what had been described actually occurred.

It becomes patently clear when reading the second chapter on the Lincoln years, that the contribution made by this academic establishment was pivotal in the modern development of the New Zealand wine industry. Lincoln was founded in 1878 and horticultural teaching began in 1949. Grapes were planted there in the 1960s after one of the lecturers, Graham Thiele, recognised similarities between wine growing regions in France and Germany and those at Motueka in Nelson. He speculated that Canterbury had potential too and soon a row of vines was planted. But they were infected by a virus and were about to be removed when David Jackson appeared on the scene in 1968 to lecture in fruit production. Jackson also lectured on grape growing although he didn't know much about it to start with.

However it was not until Danny Schuster arrived on the scene in 1973, to work with microbiologist Paul Mulcock, that things really began to happen. Schuster was a grape grower and winemaker of some experience in both Europe and Australia and the first project this trio embarked upon was a 'Fruit Wine Making for the Amateur' Seminar later that year. The attendance was over-subscribed.

The interest in winemaking soon turned to grapes with a trial vineyard being planted at Lincoln that year. As is expected from the academia, the experiment was meticulously documented and various reports were published. Once the vines were producing, taste panels were established and included some now very prominent names in the wine industry. Grape and wine seminars and courses were also held and many who attended went onto the become grape growers and winemakers. Jackson and Schuster authored 'Grape Growing and Wine Making: A Handbook for Cool Climates". First published in 1981, this spawned "The Production of Grapes and Wine in Cool Climates" which is still updated and reprinted every few years.

In Chapter Three, Commercial Production, one thing I found fascinating is that one of the sites that has consistently produced excellent pinot noir is what is now known as the Kaituna Valley Vineyard. David Jackson's technician, Graeme Steans, planted pinot Noir and these grapes constituted part of the gold medal winning 1982 St Helena Pinot Noir, which incidentally was made by Danny Schuster. This slow-growing, non-irrigated site was the earliest planting of Pinot Noir in Canterbury. The property was eventually purchased by ex-Lincoln student Grant Whelan, who has continued the track record of award-winning pinot noir from the site.

Other chapters in Part One of the book include a comprehensive section of the Climate and Soils of Canterbury by David Jackson; and Grapes, Wine and Winestyles by Valerie Saxton.

Part Two, by Danny Schuster, is a touring and information guide to The Wineries of Canterbury. It is broken into five sections; Akaroa and Banks Peninsula; Christchurch North - Belfast to Rangiora; Christchurch South/West - West Melton to Burnham; Mid/South Canterbury - Raikaia to Timaru , North Canterbury - Waipara. Photos of the wineries, many by Danny's daughter, Hannah Tabak, accompany the listings.

Canterbury Grapes and Wines 1840-2002 should be available at good bookstores at a recommended retail of NZ$39.95.

If you are having trouble sourcing it, e-mail the publisher david@shoalbay.co.nz . Say you heard about it here on www.wineoftheweek.com.

© Sue Courtney 28 August 2002


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