Australia And New Zealand Map Quiz
Other companies have used different approaches to associate themselves with Marlborough and to diversify their brand. In the early 1990s, Ross and Bill Spence established that Matua Valley was no longer merely a West Auckland company by introducing the Shingle Peak label – a much less expensive alternative strategy made possible because they had already secured their Marlborough grape growers and vineyards.
One conclusion about vine environments in relation to the sequence of vineyard development is inescapable. While it is generally accepted that Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough has distinctive aromas and flavours compared to other parts of the world, it is being produced from soils that are extremely variable – from coarse gravels to deep alluviums to former sand dunes or marine gravels. It would seem that the atmospheric environment of the vine in Marlborough, which varies on a much coarser scale than the soils, is the integrating environmental influence. Kevin Judd, former chief winemaker and managing director of Cloudy Bay, is unequivocal on the reason for the distinctiveness of Marlborough’s Sauvignon Blanc: ‘It’s primarily climatic – there’s no doubt about that. Yet even this explanation is not conclusive, because many other viticulturists and winemakers argue that Sauvignon Blanc grapes, or wine from the Wairau compared with the Awatere, and certainly from localities within the Wairau, all have distinctive characteristics.
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In an oblique aerial view across the Southern Valleys, as recently as 2005 a single large area of flat land stood out as not yet being colonised by the vine. On the western bank of the Waihopai River is the former Bankhouse Station backed by its distinctive, arrow-like ridge. This enterprise has since been branded as Winegrowers of ARA. It is on the high and undissected terraces of the Waihopai. Its two main soil types are Renwick – the same as much of the Southern Valleys; and Waimakariri – the same as Conders Bend. Many potential buyers looked at this site as having potential for growing vines but were cautious because of its reputation for being colder in the cusp seasons than much of the Wairau Valley and vulnerable to late-spring and early autumn frosts. All but a small part of it is over 100 metres above sea level. Being well inland from the sea breezes originating from Cloudy Bay, its summers are hot. The circles from centre-point irrigation systems, growing pasture for fattening cattle, are clearly evident when viewing Bankhouse Station from Google Earth. These have provided some cash flow while the vineyards have been developed.
The viticultural plan for ARA is to limit or even eliminate frost damage while providing water for an ambitious irrigation system using large storage reservoirs. As in Chablis, the part of Burgundy most vulnerable to spring frosts, the watering system is overhead sprinklers, not drip irrigation. By coating vulnerable buds and young leaves in mist and thin layers of ice, they can be protected from several degrees of frost. Overhead irrigation systems also mimic rain. They can be used to charge the soil moisture until the appropriate time when fruit begins to change colour and the soil moisture gradually decreases. The roots of vines are in this way encouraged to penetrate more deeply and find their own equilibrium with their environment until irrigation can be reduced.
By choosing this path, ARA are pushing beyond the climatic limits that others have so far been prepared to accept in the Marlborough region. It would be surprising if, given their frost precautions – at relatively low cost compared with alternative systems -their risks are any greater than for other localities of the Wairau Plain such as parts of the Southern Valleys where the ponding of cold air is common. It is also unlikely that the risk is any greater than for Central Otago growers who are now planting at elevations higher than 400 metres, or the large number in Hawke’s Bay who have not yet invested in frost protection.
When the first European surveyors arrived on the Wairau Plain they lived on rafts of logs in the swamp near Blenheim, colourfully called Beavertown. By the time vines were planted in 1973, the Wairau Plain had already been transformed by artificial drainage, especially the lower eastern half. Controlling flooding using stopbanks had been practised for over a century and a comprehensive flood-control scheme was developed after 1960. These conservation efforts had extended into the hills. For much of the twentieth century the name Wither Hills was associated more with such efforts in soil conservation in the catchment of the Wairau than with wines.