A transforming moment
The modern New Zealand wine industry developed out of the assortment of wines and vines established in a few regions by about 1960. In Auckland, it was also driven by a group of enthusiasts who saw the development of wine in New Zealand as one part of changing the wider culture. Its spiritual home was Paul Groshek’s Muaga Vineyards in Candia Road, Henderson, where conversation flowed freely, stimulated by Groshek’s wide interests and lubricated by his simple, unadulterated table wine – even on Sundays. The writer Rex Fairburn’s polemical broadsheet Crisis in the Wine Industry, published by Pelorus Press in 1948 and reprinted in 1949, systematised some of the conversations from these symposia at Groshek’s winery.
New Zealand is probably the only country in the world with a wine-growing climate that has failed to give strong and consistent support to its wine industry. This has been due partly to the restrictive effect of the activities of certain vested interests, and partly to lack of public knowledge and appreciation of the value of wine as a staple article of diet.
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Is there in New Zealand politics a man with sufficient vision to see the possibilities -economic, social and cultural – that are latent in the wine industry of this country and in the unused acres of second-class land that could be adding greatly to the wealth of the Dominion?
In the late 1950s, government action followed. From 1938 under Import Control Regulations the imports of wine and spirits were halved for several years. This reduction in supply of spirits and wine coincided with increased demand for alcohol during the Second World War, partly because of the large number of American troops stationed in New Zealand. Local winegrowers responded by increasing production. But their favourable trading conditions were short-lived. Imports increased; and by 1948, overproduction in New Zealand wine was assumed to have arrived. A Royal Commission on Licensing in 1946 considered all alcohols and made recommendations on the marketing channels for wine but few were acted upon. Given the Commission’s broad mandate, the power of the breweries and wine and liquor importers and merchants, this was not surprising. But the difficulties being experienced by the wine industry in both West Auckland and Hawke’s Bay in the late 1940s and into the 1950s began to attract public and political attention and support.
On 26 October 1956, the New Zealand House of Representatives ordered that a Select Committee be appointed, consisting of ten members to enquire into and report upon the state and prospects of the wine-making industry of New Zealand, the effect of the present law upon the manufacture, distribution, sale, and consumption of New Zealand wine and all other aspects of the industry as the Committee sees fit.
Few select committees have had terms of reference so broad or made recommendations so bold. Paul Groshek gave written evidence to the Committee. His submission was by far the most colourful, visionary and unequivocal, in ideas as well as language.