Page 5 – Foundations for the future, 1960s to mid-1980s
More vineyards were planted from the 1960s: in 1960, they covered about 390 hectares, jumping to over 5,000 hectares (around 60 vineyards) by 1982. The volume of wine produced soared, from about 4 million litres in 1960 to over 50 million by 1980. New Zealand wine also went out to the world: in 1963 Auckland firm Corbans made the first major export of New Zealand wine.
The geography of the industry shifted as winemakers learned more about matching grapes to local conditions. The Auckland area lost its dominance to Gisborne and Hawke’s Bay; by the end of the 1970s, these two regions had the largest area under vines. Other areas opened up. Marlborough’s first large commercial plantings were made in 1973, and within a few years, the country’s biggest winemaking firms had moved there.
Investment and organisation
Overseas investment boosted the local industry, helping winemakers buy much-needed new equipment. New York firm Seagram bought a 40% share in Montana Wines in 1973, pushing a major period of growth, and more Australian companies entered the local market.
The wine industry also became more organised. In 1975 several groups merged to form the New Zealand Wine Institute, giving the industry a single voice to promote its interests.
Most local wines were fortified, although the climate did not suit their production. But from the 1960s, table wines took over. Table wine was just 12% of wine produced in 1962, but had surged to more than 73% by the early 1980s.
Changing social habits meant that people wanted to drink wine with their meals. Restaurants could become licensed from 1960, and other places were soon selling wine, including theatres, cabarets and taverns. In 1976 the ‘BYO wine’ tradition in unlicensed restaurants became legal. BYO stands for ‘bring your own’ – meaning that diners can bring their own wine to drink with a meal. In 1979, the first restaurant at a vineyard opened, at Vidal’s in Hawke’s Bay.
New grape varieties replaced the cheap American hybrid grapes. Müller-Thurgau became the most common white wine grape planted during the 1960s and 1970s, cabernet sauvignon the most common red. Winemakers looked to the mass market, and both of these grapes formed the basis of what came to be called ‘Chateau Cardboard’ – the cask wine made in abundance and sold in cardboard boxes. New Zealanders’ sweet palate was still catered for: ‘Marque Vue’ and ‘Blenheimer’, from the McWilliams and Montana labels, were among the most popular of the era.
Expansion didn’t occur without hiccups. Higher sales tax on local wine forced up prices, and in the tight economy of the mid-1980s, wine drinkers were reluctant to buy. Bumper vintages saturated the market, so big producers slashed prices. The smaller family-run wineries suffered in the price war, and some went out of business. Even major producers struggled: Villa Maria, which had bought Hawke’s Bay producer Vidal’s in 1976, went into receivership in 1985.
A glut of lower-quality wine led to the government, in 1986, paying growers to pull out their vines. Up to 25% of the national vineyard was uprooted, mostly around Gisborne and in Hawke’s Bay. Production slowed, and it was not until 1993 that the area in vines reached the pre-1986 level.