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New Zealand Wine History
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Wine making and vine growing go back to colonial times in New Zealand. British Resident and keen oenologist James Busby was, as early as 1836, attempting to produce wine at his land in Waitangi.[1] In 1851 New Zealand's oldest existing vineyard was established by the Roman Catholic church on land in Hawke's Bay. Due to economic (the importance of the protein export industry), legislative (prohibition and temperance) and cultural factors (overwhelming predominance of beer and spirit drinking British immigration), wine was a marginal activity. Dalmatian immigrants at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth century brought with them viticultural knowledge and set up the nascent NZ wine industry in West and North Auckland. Typically their vineyards produced sherry and port for the palates of New Zealanders of the time, and table wine for their own community.
The three factors that held back the development of the industry simultaneously underwent subtle but historic changes in the late 1960s and early 1970s. In 1973 Britain entered the European Economic Community, which required the ending of historic trade terms for New Zealand meat and dairy products. This led ultimately to a dramatic restructuring of the agricultural economy. Before this restructuring was fully implemented, diversification away from traditional protein products to products with potentially higher economic returns was explored. Vines, which produce best in low moisture and low soil fertility environments, were seen as suitable for areas that had previously been marginal pasture. The end of the 1960s saw the end of the New Zealand institution of the "six o'clock swill", where pubs were open for only an hour after the end of the working day and closed all Sunday. The same legislative reform saw the introduction of BYO (bring your own) licences for restaurants. This had a profound and unexpected effect on New Zealanders' cultural approach to wine.

Finally the late 1960s and early 1970s noted the rise of the OE (Overseas Experience), where young New Zealanders travelled and lived and worked overseas, predominantly in Europe. The OE as a cultural phenomenon goes back before this time, but by the 1960s a distinctly Kiwi (New Zealand) identity had developed and the passenger jet made the OE experience possible for a large numbers of New Zealanders who experienced first-hand the decidedly different wine-drinking cultures of Europe.
[edit] First steps

In the 1970s, Montana in Marlborough started producing wines which were labelled by year of production (vintage) and grape variety (in the style of wine producers in Australia). The first production of a Sauvignon Blanc of great note appears to have occurred in 1977. Also produced in that year were superior quality wines of Muller Thurgau, Riesling and Pinotage.
The excitement created from these successes and from the early results of Cabernet Sauvignon from Auckland and Hawkes Bay launched the industry with ever increasing investment, leading to more hectares planted, rising land prices and greater local interest and pride. Such was the boom that over-planting occurred, particularly in the "wrong" varietals that fell out of fashion in the early 1980s. In 1984 the then Labour Government paid growers to pull up vines to address a glut that was damaging the industry. Ironically many growers used the Government grant not to restrict planting, but to swap from less economic varieties (such as M¨¹ller Thurgau and other hybrids) to more fashionable varieties (Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc), using the old root stock. The glut was only temporary in any case, as boom times returned swiftly.

 Sauvignon Blanc breakthrough

New Zealand is home to what many wine critics consider the world¡¯s best Sauvignon Blanc. Oz Clarke, a well known British wine critic wrote in the 1990s that New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc was "arguably the best in the world" (Rachman). Historically, Sauvignon Blanc has been used in many French regions in both AOC and Vin de Pays wine. The most famous had been France¡¯s Sancerre. It is also the grape used to make Pouilly Fum¨¦.
Following Robert Mondavi's lead in renaming Californian Sauvignon Blanc Fum¨¦ Blanc (partially in reference to Pouilly Fum¨¦ and partially to denote the smokiness of the wine produced due to its aging in oak) there was a trend for oaked Sauvignon Blanc in New Zealand during the late 1980s. Later the fashion for strong oaky overtones and also the name waned.
In the 1980s, wineries in New Zealand, especially in the Marlborough region, began producing outstanding, some critics said unforgettable, Sauvignon Blanc. "New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is like a child who inherits the best of both parents¡ªexotic aromas found in certain Sauvignon Blancs from the New World and the pungency and limy acidity of an Old World Sauvignon Blanc like Sancerre from the Loire Valley" (Oldman, p. 152). One critic said that drinking one's first New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc was like having sex for the first time (Taber, p. 244). "No other region in the world can match Marlborough, the northeastern corner of New Zealand's South Island, which seems to be the best place in the world to grow Sauvignon Blanc grapes" (Taber, p. 244).

New Zealand wines first began showing up on the islands in colonial times. The first known New Zealand Wine producer was British oenologist James Busby, who in the 1830's began growing wine in Waitangi. However, it wasn't until the mid 1800's that the first vineyard was established. Even then however they weren't really popular, and it was a marginal activity due to the fact that there was prohibition in areas of New Zealand at the time, the popularity of beer and spirits, and the fact that meat and dairy products were more economically viable, New Zealand Wine struggled to get a foot hold. Even when prohibition was lifted, New Zealand Wine was still not economically viable to produce.
This changed in the late 1960's, when Britain joined the EEC. With the joining, the UK had to suspend favourable trading with New Zealand. This had a disastrous effect on the New Zealand dairy and meat industry, and it had to be largely scaled back. It was still profitable in small areas, however a lot of farms became vineyards. Furthermore, the prohibition restrictions were removed completely at the end of the 1960's, allowing the 24 hour sale of alcohol, and the rise of wine culture.

To begin with, wines from New Zealand weren't particularly popular, as the grape varieties were wrong for the land, and it led to bitter wines. However, throughout the 1970's, the amount of New Zealanders heading to Europe for work experience increased dramatically, some of them - based in Italy & France, gained wine knowledge in their time over there. This then - along with a few of the grapes - kickstarted some of the wine growing in New Zealand.

The best known New Zealand wines have been Sauvignon Blancs, and it was the first real success for New Zealand Wine growers. Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc has been the most successful, grown with the perfect conditions and mesoclimates, the Marlborough Sauvignon Blancs received high praise worldwide, and was the first big success.

Now seen as the "New New World" (along with Argentina), New Zealand wines are widely sought after, and vary in price, but they're relatively cheap. Check them out if you have a chance!