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Book Review- The Wines of New Zealand, By Rebecca Gibb MW

By November 20, 2018July 2nd, 2020No Comments
Rebecca Gibb MW is a U.K. based award winning journalist and editor who writes for a number of high profile publications. She lived in New Zealand from 2010 to 2016, and gained her Master of Wine qualification in 2015, while simultaneously starting a family. In that short and busy time, she has managed to capture a thorough understanding of the New Zealand wine industry that other students and enthusiasts, such of myself, should be impressed with and possibly slightly envious of. It is an indication of her acute perception and enquiring mind. I’ve met Rebecca personally, and can vouch for her bright and bubbly personality, and joie de vivre .
Rebecca has written ‘The Wines of New Zealand’ and I find it one of the best overviews of the New Zealand wine industry, capturing the convoluted past history, present state of play, and the issues that lie ahead in the future. Just over 300 pages long, it isn’t a comprehensive tome, but succinctly recalls crucial events in New Zealand’s wine past, accurately pinpoints the major factors that are influencing the key regions and performance of the industry now, and points to the future for New Zealand wine. Here tone is very positive, and there’s no doubt she’s a supporter of New Zealand wine. Her writing style is fresh, accessible, and shows her depth of knowledge, expressed with clarity, and connects with the human side of both the reader and the subjects. Her words also show some of her wry humour, and the writing includes short asides which lighten what could be a dry, academic subject. It is an easy, but interesting, extremely well-researched work.  www.rebeccagibb.com

A Concise Introduction

The book starts with an introduction to the history of the New Zealand wine industry, but doesn’t dwell on the very beginnings, but highlights the more important and long-reaching events and people. This is followed by an overview of the climate of the country, then a chapter on the leading grape varieties. Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay in the whites receive the most attention, along with Riesling, and interestingly it’s Pinot Noir, with Syrah before the Bordeaux-varieties, finishing with an exposé on sparkling wines. The Grape Variety section is probably the weakest point of the book to me; I would have liked more on other varieties, such as Pinot Gris, Viognier, and emerging varieties, and some more separation of the Bordeaux-varieties, these being potentially ‘leading’.

The Tour Through the Country

The meat of the book is with the author taking the reader to all the important vignobles. In the North Island, it covers Northland, Auckland, Gisborne, Hawke’s Bay and the Wairarapa. For the South Island we visit Marlborough, Nelson, Canterbury and North Canterbury, the Waitaki Valley, finishing with Central Otago.

For each of these winegrowing regions, she follows a formula that covers the significant factors which influence the current position in each area. Sub-regions are introduced. There’s a little history taking the reader back to the very beginnings, with key people and events discussed. An overview of the geography and climate is then offered, this with good mention of soil types and topography, and weather patterns and temperatures, as well as the particular factors in the region which can be detrimental to the growing of good grapes. Rebecca then indicates how each region has evolved its wine styles, and then proceeds to list and profile a selection of producers in each region.
The producer profiles are where the author’s personal approach and preferences are manifest, and where she has the most fun. With well over 600 winegrowers in the country, the author can only choose a few for each region, and these include some of the most important and well-established, but also up-and-coming newbies, as well as the occasional ‘alternative’ producer. Rebecca shows her interest in the ‘cutting edge’, and the future, as well as respecting the past with these profiles. These profiles also include a recommendation of a wine to try, and offers advice on visiting them. I found I was nodding my head with a lot of what she had written about each in the profiles, so she had encapsulated much of my own impressions for each of them. There is also a surprising amount of detail that I was not fully aware of, so her depth of research, and accuracy is easy to see. The author sums up the regional chapters with an indication of how she sees their future, and how they can progress successfully for the future.

Where To for New Zealand Wine?

The final part of the book is a look at ‘Contemporary New Zealand’ and includes the author’s thoughts on overall pathways of the future for the industry. The author recounts the attitude of innovation that features in the industry, with subjects such as the early adoption of screwcap closures, and the introduction of new vineyard technology.

There is a good discussion of the concepts of sustainability, organic and biodynamics, and how crucial these are. The author notes that the vines, land, people and industry are ‘coming of age’, and with it she proffers that New Zealand wines have the ability to age better than is recognised. The issue of succession in the wine industry follows that of the New Zealand farming scene, and this is brought up. Rebecca identifies tourism as a key factor in the growth of the wine industry, and suggests possible itineraries in each region for visitors. Rebecca is an active and younger person, so many of the activities involve adrenalin!
This is an excellent book which overviews the New Zealand wine scene in which the author injects much of her personality into, while presenting the facts faithfully. It’s a very easy read, and fast moving, very much like the author. Well-done, Rebecca!
The book is not yet generally available in New Zealand bookstores, but can be obtained through the Glengarry retail chain. The book can be purchased on-line on ‘Wordery; I got my copy via ‘Amazon’. I suspect a number of wine producers will stock it soon.
The Wines of New Zealand, By Rebecca Gibb MW
Infinite Ideas Ltd, Oxford, 2018, ISBN 978-1-906821-84-1
RRP $54.99

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