Introduction to the Grapevine Research and Development (GRAD®) Website

Although this website will be launched predominantly as the on-line source of the GRAD® vine collection catalogue, I will in due course also publish here a considerable amount of other material which will embrace a diverse range of matters concerning grapevines, wine, and the grape-growing and wine-producing industry’s use (and abuse) of grapes and grapevines.

This website’s principal sections are thus devoted to the following:

The catalogue of The GRAD® Vine Collection and its range of scion and rootstock varieties and their GRAD® clones

The catalogue of GRAD® grapevines will be progressively published here and will also be updated as new rootstocks and scions are developed and are ready to go to market through GRAD®’s licensed N.Z. nursery source, Stanmore Farm. The above pictures show some of the hundreds of regenerated and extensively re-selected vine plants developed at the GRAD® nursery in Christchurch. The cream of these become the GRAD® clones that are listed in the catalogue which is accessible here by clicking on the menu in the top right corner of this page and selecting from the ‘Products’ range. 

Historical, ampelographic, and viticultural research

My research articles and critical analyses published here will focus principally upon vines, their history, and their (and their wines’) characteristics. It will thus address a much wider range of grapevines and related historical,  viticultural, and ampelographic matters than would be the case if I focussed on GRAD® vine material alone.

For instance, I have published here my major research paper on the clonal confusion involving A.M. 10/5 (pictured here) and other clones of Pinot noir in New Zealand. This however barely touches upon grapevine genetic lines that are likely to appear in the GRAD® vine collection catalogue. Rather, it addresses and resolves a (sadly) very long-standing confusion that continues to plague N.Z. Pinot noir growers and the nurseries supplying them with vine material. In particular, it shows that the 10/5 – Pinot droit confusion arose out of human error  — but unfortunately once this error was made it was ever-increasingly, and ever more widely, accepted.  As a result it has been sustained for decades now. Until the research paper which I have published here, no-one has systematically and thoroughly investigated how it could be that two clonal lines which are so very morphologically different continued to be used by our vine industry with one and the same clonal name. My paper definitively clears away this confusion and makes the task of distinguishing 10/5 from Pinot droit straightforward. It also gives a definitive account of these clones very different provenance, but I also warn that neither of them, despite industry lore to the contrary, has any substantial claims to quality.

By way of complete contrast, my ongoing research into New Zealand’s old Te Kauwhata ‘Hermitage’ line of Syrah, and the range of historical and provenancial matters associated with it, addresses in detail what is to date the sole genetic source of the (currently nine) GRAD® clonal lines of Syrah. (An updated version of the in-brief initial sketch of this research which was published in the Stonecroft newsletter in 2016 is to be found here in the RESEARCH section.) My work on the extensive paper, and associated vine studies, which will bring this complete body of research to publication here, is ongoing in both New Zealand and Australia. It is a complex (but hugely interesting) story which will, of necessity, include a good deal of material addressing this Syrah line’s Australian origins, history, and developments. This is very important in giving background to Syrah’s introduction to N.Z. from Australia in early-mid-colonial times and then again, in the 1890s (to Waerenga / Te Kauwhata research station), by Romeo Bragato. As a wider part of this project, GRAD is also working on identifying and selecting very high quality high health old-vine Syrah lines for introduction in due course to this country. (An example of the kind of very old Australian Syrah vine block I am involved in studying is pictured here.) It is intended that my selections from these exceptionally fine genetic resources will constitute the contemporary Australian creme de la creme of the two pre-phylloxera lines of Syrah introduced to Australia by Busby in early 1833. (One line came straight from Hermitage, the other was first generation ex-Hermitage material which had been planted only a decade or so in a Roussillon vineyard.) Of particular interest in my Australian research are a range of old Syrah vines I have identified in various Victorian cool-climate vineyards. These produce medium-small-berried fruit that exhibits wonderful aromatic qualities and which shows many outstanding, highly Côtes Rôtie -like, characteristics. They are a remarkable group of vines that have enormous potential to take New Zealand Syrah to a higher level of quality, nearer still to Côtes Rôtie — but without breaking the genetic link with the old ‘TK Hermitage’ Syrah line that is clearly and by far the finest still available in New Zealand. I am also working with one of South Australia’s leading nurserymen and vine developers to identify super-high-quality Syrah from that state’s exceptionally fine old vine gene pool. Meanwhile, the current 9 GRAD® re-selected and regenerated clones developed from the old ‘TK’ line are the very finest clonal versions of the ‘TK Hermitage’ genetic line currently available in New Zealand.

By way of a further and complete contrast between the contents of the GRAD® vine catalogue and the foci of my research, my major paper on Riesling in colonial South Australia (published here as of 17th November 2021) was initially instigated because of my having discovered in New Zealand some remnant vines of a South Australian Riesling imported by Frank Berrysmith in the early 1960s. It turned out that these vines were virus infected, but in the meantime I also discovered that their original genetic line may well have come to South Australia (in the mid-to-late 1840s or the 1850s) from William Macarthur’s Camden nursery in Sydney. In turn, the Camden Riesling was imported by Macarthur in 1838 from the Rheingau, and was the first documented importation of Riesling into Australia. Inter alia, my research clearly shows that it is a myth — despite widespread popular claims to the contrary — that the variety was introduced to Australia by James Busby. Rather, the truth is that there was no Riesling landed alive in, let alone ever propagated from, the Busby vine collection which came to Australia in early 1833. My paper focussing on this specific issue has been published in Wine & Viticulture Journal, Issue 2, 2019; see: .  William Macarthur’s Camden Riesling genetic line is distinguished, inter alia, by its (nowadays very unusual) tough skin that resists bunch rot. The valuing of such fruit-qualitative disease-resistance attributes over mere (high) vine fertility was a very common, if not typical, key factor in vine selection criteria prior to phylloxera. Afterwards however, and in almost complete contrast, high-cropping selections were demanded by growers throughout Europe because they were overwhelmingly desperate to recover financially from the huge impact of the phylloxera epidemic. The nurseries of the day obliged of course, and fruit-qualitative selection criteria were thus widely devalued or even simply ignored. This set in train a very strong general trend in commercial vine selection that is only now being called into question. As a corollary of this, genetic lines like the tough-skinned Camden Riesling (along with loose-bunched Riesling lines) were rejected in Germany in the 20th century simply because their bunch weights were not high enough; big-bunched, big-cropping, but thin-skinned — and thus very botrytis-susceptible — clones were intensively selected instead. Luckily, in Australia the Camden genetic line is still in use today, particularly in older plantings in Victoria and parts of South Australia (e.g., old Clare Valley plantings). It is both distinguished and characterised by its wines’ Tahitian lime juice aromas and flavours and a touch of chalky ‘lime-water’ phenolics in the finish (depending on winemaking style), and in the vineyard its small-medium bunches of thick-skinned berries set it apart from the Geisenheim clones of the twentieth century. In the hands of top Australian Riesling producers, the Camden Riesling line continues to produce distinctive and classic dry Rieslings of world class quality. (My current favourite, which I’m sure must use the Camden line, is Best’s Foudre Ferment Riesling from Great Western in Victoria, which is made in a once-traditional, and now revived and rather new-wave, Germanic dry style. See: .)

There are also various ampelographic studies (aside from my lengthy paper on the 10/5 Pinot noir clonal confusion) which will be published on this website, including one on the alleged identity of the Futuna Island ‘St. Peter Chanel Muscat’ as Australia’s Moschata Paradisa. The singularity of identity of these two vines (both of which appear to have very interesting histories) has long been championed by Richard Smart and is currently widely accepted. I have D.N.A. samples of the ex-Futuna Island vine (pictured below) waiting to be compared in Australia with that of Moschata Paradisa. In advance of this testing, it is my carefully considered opinion that there are just too many ampelographic differences between these two varieties for them to be one and the same. I suspect however that Richard Smart is correct in attributing the origins of the Futuna Island ‘St. Peter Chanel Muscat’ to South America. Indeed, I believe it could well be a seedling of, or otherwise a cross involving as one parent, Muscat of Alexandria. This variety, probably under the name ‘Muscat Gordo Blanco’ was conquistador-introduced to South America, from Spain, in the 1500s. Almost certainly therefore, the St. Peter Chanel Muscat from Futuna Island has conquistador origins — an ironic lineage of course for a vine named after a canonized Catholic missionary.

A further ampelographic study which is an ongoing project concerns a mystery vine — a very early-ripening, small fleshy-berried, black fruited vine — that is now in N.Z. solely because it was recovered from Raoul Island in the Kermadecs. As counterintuitive as it will doubtless seem (in advance of the ampelographic and D.N.A. evidence), I believe this vine may well be none other than what French ampelographers not so long ago (re-)christened ‘Magdeleine noire de Charente’. (A picture of its young shoots is to be seen here.) If I’m correct, this vine, which has been shown to be a parent of Malbec and Merlot, is not at all the ‘lost old French variety’ its ‘re-discoverers’ have held it out to be. Rather, I think it is highly likely to be the once well-known ‘Black July’ or ‘Madelaine noir’ table grape variety. This grape was popular, widely grown, and well-known — but only for its precociousness — in Germany, France, and England (at least) even as far back as the 1600s. (It was also well known as a woefully poor grape from which to make wine, by the way.) What distinguished it and kept it going until the early 20th century, was the fact that it was virtually the only very early-ripening black table grape readily available in western Europe and the United Kingdom. But ultimately its lack of  flavour and relatively small berries, saw it quickly superseded once the wave of post-phylloxera table grape breeding in Europe took off. In the 20th century it (neither undeservedly nor unsurprisingly) faded almost into oblivion more or less everywhere it had once been grown. Today, ‘Black July’ is more likely to be thought a terrorist group; very few people would know that it was once by far the most commonly-grown precocious black table grape in western Europe. Nonetheless, I very strongly suspect this is the true history of the recently ‘discovered’ missing parent of Merlot and Malbec. Whether I’m right about its remarkable presence in New Zealand will in good measure come down to comparing the D.N.A. of the ex-Kermadec vine with that of ‘Magdeleine noire de Charente’. It will make a very interesting research paper, even if a renaissance for the growing of ‘Black July’ would by no means be a merited outcome.

I also have a further major research project ongoing in Australia: the study and selection of very high quality pre-phylloxera Pinot noir and Pinot Meunier noir. This involves plantings principally in Victoria and New South Wales, although it is intended that trials of a large range of selections will also be carried out in the Adelaide Hills. It is already clear to me that among the several hundred of initial selections I have made so far there are many that potentially far surpass the qualitative levels offered by the currently in-vogue E.N.T.A.V. – I.N.R.A . Pinot noir clones. A few of this big range of Stage I selections are pictured below:


Industry commentary and critical analysis.

Aside from obvious commercial considerations (like making a living from my businesses) GRAD® exists fundamentally because of my deeply held view that wine quality is predicated upon high quality vines and viticulture. In my view, these two factors are crucial and indispensable to the long-term success and persistence of fine wine production and the flourishing communities that gain their livelihood from it. I also subscribe to the view — currently widely denigrated in the N.Z. industry — that ultimately the only way to secure a commercially sustainable wine industry is to have a firm, and reputation-determining, base in genuinely high quality wine production: fine wine; not bulk, industrial, plonk. In turn, the production of genuinely-premium wine overwhelmingly requires high quality vineyards and expert viticulture — before almost anything is done with the grapes by any winemaker or oenologist. Grasping this essential truth is especially important in a relatively new, and still very-much developing, wine producing country like New Zealand.

In general, throughout New Zealand’s viticultural regions it is, in my opinion, almost certain that we are quite some way yet from realising the pinnacles, and volumes, of quality which our vineyards and wines can achieve. Our industry deludes itself when, all too often, it proclaims the contrary. This is something I intend to address here from time to time therefore because there is still much to be achieved and realised if New Zealand is to reach its full potential as one of the world’s foremost producers of top quality cool-climate wines.

Wine reviews and wine tasting notes, with a focus on understanding wines by ‘back-engineering’ them to the vineyard(s) that produced their fruit.

There will be some of this in this website, too, and it will be no more nor less than my personal opinion and will not necessarily be that of any business associated with, or owned by, me.

Having worked both as a wine buyer and as a wine writer, and having been most generously, and very rigorously, trained in wine sensory-evaluation by very fine Australian winemakers, wine judges, and wine trade professionals, I can more than make a case to support my judgements about wine. I also know the difference between wines I simply like and wines that are, irrespective of one’s liking or disliking them, good. They are not all one and the same. That said, there are some wines I can think of that are popularly held to be exceptional but which I not only intensely dislike, but also regard as mere ‘Emperor’s New Clothes’. Certain examples of ‘great(est) Australian Shiraz’, Central Otago (Bannockburn and / or Bendigo) Pinot noirs, and cult Côtes Rôties come to mind …..

In any case, I was taught — most rigorously — that in every instance one must be prepared to be surprised by, and to look completely honestly at, what’s in the bottle / tasting glass. My Australian mentors made it both clear and convincing that this is fundamental: the label / producer should never be allowed to colour one’s assessment of a wine’s quality (and / or that of the vineyard that produced the fruit from which it was made). It is both surprising and troubling how few wine-writers and critics live up to this today.

From my point of view as a viticulturist, many of the shortcomings to be seen in wines trace back to the vineyard(s) from which their fruit came, no matter how much winemakers fall over themselves trying to hide these failings. Correlatively, it is almost always the case that the production of great wines demands high quality genetic lines of suitable grape varieties grown in high quality vineyard sites: you can’t make a silk purse from a sow’s ear. It nevertheless amazes me how ‘terroirists’ completely overlook the key fact that, as a prime case in point, the acknowledged top Grand Cru wines of Burgundy come from vineyards that are overwhelmingly not planted to common-or-garden, available from a nursery catalogue, genetic lines of Pinot noir or Chardonnay. A highly significant proportion of the very ‘top of the top’ use genetic lines that are not only ultra-selected (usually over many generations), but which are also generally not made available to anyone else. To be sure, neither are their superb specific vineyard sites, but to attribute to those sites and their soil, far far above all else, the determination of wine quality and to ignore the exceptional quality and finely-delineated genetic distinctiveness of what grows in them, is a gross and enormous distortion.

To me, this underscores the fact that while good vineyard sites and competent winemakers with good oenological skills are indispensable, it is next to impossible to produce great wines without high quality genetic lines of suitable grape varieties. It all starts there. And that’s where I believe I, and this website, came, and comes, in…….

Dr. Gerald Atkinson,

Grapevine Research and Development / GRAD®


Any questions? Get in touch!