200 Years? Not Yet!

The 1st vines were planted in New Zealand in 1819. But don’t start raising a glass to 200 years of New Zealand wine yet! Those vines were planted by Samuel Marsden of the Church Missionary Society, a group whose anti-alcohol views were both robust and well-known. So, unless someone made some wine in secret – always possible – the true bi-centenary celebration will have to go on hold for a few more years.

How many? Even Keith Stewart’s ‘Chancers and Visionaries’, a fascinating history of New Zealand wine, can’t be precise although, by the mid-1830s, James Busby and others were certainly very active in their wineries. But wine drinking and winemaking never really thrived at that time in New Zealand, nor, indeed, well into the 20th century, thanks to restrictive laws. It wasn’t really until the 1970s that the modern New Zealand wine industry was born – an amazing fact when you think of the success that country’s wines enjoy today.

But, as regular Bristol Wine Blog readers know, I’m always happy to open a bottle from there, even if we are celebrating a little too soon.

NZ P NoirTwo Paddocks ‘Picnic’ Pinot Noir (Grape and Grind, £18.99) is a lovely smooth and fresh red with all those typical flavours and aromas of a good Pinot Noir: dried fruits and a certain undergrowth smell on the nose followed by black and dried fruits on the palate, quite savoury and a little smoky, but really complex and a finish that goes on and on. But, at the same time, it’s very drinkable – not heavy, so best with lighter meats or cheeses; very much a food wine. And remarkable value for money: if this was from Burgundy, I suspect the price would be double.

So, celebrating or not, this is a bottle well worth opening – and, perhaps, getting a 2nd one to keep under the stairs because, in a couple of years, I suspect it might be even better.

Ungrafted vines – revisited

Some time ago, I wrote a blog titled “Ungrafted Vines: A Taste of History”. It has since become the most read of all my blogs. Even now, 21 months later, several people every week hit on it. So, perhaps, it’s time to revisit a topic that’s clearly of interest to many of you.

Firstly, what do I mean by an ungrafted vine? It’s a vine where the whole plant – including the roots – is a single entity. You might think that all vines are like that, but most vines used for the wines we drink today are not – and we need to look back over a hundred years for the reason why.

In the 1860s, phylloxera, a microscopic bug that attacks vine roots and eventually kills the vine, was found in a vineyard in southern France. Over the following four decades or so, it spread quickly and devastated many vineyards in Europe and beyond. At the time, no-one knew what it was or how to deal with it. It was feared that the world’s entire wine industry would be wiped out. The cause of the problem was finally identified in the 1880s, but the solution took far longer to discover.

Phylloxera came to Europe from America where the native vine has developed resistance, but the European vine, which is genetically different, has not, so all our familiar varieties are vulnerable to attack. One solution considered was to plant American vines in place of European, but the wine they produced was not found to be of the same quality.

Fortunately, it was eventually realised that, by using the roots of an American vine and grafting (attaching) a European vine to them, you could have wines from Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot or whatever and protection from phylloxera. Problem solved!

So what about ungrafted vines? There are a few places in the world where you’ll still find them. They are either so remote from other vineyards that the bug has never spread there or the soil is very sandy (which the bug doesn’t like). Parts of Chile, a small area of Portugal and parts of Cyprus are among the places you’ll find that little bit of history – a vine that is a single entity from tip to root, but everywhere else, grafted vines are the only way to produce the wines we like.