Vines and viticulture
New Zealand now has a total vineyard area of 20,163 acres (8,160 ha). Three-quarters of the vines are planted in the country's three largest and fastest-growing wine regions, Marlborough, Hawkes Bay and Gisborne.
White grape varieties currently account for around 70 percent of the national vineyard. Chardonnay is the most planted variety followed by sauvignon blanc and mueller-thurgau. Over the next few years, plantings of mueller-thurgau are expected to decrease while those of pinot gris, riesling, gewuerztraminer and semillon are likely to increase significantly. Red-grape plantings are currently dominated by pinot noir, followed by cabernet sauvignon and merlot; however, plantings of merlot are soon likely to overtake those of cabernet sauvignon. Other grapes grown in relatively small quantities throughout the country include breidecker (a hybrid of seibel and mueller-thurgau), chasselas, chenin blanc, flora, palomino, pinot gris, reichensteiner, sylvaner, blauburger, cabernet franc, malbec, pinotage and syrah.
New Zealand soils are naturally highly fertile. As a result, many of the country's vines suffer from high vigor and overcropping, which tend to produce some overtly herbaceous wines. In the late 1980s and throughout the 1990s, close attention was paid to site selection and the country's newest vineyards are planted on less fertile sites, including stony soils that would previously have been considered inappropriate for grape growing.
Vine vigor can still be a problem, but many growers now use it to their advantage to produce high yields and make large quantities of wine. Others have developed techniques to combat associated problems, including judicious pruning, careful choice of trellising systems and the growth of various grass species such as chicory (whose long tap roots draw water away from the grape vines) between vine rows. Some of the country's top-quality chardonnays now come from high-vigor sites. Low-vigor soils needing fertilization can be ministered to with organic fertilizers.
The biggest problems faced by growers are botrytis, powdery mildew and downy mildew, all of which are exacerbated by the generally high humidity. Although powdery and downy mildew can be controlled adequately with environmentally benign elements such as copper and sulfur, to date botrytis is a problem without an organic solution.
The principal challenge facing the wine industry is to develop more environmentally friendly vineyard practices. In working toward this, the Winegrowers of New Zealand society set up the Integrated Wine Production (IWP) scheme in 1995, which provides grape growers with guidelines for managing their vineyards in a sustainable manner, including recommendations for minimizing the use of fungicides and pesticides.
From "Encyclopedia of Wine"
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