Map Of Queenstown New Zealand

What appears to be a rather gradual move towards the classical vinifera varieties by the Bells must be seen in terms of the complexity of the decisions in a developing industry that initially relied on grapes being grown at high yields. All grape growers, and especially Gisborne ones, many of whom have had a lifetime career in the industry, have to consider the changing demands of the company who are requiring a gamut of grapes for a gamut of wines. For the grower, price per tonne has to be considered against the yields that they can achieve compared with the qualities that the company seeks for each level of wine, and especially those qualities that they are able to measure. From the 1990s, the large wine companies increasingly attempted to quantify the qualities they required in the grapes for different wines in their portfolio. Companies confronted such issues in the 1990s after the Commerce Commission’s determination over collective bargaining by grape growers. Montana, as the dominant company for much of the period, often appeared to be playing a political game by taking opportunities in the press to talk down grape prices.

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Doug’s skills in toolmaking and engineering have also been invaluable to keeping costs down in the grape-growing business: ‘We’ve built a trimmer and a mower -a four-head rotary mower which is the correct width for our rows, and a trimmer that trims both sides and the top so that I can trim a row in one pass. But his piece de resistance is that ‘we’ve changed our crop sprayer to a new German tangential head-type sprayer, very low water volumes, and as a result of that have halved our chemical usage’. With James Millton and Chris Parker, Doug has held the technical and research portfolio of Gisborne Winegrowers. This spray research was conducted with Paul Miller, an Australian consultant, and they hope to reduce the chemicals even further. The principle is ‘that the droplets are so fine there is no run-off and we can attach a lot less chemical to the canopy’.

Gisborne grape growers have made an incommensurable contribution to the principles and practice of the deinvigoration of grapevines. Vigorous vines result in thick canopies with many of the leaves in the interior of the hedge not photosynthesising effectively. Fruit tend not to ripen well. Vignerons in some regions of France and other European countries reduce vigour by having up to 10,000 vines per hectare competing against one another. In Gisborne, on the alluvial soils of the Poverty Bay flats, high yields were an advantage in the 1970s and into the 1980s when grapes were in limited supply. But it soon became obvious that vines needed to be less vigorous if quality was to

Overleaf: Millton’s Clos de Ste Anne vineyards where planting began in 1981 to assess the potential of hillside vineyards in Gisborne. Millton Vineyards & Winery improve, especially because many soils on the flats retain moisture well and the water table is in places close to the surface. Gisborne grape growers opted for deinvigorating vines through selected rootstock and planting a variety of cover crops between the rows. Those like the Bells may be right up with the world’s best practice. As Doug puts it: ‘There’s unique characteristics in each area and you manage your environment to make the best of what you have available.’

The Thorpe family’s rural enterprises

When in 1969, at the age of 58, Jack Thorpe retired, he and his wife Joyce set up a family trust with their eight children as beneficiaries. Its main assets were horticultural properties Jack intended to develop using capital accumulated while a major shareholder and production manager of Columbine Hosiery. During the next five years the family trust accumulated five properties totalling over 400 acres on the Gisborne Plain. By the mid-1970s the Thorpe family trust’s orchards and vineyards were approaching full production. They included about 150 acres in kiwifruit, 80 acres in persimmons, as well as 50 acres of grapes. The remaining 120 acres were at various times in mandarins, navel oranges and nashi pears. While all the Thorpe children have had some connection with the land, four – Bill, Geoff, and twins John and Richard -became deeply enmeshed in land-based production. Geoff, the initiator of Riversun Nursery, has influenced viticulture in all regions of New Zealand. Their enterprises also demonstrate how grapes are just one of the crops competing for use of the versatile Poverty Bay flats.

Buying, planting, spraying, pruning, maintaining and marketing the trust’s 170 hectares of intensively planted perennials required a tight organisation. ‘My father ran the properties on a daily basis, says Bill Thorpe, ‘and we had foremen who were there running them hour by hour. Dad was a good organiser and liked to be involved, and I ran the accounting and the financial side at night, because I was full time at Columbine. In 1980, brother Richard became involved in the management of the trust’s horticultural properties. However, in 1984, when expenditure on horticultural development could no longer be deducted against income from other sources, the trust came under pressure financially. Bill also suggests that at that time it ‘was probably carrying more debt than it should have been. And then Dad retired, in about 1985, and started to become quite nervous about the exposure that we had.’

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