Warren Moran is one of the most respected experts on New Zealand wine. He is best known as a geographer and professor emeritus at the University of Auckland, and has published extensively on wine for nearly sixty years both in New Zealand and overseas. Moran is also noted as a wine enthusiast, and his academic qualifications as well as his obvious passion for wine has led him to speak at numerous wine conferences. His scientific rigour and approach, and forthright and clear communication make him a highly valued attraction at viticultural and oenological forums and seminars.
Professor Moran’s book ‘New Zealand Wine’ is subtitled ‘The Land, the Vines, the People’ and he immediately puts forward his approach for the book, which discusses the land, the vines and the people, these being the major influencers on how wine has evolved in this country. Moran tells the reader that he takes the broader perspectives in all these factors and their interactions, though he is very aware of the tighter and detailed interpretation that can be adopted. The subject of ‘terroir’ is taken in its widest sense, and for Moran is only one contributor to how wine results from the vine. Moran sees the relatively brief history of modern New Zealand wine as compared to centuries for old world countries as a bonus, as the influences are so much clearer. Reiterating, these are the vineyard growing regions, the varietal mix, and the people behind the vines and the making of the wines.
For Moran, the modern New Zealand wine scene began in the 1950s, and he describes the industry by comparing the two most important districts, Auckland and Hawke’s Bay in terms of size, number of operators, the size of their holdings, the styles of wine produced, whether fortified or table and the composition of the vineyards He takes the comparison along the same criteria through to 2010 figures showing the development of the other regions, the changes in grape varieties, and the emergence of the classical vinifera varieties that make up the mix today. The author’s geographical expertise allows him to discuss the region differences in terms of soils, precipitation, temperatures and sunshine hours, and the human and environmental approaches in working in these areas.
The Significant Growing Regions in Detail
The heart of the book is where Moran dissects the development of the land, the vine and introduces the key people in the most significant regions of Gisborne, Hawke’s Bay, Marlborough and Central Otago, each of these receiving a full and detail discussion in their comprehensive chapters. Moran describes the history and explains the reasons for change in the larger national context. As a geographer, there is focus on the soils and the geography, and true to the title much information of the vines and the varietal mix. But his approach is also very humanistic, and his recounting the history and unique, poignant stories of pioneers, movers and shakers, and significant businesses make up much of the writing.
For the Gisborne chapter, he discusses the role of Montana and its rival Corbans and their influences on the New Zealand industry as a result of their interactions in the district. The backgrounds of Matawhero Wines, winegrowers Doug and Delwyn Bell, the Thorpe family, Millton Vineyards and Vinoptima all add to the interwoven picture of the region’s development and evolution. It is fascinating stuff, as few people as Warren Moran have the intimate knowledge of the early histories, and an understating of the overall perspectives as he does. Each of these chapters of the major growing regions follows the Gisborne format, and each chapter has excellent maps of the vineyards. There are also wonderful photos of the land and people in each of these major regions.
Professor Moran completes the coverage of the country with the same treatment for the smaller vineyard areas which he describes as ‘Metropolitan Vineyards and Cellars’, these being the wine industries around Auckland, Wellington, Nelson, and Canterbury. Again his depth of expertise in geographical and environmental terms, with the varieties grown and his familiarity with the important people is second to no other writer on New Zealand wine.
The author concludes his book describing his astonishment of the rapid growth of the New Zealand wine industry with considerable pride. He asks the question where will change take the industry, and especially in the context of fine wine from around the world. His understanding is that the modern New Zealand industry faces the same challenges as the rest of the fine wine producing countries, and this in the space of just over six decades of development here.
This is an important and significant publication on the modern New Zealand wine industry. The academic tone and scientific detail may initially seem daunting, but in reality the writing is precise and concise, and the maps and tables demonstrate changes with clarity and detail. The book is authoritative, but above all, it is about people for people. Great insights into how and why the New Zealand industry exists as it does today, come to those who read it. I highly recommend it to any person interested in New Zealand wine.
New Zealand Wine. By Warren Moran
Auckland University Press, Auckland 2016 ISBN 978-86940-478-9