Reverend Samuel Marsden is generally credited with planting the first grapevines in New Zealand. The vines were planted as part of Marsden’s efforts to establish a settlement for the Church Missionary Society at Kerikeri. He recorded the planting in his journal of his second visit to New Zealand:
We had a small spot of land cleared and broken up, in which I planted about a hundred grape vines of different kinds brought from Port Jackson. New Zealand promises to be very favourable to the vine, as far as I can judge at the present of the nature of the soil and climate. Should the vine succeed it will prove of vast importance in this part of the globe.
Marsden does not suggest that these were the first grapevines planted in New Zealand, and Frank Thorpy, author of Wine in New Zealand, argues that it is likely they were not. He suggests that Charles Gordon, the Society’s superintendent of agriculture, may have already planted vines at the Society’s other settlements of Rangihoua and Waitangi, perhaps as early as 1817.
While Marsden may not have been first, he was certainly correct in his belief that New Zealand would prove ‘favourable to the vine’. In 2007 New Zealand’s wine exports were worth almost $700 million. Market New Zealand describes New Zealand’s wine-growing region as ‘spanning the latitudes of 34 to 47 degrees and covering the length of 1,600 kilometres’, and states that ‘grapes are grown in a diverse range of climates and soil types, producing an exciting array of styles’.
Image: Marlborough vineyards (Te Ara)