MARLBORO …a quintessentially Kiwi story of an accidental It’s been decades since young then farmhand Allan Scott helped to plant the first vines at what would become Montana’s Brancott vineyard. The remarkable story of Marlborough wine – from the creation of its first vineyards By the time I arrived a few weeks later, with about one-third of the Waldrons’ fences already pulled down and a few hundred hectares cultivated, even my untrained eye could see how dry and inhospitable the dirt was. There was no denying that this was going to be a Herculean effort, and perhaps a futile one at that. Successfully planting this massive property might be one of the biggest Pyrrhic victories in the history of New Zealand agriculture, for all I or anyone else knew. The mere notion of planting massive vineyards felt absurd, too, for the simple reason that most of us living and working in Marlborough at the time never drank wine. Some of us working on the soon-to-be vineyard had never tasted wine even once. There were only a few brands – Montana, Corbans, Selaks, Nobilo and Delegat’s – and most of us wouldn’t have been able to name them from memory. New Zealand had no wine 38 NOVEMBER 2016 culture whatsoever, really; wine was just this stuff that some people, mostly folks we didn’t know, bought a box of now and again. It was relatively sweet, some of the boxes were labelled red, others labelled white. There were pretty horrific-tasting ports and sherries, too, but really nothing had the potential to taste good, since at the time there was no law requiring that wine be made of 100 per cent grapes. Such ignorance and unfamiliarity is impossible to imagine today for anyone visiting, living in or working in Marlborough, possibly even for Kiwis in general. Today, even a person who is aware only that Sauvignon Blanc is white and Pinot Noir is red knows far more than we knew back then. Those were foreign-sounding names that few, if any, of us on the vineyard in 1973 had even heard before. And we sure as shit couldn’t pronounce them. Even older, productive vineyards around Auckland and Gisborne were complete hodgepodges of different varieties – beyond Riesling, Sylvaner and Muller-Thurgau, all of the workers, up to the foremen and the managers, were in the dark as to what they were growing or why. Not only were we all clueless, but nobody could agree on anything. Some thought that the land hadn’t been cultivated deeply enough, others thought it was just fine. But really it was bone-dry, and no one was thinking about irrigation (least of all me). I was just a planter; I kept my head down, stayed quiet, did what I was told, and tried to learn a thing or two. Not that this environment was at all conducive to education at first, because everything was being made up as we went along. Today, if a new vineyard is being planted, weeks of soil and weather analysis go into determining which varieties to plant. Lasers are used to mark out perfect, straight rows. The vines are either potted plants, already several months old, or cuttings grafted onto rootstock that is not only resistant to phylloxera, but is matched to the soil type. At Brancott in 1973, however, there were stacks and stacks of crates containing cuttings, all piled at one end of the vineyard. All of the cuttings had been soaked in insecticide, summer oil and god knows to the global success of New Zealand’s billion-dollar Sauvignon Blanc industry – is also winemaker Scott’s story, set down in this personal account of risking it all. In this excerpt, Scott has just arrived in Blenheim in 1973. Left: Graham Bulfin used a rifle sight to check the straightness of the planting line; Right: Once the line was straight, a flag would go up to indicate that planting could begin. Images: Fairfax Media NZ/Marlborough Express.
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