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.

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