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Future proofing the national vineyard

New and alternative winegrape varieties like Albariño and Grüner Veltliner have recently captured the interest of media and winemakers alike, but new selections of Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir and other classics may actually play a more important role in the future of New Zealand wine.

According to Geoff Thorpe, managing director of Riversun Nursery Ltd (based in Gisborne), the New Zealand wine industry has been built largely on genetic material selected in the 1960s and 1970s, when plant breeders looked for high yields.

“Today, the emphasis is on low yields and disease resistance, and a new generation of grapevine selections imported from overseas will help raise New Zealand’s premium wines to new quality levels,” said Thorpe.

In 2002, Riversun imported more than 50 new varieties and clones from overseas providers like ENTAV-INRA® (the national vine selection agency in France). Many of those imports have now gone through their third vintage at the nursery’s source block near Gisborne.

“While that’s a relatively short timeframe in terms of clonal assessment, certain star performers are emerging,” added Thorpe, citing as an example an ENTAV-INRA® clone of Sauvignon Blanc that has been selected for resistance to Botrytis (a bunch rot disease that can spread rapidly and damage crops close to harvest).

At a time when many in the industry are contemplating changes to their clonal or varietal mix, the data emerging from Riversun’s source block is attracting keen interest from top winemakers and viticultural consultants around the country – many of whom have travelled to Gisborne in recent weeks in order to make their own assessments.



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