The plant that started an obsession
It was the vine that helped launch a billion dollar industry, a single sauvignon blanc plant imported from California that set New Zealand wine on its course towards global acclaim.
And it has a name: TK05196, TK after Te Kauwhata in the Waikato, where the Government used to run a viticultural research centre importing and trialling new grape varieties.
This one vine spawned the clones that ended up populating early vineyards near Auckland and eventually in Marlborough, which became the new spiritual home of the variety here.
Terry Dunleavy, a former chief executive of the Wine Institute of New Zealand, which became New Zealand Winegrowers, said TK05196 probably arrived in New Zealand in 1970.
The vine was brought to New Zealand by government viticulturist Frank Berrysmith, who imported a number of vines from the Davis campus at the University of California.
Cuttings from the vine were taken by Joe Corban and planted in a trial vineyard north of Auckland, which caught the attention of Ross Spence, one of the founders of the wine company Matua.
He had already taken cuttings from a different sauvignon blanc vine, but it was the one he obtained from Corban that allowed him to plant out his Waimauku block, in the Rodney district of Auckland.
These vines were used to make the first commercial run of sauvignon blanc in New Zealand, released in 1974.
And it was those vines that were propagated by Montana to plant in Marlborough in 1975.
But it was not until the mid1980s that Marlborough sauvignon blanc really made its mark, when Irishman Ernie Hunter of Hunter’s Wines claimed a major award in London for their oak-aged sauvignon.
Hunter’s Wines managing director Jane Hunter said the gold medal win at the prestigious Sunday Times Vintage Festival in 1986 provoked astonishment at the time, that New Zealand could produce quality wines.
‘‘It certainly got a huge amount of publicity because it was such an upset, no-one would have expected it of a New Zealand wine.
‘‘Most people didn’t realise New Zealand made wine then,’’ she said.
Sauvignon blanc makes up 86 per cent of all wine produced in Marlborough.