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Featured Publication
for week ending 1st August 1999

Winemakers of New Zealand

by Dick Scott
Published by Southern Cross Books, Auckland, in 1964.
Cover Pic
Cover illustration by Graham Percy

Much research went into this book which in turn has become a treasure trove in regard to the history of wine making in New Zealand. It was the first major twentieth century work to fill the void in NZ's history between James Busby's planting of grapevines in the 1830's, the writings of Bragato nearly 80 years later, and later twentieth century winemaking.

To research the history, Scott depended on recollections of many of the descendants of the families involved, archival material from museums and libraries and the University of Auckland thesis of Warren Moran written in the mid 1950's.

The result makes thoroughly interesting and I certainly found out a great deal about the history of the NZ Wine Industry that is either omitted or only lightly touched on in later works*.

Anybody who knows anything about NZ's viticultural history will know that the first vines were planted on September 25 1819 by Samuel Marsden at Kerikeri in the north of NZ. However, James Busby is accredited as being NZ's first winemaker, harvesting and vinifying grapes from the wines he had planted some 14 years later in the garden of his British Resident's house at Waitangi.

What of the others? There are plenty of names in those early days. However, I found the 1879 story of the Levets to be of particular interest. From the Rodney region, with their vineyard at Wellsford, they have the honour of being NZ's first 'commercial' winemakers. However they could not sell wine from their premises, as wine could only be sold from hotels in those days, so instead the wine was shipped in barrel from Port Albert on the Kaipara Harbour to Onehunga on the Manukau Harbour via the treacherous west coast seas. From here it went to cellars of NZ's first 'wine shop' license holder, Israel Wendel, who had cellars in Symonds Street, Auckland and a wine bar in Karangahape Road.

The books give many details of many small, long forgotten, grape growers and wine makers, although it is not strictly in chronological order. Many vineyards were planted after the inspiring first visit of Romeo Bragato, 'The Overseas Expert', in 1895.

A couple of chapters are devoted to Bragato, who's vision for our wine industry is continually recognised now. Pity it wasn't then. Returning as the first Government Viticulturist in 1902, poor old Romeo left NZ for Canada in 1908 after suffering much frustration. The frustation continued as he took his own life 3 years later following a domestic crisis.

The book concludes with a salute to the survivors of those early days and profiles some of the companies who were around in 1964. These include Corbans, Western Vineyards, Vidals, Panaorma, Golden Sunset, Pleasant Valley, Glenvale, San Marino (now Kumeu River), Delegat's, Lincoln, Waihirere, Lemora, Eastern Vineyard and Montana Wines.

Some of these companies are still going strong, and Corbans and Montana are two of the four biggest wine making corporations in New Zealand today.

If you're interested in wine and history, then this book is an absolute 'must read'.

I borrowed the book from the University of Auckland library and I'm continually looking for a copy in a second hand book store. There are copies around. I've seen it at one inner city store, but I'm too stingy to pay their inflated price. New copies, from the authors private collection, have recently been available at 'Time Out Books' in Mt Eden - about $90 for the hard back and $55 for the soft cover.

*Later books include 'Wine in NZ' by Frank Thorpy, 'The Wines and Vineyards of NZ' by Michael Cooper, 'The Wines of New Zealand' by Rosemary George.

Update - June 2002 - Winemakers of New Zealand has been republished as Pioneers of New Zealand Wine. Read the review here.

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