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Featured Publication
for week ending 21st March 1999

Viticulture in New Zealand

Published in 1906
By Romeo Bragato
Oenotechnic. Diploma R.S.S.V.O.E. Conegliano.
Superintendent of Viticultural Stations.

Cover of very old Bragato book

Romeo - What a romantic name! Wine and Romance - they go vey well together. Blame it on Will (Shakespeare). But seriously, Romeo was the name of this person of Italian origin who tried to influence early winemaking in New Zealand. He tried very hard, however much of his well-founded advice fell on deaf ears.

Romeo Bragato first came to NZ as a guest of the NZ Government in 1895. The then resident Australian viticulturist toured NZ via a route that started in the southern-most part of country at Bluff. This established a route that could only lead him in a northerly direction.

Most of the established vineyards were visited, starting at Central Otago where he tasted his first NZ wine.

The journey was one of optimism and few faults were found until arriving at the phylloxera infested vineyards in Auckland.

Bragato returned in 1902 to take up the inaugural position of Viticulturist and Oenologist to the Government of New Zealand.

The book was published by the Government for the Ministry of Agriculture in 1906, although Bragato wrote it in 1905.

The primary purpose was to provide a general guide to grape growing in New Zealand, dealing specifically for new Zealand conditions and climate. He also stressed the importance of planting phylloxera-resistant vines.

Thus much of the book deals with American Vines - how to obtain them, their resistance to phylloxera, their adaptability to different soils, the problems of chlorosis, propagation and grafting techniques.

Classy photographs and illustrations accompany the text and I am amazed at the quality of the reproduction of these.

Although Bragato had previously traversed the country visiting the grape growing areas, the book concentrates on the Hawkes Bay and localities further north. South Island is not mentioned at all. This is perhaps because most of his work as Government Viticulturist was carried out at the Waerenga Experimental Station in the Waikato, which is north of Hawkes Bay and south of Auckland.

The book commences with a chapter on Climate, the influence of the climate on the vine and the temperatures best suited to the grape. The illustration used in the book, a World Map of Isotherms showing countries with the same average yearly temperature, I have seen reproduced many times since. Bragato remarks that he make no claim to the originality of his work, so I suspect that he may have copied the climate diagram from somewhere else himself.

The next tiny chapter is on the influence of the soils and compares these to the soils types of major European viticultural areas.

Then several chapters on the American vine follow, discussing the topics mentioned above.

A selection of grafting tools

The next chapter concerns European Vines for the Scions. Here he discusses the vine varieties he has been experimenting with and considers suitable for NZ conditions. Of the red wine grapes he recommends (I use his spelling) Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Shiraz, Pineau Meunier and Pineau Noir. The white wine grapes are Pineau Gris, Pineau Blanc, Le Folle, Clairette Blanc, Marsanne, Riesling and Verdehlo.

He suggests the localities where these vines would be most suited and provides a brief description of the quality of the wine they should make.

He then carries on with a long chapter on pruning and training techniques, suitably illustrated also.

Finally there is a section on 'manuring' - we would say 'fertilising' these days - and concludes with a chapter on methods and construction on drains.

Certainly, it looks to my inexperienced eye that Viticulture in New Zealand (1906) would be a perfectly practical book to use for vineyard management today.

However it is out of print and I haven't seen it in any second-hand book catalogues.

I borrowed a copy from the library of the University of Auckland and I am sure that the Central Libraries in the major cities would have copies in their New Zealand or rare books sections.

Reference: Winemakers of New Zealand by Dick Scott. Southern Cross Books, Auckland, 1964.

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