A toast to the future: What we've learned over 200 years of New Zealand wine

A birthday is always a time for reflection; a time to consider all you've achieved and what goals you'd want to tackle in the future.

I imagine that's no more relevant than at a cool 200th - maybe one day I'll know, if modern medicine does its thing. 

But believe it or not, this year we're celebrating the 200th birthday of the New Zealand wine industry, which outdates even the Treaty of Waitangi. 

Aussie Reverend Samuel Marsden recorded September 25, 1819 as the day he first planted a vine in Kerikeri. The birthday was celebrated last week with the replanting of a vine in the same spot outside the Stone Store, accompanied by a celebration dinner and of course, a lot of wine. 

Marsden Estate winemaker Rod McIvor planting the ceremonial vine.
Marsden Estate winemaker Rod McIvor planting the ceremonial vine. Photo credit: Supplied.

The missionary planted about 100 grapevines of different varieties he brought over from Sydney, writing in his journal that: "New Zealand promises to be very favourable to the vine in both soil and climate". 

"Should the vine succeed, it will prove of vast importance in this part of the globe," he added.  

While it was an optimistic start, unfortunately these particular vines were short-lived. A lack of fencing meant they were soon lunch for a herd of hungry goats - leading to some discussion at last week's celebrations whether goat was to be served as a sort of 'full circle' thing. 

But in general, Reverend Marsden's prediction was correct. These days, New Zeland produces about 320 million litres of wine every year, the equivalent of 400 million bottles. It's our sixth-largest export, valued at $1.83 billion.

It hasn't all been smooth sailing. When renowned French champagne maker Daniel Le Brun moved to New Zealand in the 1970s, he decided the wine was "nothing short of garbage". Fast-forward nearly 40 years and Kiwi vino has gained respect and prestige around the globe; especially Marlborough's sauvignon blanc. 

But as with many of Aotearoa's agricultural industries, the future of wine is a hot topic. In the current climate (no pun intended), it's important for New Zealand winemakers to show they're putting sustainability first. 

Enter Jake Dromgool, viticulturist at Bay of Islands beauty the Landing, who has taken out the award for Bayer Young Viticultural of the Year and often speaks out about the sustainable future of the industry. 

Jake, who grew up in the Bay of Islands, is heralded up north as some sort of wine messiah. During his speech at the celebration dinner, he received not one but two standing ovations. An elderly man even hugged him while tears spilled down his face.

Who better to ask where we're headed? 

"We might be celebrating 200 years of vines being in the ground, but its really only in the past 30 years we've really flourished to become what we are," Dromgool told Newshub. 

"Sustainability is the first thing we think of in everything we do in a vineyard -  we have to be held accountable for every input, every task we conduct is held to account.

Dromgool says it's important to focus on sustainable practices in New Zealand, setting a universal benchmark. 

"This is a great way of letting our customers around the world that what we're doing here in New Zealand is what we can continue to do for the next 200 years."

Cheers to that!