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Horticulture, viticulture and Romeo Bragato
Horticulture and market gardening developed in Central Otago from the 1860s. Like similar mid-nineteenth-century gold-mining regions in California and Australia, small agricultural and horticultural enterprises sprang up to service the miners and their communities. In Otago the predominantly Anglo-Celtic population later used the abandoned water races, constructed for sluicing gold, to develop irrigated pip-and stone-fruit orchards growing predominantly apricots and cherries as the lowland foundations of the local rural economy.
Among the kaleidoscope of cultures attracted to Central Otago by gold was Jean Desire Ferraud from France. On the west bank of the Clutha, just south of Alexandra, the name Frenchman’s Point records the spot where in 1863 he and a group of others struck it lucky. In 1864 he used the proceeds to purchase a property of 100 acres near the mouth of the Waikerikeri Valley. Ferraud was elected the first mayor of the municipality of Dunstan in 1866. By 1870 he and his family were growing over 1200 vines as well as a variety of fruits on ‘Monte Christo’. He sold this land in 1882 and moved to Dunedin where he became a partner in a firm that made wines and cordials.
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Ferraud probably planted Pinot Noir. One of his wines, a ‘Burgundy’, won a merit award at Sydney in 1881. At that time the name Burgundy was more likely to mean the Pinot Noir grape, whereas in the resurgent wine industries of Australia and the United States of the 1960s the word Burgundy was used for wine from almost any red grapes. In the second half of the twentieth century, for instance, Gallo’s Hearty Burgundy was
Note By 2010, 220 hectares of Hawke’s Bay Pinot Noir and 167 hectares of Marlborough’s were used for sparkling wine. In 2000, Waipara grew 54 hectares of the total Canterbury Pinot Noir and by 2010, 313 hectares.
One of California’s most popular jug wines, but very little, if any, of it saw Pinot Noir grapes. Bragato almost certainly visited the former Ferraud property. In an 1893 photograph vines were still growing against its stone winery. If the twentieth-century DSIR trial in Central Otago is taken as an example of survival without irrigation, other vines may also have survived on the Ferraud property. The trial was abandoned and the irrigation turned off in 1978 but its vines were still bearing fruit in 2002.
Early attempts at viticulture received approval when Croatian-born, Italian-trained scientist Romeo Bragato visited New Zealand. Bragato, Viticultural Expert to the Government of Victoria, Australia, arrived in New Zealand on 19 February 1895 under instructions from the Premier of Victoria, and at the invitation of the New Zealand government, to assess the prospects for viticulture in the colony. Central Otago was the first region he visited, commenting: the grapes, notwithstanding that the vines had been high trained, were perfectly ripe. This was on the 25th February, a convincing fact to me that the summer climatic conditions here are conducive to the early ripening of the fruit.
He did not identify the variety, but today’s grape growers would not be picking anywhere near this early in the season. Writing of the Queenstown area, he said:
In certain parts of this district, where a good aspect and well-sheltered spots are available, the cultivation of the vine may be undertaken, but judgment must be exercised in the selection of varieties to be planted, and cultivation and pruning methods must be adopted that meet the requirements of the colder vine-growing regions.
Other scientists were later to echo his caution.
By the end of the nineteenth century, therefore, Central Otago had shown its potential to ripen varieties of Vitis vinifera and make wine from them, but it took over 80 years before a prestige wine industry emerged. The successful cultivation of classical varieties of grapes and the making of wine in Central Otago during the 1860s and 1870s influenced this revival of viticulture a century later. Franklin mentions Jean Desire Ferraud by name, while newspaper articles about the DSIR trial of the early 1970s quote an Italian viticulturist having said that the area was ‘pre-eminently suitable for the growing of wine grapes without mentioning his caveats.