In 1819, when the United States encountered the worst financial crisis, referred to as the Panic of 1819, Samuel Marsden, an Anglican missionary, was busy planting grapevines at the Bay of Islands. While one country battled adversity, another began thriving.
New Zealand has a remarkable and attention-grabbing wine history. The mention of New Zealand and wine in the same sentence must have called Sauvignon Blanc to your mind. But why is that? Well, your curiosity is about to be sated and your interest piqued!
History in a Bottle – The New Zealand Wine Industry
As surprising as it sounds, New Zealand winemakers have nurtured vineyards and bottled grapey deliciousness since the 1800s. Table and Sherry wines were most popular during this time. Grapes were illustriously grown in family vineyards for personal and local consumption. Wine flowed freely, and the varieties were a delight. The residents tasted and indulged in them, from light and dry to sweet and everything in between.
However, this good-quality wine was exclusive to the shores, borders, and lands of New Zealand. At this point the wine was not exported outside this region, partly because of the Great Depression, Temperance Movement, and Prohibition. The times were rough, but New Zealand’s remote location also shared the blame.
History pays homage to James Busby as one of the pioneer winemakers in New Zealand. The Scotsman was the first known British resident in New Zealand and brought wine with him (literally!). The French explorer Dumont d’Urville, who was privileged to visit Busby in 1840, said he was treated to a “light white wine, very sparkling and delicious to taste.”
While Busby brought wine to New Zealand, a group of wine lovers carried on his legacy throughout the 19th century. These include Hawke’s Bay pastoralists, French Priests, Croatian gum-diggers, and peasants. Unfortunately, the booming wine industry suffered several attacks from anti-wine forces, including vine-ravaging phylloxera, powdery mildew, and prohibitionist zealots.
The New Zealand wine industry slowly picked up its broken pieces and gradually grew in the 1920s and 30s. Ironically, it bloomed and expanded during the Second World War partly because imported wines attracted higher duties. As the industry developed, it benefited from a series of successive wine regulations in the 1950s and 60s, including full approval for the launch of more retail outlets and granting licenses to restaurants to sell wines.
The 1970s was a period of meteoric growth for the industry as foreign countries invested heavily in wine. There was also a significant improvement in wine quality and the production of light, fruity and semi-sweet white wine from Muller-Thurgau crops. Today, New Zealand wine has exponentially grown, with over 700 wineries. The industry is brimming with ever-evolving labels, companies, and faces.
Samuel Marsden once predicted that “New Zealand promises to be favorable to the vine.” Over 200 years later, his forecasting has proven to be true.
Sauvignon Blanc: New Zealand’s Ultimate Wine
Sauvignon Blanc is undoubtedly New Zealand’s most famous wine. The most notable region for this grape in New Zealand is Marlborough. Sitting pretty on the South Island, the region is bathed in warm sunshine and is shielded from the cooler regions. The breeze from the coast cools the fruits and is instrumental to a successful ripening season. It scarcely rains in this region, and the soils are perfectly drained.
The Sauvignon Blanc vines were first planted in the mid-1970s. Later in 1985, a prominent Marlborough winery (Cloudy Bay) produced and marketed the first Sauvignon Blanc wine, which garnered worldwide popularity. Since then, the wine has witnessed expansive growth; as of 2017, New Zealand produced over 275 million liters of Sauvignon Blanc.
On this Day
1985: A prominent Marlborough winery (Cloudy Bay) produced and marketed the first Sauvignon Blanc wine, which garnered worldwide popularity.
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