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Wednesday 21 August 2019

New Zealand wine to mark a memorable milestone

Central Otago pinot noir vines
This September will mark 200 years since the first planting of a grapevine in New Zealand, a stat that might surprise many wine experts.

From the humble beginnings of a few vines planted 200 years ago in the Bay of Islands, the New Zealand wine industry has grown to become a major export earner, with an international reputation for premium, diverse and sustainable wines.

Sauvignon blancs from Marlborough and pinot noirs from Central Otago are known all over the wine-drinking world. 

It may, however, surprise many connoisseurs to learn that New Zealand’s wine story is older than they think.

Reverend Samuel Marsden, who was Chaplain to New South Wales (1765-1838), records September 25, 1819, as the day he planted a grape vine in the fertile grounds beside the Stone Store, at Kerikeri in New Zealand's Bay of Islands. 

That pioneering vine also gave New Zealand’s wine heritage a unique story as one of very few countries in the world where the exact date of the planting of the first vines is recorded.

Throughout the 19th and early 20th century, a significant number of European arrivals established vineyards in different regions, contributing to the early establishment of the diverse wine regions of New Zealand. 

But it wasn’t until the second half of the last century that a new wave of Kiwi viticulturalists and winemakers began to earn their place in the international wine world. Until then the major grape in New Zealand was the mediocre Muller-Thurgau. 

Today, the New Zealand wine industry consists of over 700 wineries and more than 600 grape growers, with its growing success depending strongly on the commitment and passion of the people behind it.

Since the 1990s, there has been an evolution in the grape varieties planted throughout New Zealand. Sauvignon blanc is now the most widely planted variety, accounting for 76% of total production, followed by pinot noir and chardonnay.

Around 98% of New Zealand’s vineyard production land is certified under Sustainable Winegrowing New Zealand (SWNZ), a voluntary scheme that is unmatched anywhere in the world.

New Zealand Winegrowers will be marking the 200-year anniversary of the first vine planting with an event that includes a ceremonial re-planting at the historic Stone Store, followed by a regional wine tasting and dinner on the nearby Waitangi Treaty Grounds.

In his diary, Marsden prophesied: "New Zealand promises to be very favourable to the vine, as far as I can judge at present of the nature of the soil and climate. Should the vine succeed, it will prove of vast importance in this part of the globe."

The first recorded New Zealand wine was made in the Bay of Islands in the 1830s.

The first wine-maker was James Busby – representative of the British Crown in New Zealand.

Busby lived in what is now known as the Treaty House in the Treaty Grounds at Waitangi.

When French naval explorer Jules Dumont d’Urville (commanding officer on the Astrolabe) visited the Bay of Islands in 1840, he was disappointed to find Busby was not at home.

d’Urville, however, sampled Busby’s wine and subsequently penned New Zealand’s first wine review: "With great pleasure I agreed to taste the product of the vineyard that I had just seen. I was given a light white wine, very sparkling, and delicious to taste, which I enjoyed very much."

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