“Cheers!” – How Radio has Covered the Growth of Our Export Wine Industry

Blenheimer, Marque Vue, Cold Duck. If you are over a certain age those names of early New Zealand wines may bring back a few memories. In her regular segment on RNZ, Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision client services coordinator Sarah Johnston talked to Jesse Mulligan about recordings in the sound collection of Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision that look back at the early years of New Zealand’s export wine industry.

Couple drinking wine. K E Niven and Co :Commercial negatives. Ref: 1/2-225711-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22810341
Couple drinking wine. K E Niven and Co : Commercial negatives. Ref: 1/2-225711-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22810341

 

The earliest mention in our sound collection of a possible wine export industry,  comes from the magazine-style programme “Radio Digest” in 1955.  A correspondent in Britain reports on Australian moves to export wine to the UK – and hints that this could be something we could try – one day…

 

“Radio Digest,” no. 299, 6 February (ref. 38599)

 

Range of Nobilos wines. K E Niven and Co :Commercial negatives. Ref: 1/2-228835-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22695076
Range of Nobilos wines. K E Niven and Co : Commercial negatives. Ref: 1/2-228835-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22695076

 

By the early 1970s family-run vineyards such as Nobilos and Corbans in Auckland were starting to export in a small way to places like Canada. Wine expert John Buck (of Te Mata Estate) also had a career in radio and made a series called “Wines and Wherefores” on the local wine industry in 1971, in which he predicted:

“with help from consumers, New Zealand will one day make great wine.” 

In this Spectrum documentary programme, he paid the Nobilo family a visit at their Henderson vineyard during the 1973 harvest.  Nobilo’s at this point he notes, is still a family concern “with about 15 employees.”

 

Spectrum, 51 “The Vintage,” 1973 (ref. 30016). You can hear the full Spectrum programme here.

 

Over-planting and changes in wine tastes in the early 1980s lead to a glut of some varieties and in 1985 growers were paid by the government to rip out vines and prices were slashed. One of the varieties that fell out of favour was muller-thurgau. In another radio series on the wine industry, this time from 1985, RNZ Hawkes Bay rural reporter Heugh Chappell talks about the current wine glut and what he calls “the work horse of the NZ wine industry” – muller-thurgau.

 

Radio New Zealand, “The New Zealand Wine Trail,” 17 December 1985 (ref. 16540)

 

New Zealand. Tourist and Publicity Department. [New Zealand. Tourist and Publicity Department] :New Zealand. Auckland, North Island. [Winery]. Photographer Terry Hann, National Publicity Studios. P D Hasselberg, Government Printer, Wellington, New Zealand, 1980.. Ref: Eph-D-TOURISM-1980-01. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23098142
New Zealand. Tourist and Publicity Department. [New Zealand. Tourist and Publicity Department] :New Zealand. Auckland, North Island. [Winery]. Photographer Terry Hann, National Publicity Studios. P D Hasselberg, Government Printer, Wellington, New Zealand, 1980.. Ref: Eph-D-TOURISM-1980-01. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23098142

Many of those muller-thurgau vines were replaced with the new darling, sauvignon blanc. New Zealand sauvignons were gaining recognition overseas. The following year, 1986, success in one of Britain’s leading wine competitions by Hunter Wines of Marlborough was hailed as a breakthrough for the New Zealand export wine industry.

This “Morning Report” item (introduced by presenter Maggie Barry), featured an interview with Marlborough wine pioneer, the late Ernie Hunter:

 

“Morning Report,”10 April 1986 (ref. 38357)