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Marlborough Wines and Vines, Volume 1

By Cynthia and Graham Brooks
Published by
GP Print, Wellington, New Zealand, 1992

Reviewed by Mike Trought

In 1973 the Montana company, looking to extend its grape plantings, bought land in Marlborough. The first grape vines were planted in August. Twenty years later, the wines produced from these vineyards have had an impact on the world wine scene that would be beyond the wildest dreams of the Montana Board.

This book looks at the history of wine production in Marlborough through the eyes and ears of Cynthia and Graham Brooks. Both were born and raised in Marlborough, and have seen the growth of the wine industry and impact it has had on the landscape and people of Marlborough. Cynthia and Graham both work for the local Marlborough Express newspaper, as a features writer and freelance photographer respectively.

The photographic artistry of Graham, and the intimate knowledge Cynthia has of Marlborough and the local wine industry, are obvious immediately you open the book. Over 250 photographs which, with the exception of the historical prints, are in excellent colour cover the 148 pages. These photographs look at all perspectives of grape and wine production and follow the development of grapes in Marlborough from 1873 to 1992. They complement the text which is largely in the form of interviews with the personalities involved in the industry.

A historical introduction to wine making and grape growing in Marlborough makes fascinating reading. We are all aware of the recent development, but grapes were grown in the province for wine production from about 1873 until the 1960s. However, it was the arrival of the Montana company which planted 635 hectares of flat land in the Renwick, Fairhall and Brancott areas that led to the current industry. Today, Marlborough has the largest area of grapes planted in New Zealand, and most of the countries major wine companies have either established wineries or buy fruit grown in the province. In several instances, these companies have connections with important international wine companies in Australia, France and elsewhere.

After discussing the historical development, the book considers the question, "Why Marlborough?". Some consideration is given to the influence of climate, soils, management and varieties on grapes grown in the province. This section also mentions the services allied to the grape industry that have grown largely as a consequence of the development of the grape industry. Research, education and engineering all get a mention, together with a review of the Marlborough Grape Growers Association.

Unfortunately the map on page 40 provides little help in describing the wine producing area to someone not familiar with the province. A suitable map showing the vineyards, wineries, and some of the notable features photographed for the book would have helped those unfamiliar with the region.

The most substantial part of the book (almost 100 pages) looks at each of the wineries involved in the region in turn. Cynthia obviously knows all the personalities well, and introduces them in a way that enables the reader to relate to their aspirations and excitement. It is in these pages that Graham's photographic skills come to the fore. The interviews are interspersed with photographs of the wineries, vineyards and people that make up the Marlborough wine industry. Whether it is young buds developing in the spring, vineyards in the mist, dramatic views of winery tanks, or the smiling faces of winemakers, grape growers or vineyard workers, the pictures all tell a story of a determination of purpose. The rows of vines marching off into the distance, or the lightening strike over the vineyard, show the moods of the Wairau Plains, while stainless steel tanks, and all the distorted reflected shapes, produce opportunities which Graham has capitalised to the full. Above all, everyone is obviously enjoying themselves!

As with any review of this sort, the book provides a snapshot of the industry as it was in 1992. Since publication, several new wineries have opened, and the planted area now exceeds 2000 hectares. While phylloxera currently is leading to a massive replanting of vineyards, the growth of the industry shows no signs of slowing. I look forward to the time Graham and Cynthia decide to review the development of the industry again. Marlborough is recognised as being one of the foremost grape-growing areas in the world. I am sure this is a position it will retain.

Marlborough Wines and Vines is a book that you pick up and dip into, and find something new each time. An ideal gift for anyone interested in New Zealand wines, or as a reminder of visit to Marlborough to enjoy the sun, wine and scenery.

Horticulture in New Zealand: Journal of the Royal New Zealand Institute of Horticulture 1993 4(1): 11

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