Art. LXI.—On Vine-growing in Hawke's Bay.
[Read before the Hawke's Bay Philosophical Institute, 11th August, 1890.]
When I had the honour to be admitted into your society I begged exemption from any literary or scientific contribution, having been condemned by sickness to suspend my favourite studies, and to avoid all serious mental exertion. It is then with hesitation that, yielding to kind solicitations, I have been persuaded, perhaps not wisely, to record a few remarks on a question of some interest, to this province—namely, vine-growing in Hawke's Bay. The following remarks, written by fits and starts, are not a treatise on the matter, but simply the results of personal practical observations. Incomplete as they are, they may, perhaps, induce some industrious person to attempt the experiment.
My remarks do not refer either to vineries in hothouses, or to vines planted outside, along a wall, but to real vineyards, in the open air. These already exist in Hawke's Bay: some have been in full produce for many years past; some have been planted recently; and I am convinced that a great many more could be planted, even on a large scale, anywhere, under certain conditions. The principal points to which I shall refer are: a proper soil, a dry temperature, and a sunny exposure.
1. Soil.—It is well known that the vine can grow in almost every soil; but to produce grapes fit for wine it requires an open soil with good drainage. Swampy lands, or lands exposed to periodical floods, or retaining surface-water, are unfit for grapes. The plant would not grow, or would soon decay and perish. Very high lands with hard clay are too cold, the grapes would not ripen.
With those exceptions the vine will thrive in any soil. On a rich deep land it grows luxuriantly, and produces abundance of large fruits; but the wine will often acquire a particular taste, sometimes disagreeable, and well known in France by the name of gout de terroir. Shallow dry soils will produce less grapes, but the wine is of a finer flavour. A sandy soil, as found in the Ahuriri plains and elsewhere, will form a good vineyard; but the slopes of hills are better suited for that purpose, wherever we find a calcareous, cretaceous, siliceous, or even volcanic subsoil. In France, and elsewhere, the vineyards most celebrated for the excellence of their wine are on stony soils: calcareous in Burgundy, along the Rhine and the Moselle; purely cretaceous in Champagne; rather marly around Bordeaux. In the best vineyards the land is so much covered with small stones that the soil itself has been completely hidden. It is, then, easy to understand how the grapes, receiving the action of the sun directly and through radiation, may attain their finest qualities. The vine is generally planted on the slopes of the hills; but when the declivities are too steep they are terraced, and vines planted on the patches of good land mingled with bare rocks. This mode of cultivation is used along the gorge of the Rhone, near Vienne, in France, and the wine produced there is well known by its superior quality, as vin des côtes rôties. The best claret, or Bordeaux wine, the best wines of Spain, Cyprus, and Hungary, are produced in the same manner.
2. Climate.—A very moist climate is not suitable for winemaking; nor is a mild climate the mean temperature of which is about the same all the year round, because the ripening of the wood as well as the fruit requires a considerable summer-heat continued for several months. This is the reason why vine-growing does not succeed well either in the south of England, or in the north-west of France, or in Belgium. On the contrary, we know of large vineyards producing excellent wine in the north-east, as in Champagne, along the Rhine and the Moselle, because the climate of those countries, though colder than in the south of England, is very hot in the summer months, even at night.
3. Exposure.—This condition supposes (1) an aspect sheltered both from the spray of the sea and the dampness of the valleys above which the vineyard may be planted, and from
the violent winds, most especially the cold south-west, to prevent the danger of frost in spring-time, or the injury of the young shoots and the grapes when they are already formed; (2) an aspect towards the sun, that the vines may receive in full the rays of the sun during all the day, if possible, or at least in the morning and at noon. It is by means of artificial shelter—for instance, a wall—that in countries unfit for large vineyards it is possible to have good grapes and even wine, if not in quantity, at least of a pretty good quality.
Now, by applying these conditions to Hawke's Bay, we may easily draw the conclusion that large tracts of it are eminently favourable to vine-growing. (1.) We have the proper soil in the greatest part of the Ahuriri plains, composed of sand or gravel, and which can be well drained; in the hills which surround them, and which are chalk-marls and limestones, or calcareous sands—and almost all the hills of the province are of the same formation. (2.) Our climate is warm enough, and even more than enough, in summer months to bring to proper maturity the plants and the grapes. The coldness of the nights may perhaps delay the development of the saccharine substance in the grapes, but it is easy to correct that defect by the means used in Australia. (3.) It would be the business of the vinegrowers to choose for the vineyards places well exposed to the sun, and protected from the dangerous winds and dampness. Many are those places, like the hills and valleys near Taradale, all over the province.
A fact will prove better than any argument the possibility of cultivating grapes and making good wine in Hawke's Bay. About twenty years ago, vines were planted in the garden of the Catholic Mission at Meanee for the purpose of making wine only for the service of the altar. The attempt was successful, and the small vineyard was increased to the extent of a little more than half an acre. The plants were of the best quality: Black Hamburg, White and Red Sweet-water, Chasselas, and Alexandria Tardif. They have produced every year a larger crop of grapes, which make wine of excellent quality, “When leaving New Zealand, Comte d'Abbans, the French Vice-Consul at Wellington, took with him some twenty bottles of 1885 to 1888 wine of different qualities, made at Meanee, and had it exhibited in his court at the Paris Exhibition. Unfortunately, owing to some omission of formality, the wine was not tasted by the jury: but the Comte subsequently obtained the opinion of some of the best wine merchants in Paris, who have unanimously pronounced it unmistakably superior to anything produced in Australia. They say that some of the wines are equal to the celebrated Cyprus brands, the red wines being very similar to the Hungarian or Tokay. One quality of wine tested was almost as
sparkling; and the wine merchants state that any amount could be sold there in the best restaurants, provided it was produced in sufficient quantity. Comte d'Abbans is confident that Hawke's Bay could be made a great wine-producing district, as the dry climate is especially suitable to the cultivation of the grape. As collaborator to the Comte, Father Yardin, Superior of the Meanee Mission, has been awarded a silver medal.” I have quoted from a Paris correspondent to a contemporary, whose name is unknown to me.
I need not enter into the particulars concerning vine-growing and wine-making: that would go far beyond the object I had in view in these simple observations. May it suffice to say that they both require a good practical knowledge, and a deal of careful labour, to secure a good return. With those conditions, an acre of land, planted with vines and in full produce, could bring to its owner a yearly income of two or three hundred pounds.
I beg to conclude by some remarks on the restrictive, or rather prohibitive, measures against the importation of grapevines from foreign countries: Restrictions, to prevent the introduction of infected vines, were wise when the vines in the colony were free from any infection; but, now that the disease exists, what is the good of those prohibitions? It is absurd to shut up a sheep-pen when the wolf is already in. Those prohibitive measures are not only useless, but in contradiction of the intentions professed by the Government to favour vine-culture, and contrary to the interests of the colony, and, especially of the vine-growers, who could obtain from Europe or elsewhere the best kinds of grape-vines, perfectly sound. Perhaps they will do so, in spite of prohibition.