THE COMEBACK KID
The New Zealand riesling story is one of early arrival, disappearance and then comeback. Riesling was here in 1895 when Italian consultant Romeo Bragato travelled the country, producing his insightful report on the country’s viticulutural potential. Bragato noted that riesling produces “a very superior” wine and was doing “satisfactorily… in Kaipara and Waikato”.
Riesling was one of several grape varieties that succumbed to extinction when the entire industry went into decline around the time of the Great War. Wineries were being smother-tackled by the phylloxera scourge, the temperance movement and a national indifference to a drink that wasn’t beer.
Riesling’s absence endured until 1962 when new German cuttings made landfall, but it was to be a slow return. By 1975, there were only 8.5 hectares of riesling in New Zealand. Thanks to a 1980s growth spurt, the area planted now extends to 787 hectares, 95 per cent of which are in the South Island.