edited by Sue Courtney
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Wine Altas of New Zealand
published in 2002 by Hodder Moa Beckett
There is no doubt that Michael Cooper's Wine Atlas of New Zealand (NZ$125 hardback) will be lauded as the glamour wine book of the year.
It is quite majestic in presentation with maps, wine labels and awesome double-page photographs accompanying the 172,000-word text.
For those readers who are familiar with Cooper's previously scholarly works, The Wines and Vineyards of New Zealand over five editions, the arrangement of the book with background of the country's wine industry, the principal grape varieties and a tour of the country's vineyards by region will be familiar.
But the Atlas has more detail about the geographical differences of each region and the sub regions within and gives special emphasis to the key wineries and personalities that helped to shape the industry into what it is today.
For example, in the Central Otago region we learn there are four distinct sub-regions, Wanaka, Gibbston, the Cromwell Basin (including Bannockburn, Lowburn and Bendigo) and Alexandra. We read that the climate and soils are markedly different from each other and the Cromwell Basin, which is just half an hours drive from Gibbston by road, has a harvest a full month ahead of its neighbour.
232 pages of the 288-page book are dedicated to this section in which ten principal wine regions of New Zealand are reviewed. After the overview of each region, which usually includes an introduction, history, principal grape varieties, vintage chart by red and white, the climate, soils, wine styles and sub-regional information, the winery profiles range from several pages to just a few lines of text. Interspersed are interesting stories relating to the area, such as 'The Croatians' and 'The greening of New Zealand's vineyards' while key personalities such as Peter Hubscher, Michael Brajkovich, John Buck and Jane Hunter are profiled next to their winery entries.
There is a lot of reading in this book and with Christmas so close, it will make a splendid gift for that someone special.
However, there are a few aspects of the book that have disappointed me so as this is my soapbox, I will list those disappointments here.
Firstly, the lack of comprehensive coverage of producers. Cooper writes "With hundreds of wineries jostling for space, I had given the most in-depth coverage to the large and middle-sized producers (whose wines you are most likely to drink) and the smaller companies with the top flight wines. ". Why there had to be any ommisions, I don't know. Winegrowers of New Zealand keeps an up-to-date listing of the country's producers and I feel that it would not have taken much more space to list the missing wineries in each regional section. The question of how Cooper determined who to include and exclude remains a mystery. For example, I read about a South Auckland producer that I've never heard of before called Garden of Dreams and it is good to read about the new entrants to the wine scene. But the Waikato producer, Mystery Creek whose debut chardonnay won a gold medal at the 2001 Air New Zealand Wine Awards and whose follow-up wine scooped a silver in another show, is not mentioned. The lack of the wine glass denoting this producer's location jumped out as I opened the page to the expansive Waikato regional map.
Secondly, the Wine Atlas of New Zealand provided a perfect opportunity for a look into the future. There are a few lines in the 'History of New Zealand Wine' section talking about the increasing foreign ownership and the possibility that medium-sized producers will need to rationalise. But what of the emerging wine regions? Cooper writes "Around the country, new districts and sites with viticultural potential are waiting to be identified". But some have been identified already, at least their investors think they have, such as in the Waitaki Valley where extensive plantings were made a couple of years ago. It would have been good to read a little about the developing wine regions of New Zealand from which wines may be seen as early as from the next vintage.
Thirdly, the maps. While the regional maps show relief, the sub regional maps are flat, showing only rivers, roads and towns or locations. This is extremely disappointing to a map lover such as I am, especially given the area that some of them cover. Even more disappointing after reading this quote from Hugh Johnson in the introduction to the atlas.
Lastly, the confusion over where some vineyards are. Kaikoura Estate (pg 242) is quoted in the text as being Marlborough's most southern vineyard, however Kaikoura is actually in Canterbury. The locations of Marlborough and Canterbury are depicted by the garnet and blue shadings respectively on the Principal Wine Regions of New Zealand map on page 53 and the Marlborough location is repeated in the introduction to the Marlborough region on page 207. The Marlborough region is depicted as having a southern boundary about where the Clarence River is - well north of Kaikoura. This confusion will continue as long as local folklore and territorial boundaries differ.
My disappointments aside, this is a lovely book and Michael Cooper has to be congratulated on the latest addition to his bookshelf.
'Wine Atlas of New Zealand' has a recommended retail price of $125 and is widely available in retail in New Zealand. It may even be on 'special' in some outlets / wine retailers if you search. It will be a welcome addition to any wine lover's library.
And if you are from overseas and coming to NZ, check out the book store at the International airport when you arrive - there's bound to be a copy there.
Overseas buyers can e-mal Hodder Moa Beckett as to international availability and prices.
© Sue Courtney
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