A smiling man and woman are underneath the vines with a wine bottle in the foreground.

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

6 Oct 2016
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.

A man and woman in black tie dress are clinking wine glasses in celebration. On the table next to them in front of them is an ice bucket with a wine bottle, a dining set and a lit candelabra

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

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…

Several different wine bottle are gathered together in a group with some bunches of grapes.

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

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.

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:

Hero image: 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.