In Gisborne’s case, the structure of the wine filiere is distinctive in several ways. The large wineries established in Lytton Road are fermentation and storage facilities rather than full wineries. For much of its Gisborne life, Montana’s winery had no cellar door where the public could purchase wine, although winery manager Roger McLernon did later establish one for some years. Without a sales area, their winery had a similar atmosphere to some of the impersonal bodegas of the Rioja region of Spain. Like them, it was a processing plant for grapes.
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The wine was bottled, dressed and distributed from Auckland. Much was also retailed from Auckland in cardboard casks. Very few small wineries were established in Gisborne. By 1980, only five wineries were recorded as ‘growing their own grapes used for winemaking’. This confirms that Gisborne was then, and indeed remains, the region with the smallest number of wineries relative to its area in grapes of any winegrowing region in New Zealand.
Gisborne was the first staging post in the regional dispersal of winegrowing that began in the late 1960s and continued into the twenty-first century. Montana’s move to Marlborough in 1973 shifted attention away from Gisborne and had impacts that are clear in a close reading of the regional statistics. After the vine pull of 1986, Gisborne’s area in vines continued to decrease until 1997 before beginning to increase slowly again. In comparison, the area in vines was increasing again in both Hawke’s Bay and Marlborough by 1990. The large companies had shifted their attention to Marlborough, and grape growers there, as well as in Hawke’s Bay, were responding.
With this regional shift in production, the varieties of grapes being grown were also changing. In the five years between 1975 and 1980 the proportion of vinifera vines in the national vineyard shifted from 72 per cent to 91 per cent. The attraction of hybrid grapes was over, even in more humid regions such as Gisborne, where they had offered resistance to diseases and some cost savings. New hybrids such as Reichensteiner had only a short time in the spotlight. Consumers and enterprises now had their sights firmly fixed on a narrow range of vinifera grapes and varietal wines.
When large companies developed a presence in, and knowledge of, two or more regions the opportunity to substitute grapes grown in one region for those grown in another increased considerably. For wines of low to moderate price, the large companies could continue to buy inexpensive Gisborne grapes of lesser varieties to be blended with the new viniferas in wines sold at lower price points. But Gisborne growers were also able to respond to demand for new varieties because irrigation was not necessary and most varieties they planted yielded well. As is evident from the interviews with the Bell and Fletcher families, the enterprises purchasing their grapes strongly influence the varieties being planted by growers.
When takeovers and mergers among large winegrowing enterprises quickened, the number of large enterprises that had previously bought grapes from Gisborne winegrowers decreased. Conversely, the increased scale of Pernod Ricard NZ Ltd (Montana) saw the area of its own vineyards increase in several regions, notably in Gisborne. In the early 2000s, Montana’s ratio of company to grower vineyards was 30: 70. At that time, its influential and outspoken CEO Peter Hubscher was expressing the wish to increase their own vineyards in Gisborne until the ratio was about 50: 50. Their takeover of Corbans accomplished this target in one fell swoop, even allowing Montana to sell some vineyards.
Given its history in the region and nationally, it should have come as no surprise when Pernod Ricard NZ Ltd announced in June 2009 that it was entering into discussions with its contract grape growers in Poverty Bay to reduce further their area of vines under contract. The specific reason given for this renegotiation was that demand for its Lindauer brand of effervescent wines and for Chardonnay was weaker than expected.