Wine of a more familiar terroir

Clockwise from top left: Grapes grow again the west-facing brick garage wall. A bottle of Marquis...
Clockwise from top left: Grapes grow again the west-facing brick garage wall. A bottle of Marquis Seibel. The harvested Waitati grapes. Rowley recipes for homemade wine. PHOTOS: HILARY ROWLEY
Hilary Rowley raises a glass to traditions handed down.

Hilary Rowley
Hilary Rowley
Every night for dinner my family had a glass of wine each with our meal. My sister and I had a wee sherry glass full. We discussed the flavour of the wine, and the methods used to make it, with our parents.

Of course, all the wine was home made, because there was so little for sale and we didn’t have much money. We all made wine from whatever was available — gooseberries, elderberries, rosehips, parsnips, black berries ... then a friend of Dad’s gave him some cuttings from a cold-climate red wine grape called Seibel, and Dad got a row of them growing at our small farm in Chatto Creek, so we started making a much better quality red wine.

Dad had been a driver-mechanic in World War 2, mostly in Italy, and after the end of the war he volunteered to stay on for another year driving all the vehicles left scattered all over Italy back to ports, where they could be shipped home. He had a bit of leisure time now that the war was over and gained a taste for all things Italian, especially wine.

New Zealand was a place of beer, beer, beer in the 1950s, so Dad had to make his own wines, and his obsession became our family obsession. All of us made wine. My sister and I made wine while still at primary school. I have a recipe book containing some of the family wine recipes — one for gooseberry wine was written by my older sister in 1973 when she was 12 years old.

This red wine grape, known to us only as Seibel, had a bit of a history. In the 1860s grape varieties from North America were introduced to Europe and brought with them an insect pest called phylloxera, that spread across Europe. By 1889 it was estimated that between ⅔ two-thirds and 90% of European vineyards were destroyed.

One of the solutions researched was to hybridise or graft European grape cuttings on to the more resistant North American rootstock.

Albert Seibel was a French viticulturist who made hybrid crosses of European and native North American wine grapes. The resulting vines did not necessarily produce better wines, but they did survive phylloxera.

His grapes were widely planted in France, Brazil, Canada and the US, but recently they have fallen out of favour because hybrid grapes are banned from passing the wine appellation in France (an industry standard).

So this grape that was grown by Dad in Chatto Creek and now is grown in North East Valley by my sister and her husband, and in Waitati by my partner and I, is one of these hybrid varieties bred by Albert Seibel. They are a tough cold-climate grape; they ripen fine outside, here in Dunedin, stay healthy, produce prolifically, and most importantly make a pretty decent red wine.

Every autumn I pick our crop — last year 8kg (after de-stalking) — and give them to my sister to add to their phenomenal 22kg yield, and she and her husband make the wine.

I get back half a dozen bottles and put them away for two or three years.

It is so wonderful to be able to grow your own grape wine; I am never going back to parsnips.

Our Waitati vines are planted along a fence, in clay soil in our north-facing backyard, but they have good drainage. My sister’s are trained over their west-facing brick garage wall, and the warmth makes them produce really well and contain plenty of sugar.

A bit of a disclaimer is needed here. Children should not really drink wine. It seems to have done neither of us any harm, but perhaps we would have gone on to be total geniuses if we hadn’t had wine with dinner. Neither of us have become alcoholics, in fact my sister doesn’t drink at all, and our brains seem to be fully functioning (well, I hope so). During my late teens and 20s I was fussier than my peers because I knew what decent alcoholic drinks should taste like and this helped me have a more measured and sensible approach to drinking.

I do however still enjoy having a glass of wine with dinner and when it is a 2018 vintage glass of Marquis Seibel, I can raise a toast to my family for making it happen.

- Hilary Rowley is a frugal, foraging foodie from Waitati. Each week in this column, one of a panel of writers addresses issues of sustainability.

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