Forthcoming Web-Pages for New (or Pending) Releases of GRAD Wine Grapes

Full catalogue web-pages for the following new and / or pending GRAD® wine grape releases will be published in due course:

  • GRAD® 1 Cinsaut
  • GRAD® 1 Gewürztraminer
  • GRAD® ‘Thomas’ clone Chenin blanc
  • GRAD® Pinot noir précoce clones
  • GRAD® ‘Berrysmith’ Pinot blanc clones
  • GRAD® ‘Berrysmith Original’ Pinot gris clone
  • GRAD® ‘Mission’ and ‘Bragato’ Heritage Pinot Meunier noir clones
  • GRAD® 1 Carmenere
  • GRAD® 2 Zweigelt


GRAD® 1 Cinsaut (available for grafting this season): Having briefly described the GRAD® Grenache, above, it seems pertinent to proceed straight on to the GRAD® 1 Cinsaut. This high-health clone traces back to an old Te Kauwhata vine that came from importations from France made in 1927. The variety languished at Te Kauwhata in obscurity, aside from starring in some 1950s brandy-making experiments, until the 1960s when one of the T.K. vines was selected for heat-treatment by the D.S.I.R. as part of their programme to eliminate virus from the national vine collection. Two high-health heat-treated explants were subsequently released in the early 1970s, but there was no industry uptake of them and Cinsaut returned to neglect and obscurity in New Zealand. Indeed, its persistence in this country can be attributed only to the survival of, literally, one or two remnant vines in obscure (and no longer extant) 1970s D.S.I.R. experimental trial blocks. It was from one of these, largely by chance, that I discovered the struggling own-roots remnant vine that was the source for the GRAD® 1 Cinsaut clone. After regenerating the small amount of quite tiny twiggy live material which I found on this barely surviving vine, I managed to produce in my r&d nursery one quite strong offspring vine which I then re-propagated using high temperature shoot tip growing methods. Ampelographically, this vine looked to me very much like Cinsaut or Ouillade, but D.N.A. testing by A.G.R.F. in Melbourne confirmed that it was in fact Cinsaut. Meanwhile P.C.R. testing showed that my regenerated clone was negative for all but the ‘Claytons’ / benign virus RSPaV1. — The upshot is that the GRAD® 1 Cinsaut clone is, to the best of my knowledge, one of only two high health clones of this variety in New Zealand, and it is certainly by far the longest established genetic line in the country (going back to 1927).  This clone’s vines are robust and somewhat vigorous — so growing under restricted irrigation is advisable, for which I recommend grafting on GRAD® 44-53 and / or GRAD® 106-8 to get the best out of this variety in dry soils. Bunches are typically large and broad, with generous shoulders and thumbnail-sized berries (although dry-growing, or at least managed deficit irrigation, will help reduce berry size if judiciously utilised in combination with grafting to drought resistant rootstocks like GRAD® 44-53 and / or GRAD® 106-8). In warm years in Hawkes Bay and northward, which are of course becoming quite common, this clone will produce delightful light dry red wines or, perhaps best of all, fine dry (moderate alcohol) rosés in a typical refined Mediterranean style. Blending with GRAD® 1 Grenache could make for very distinctive wines as well. As such, there is great potential here for the production of a new wave of Mediterranean-styled wines from both the  GRAD® 1 Cinsaut and the GRAD® 1 Grenache.
For further details contact Stanmore Farm:
E-mail for orders or inquires:
Phone: 0800 Stanmore / 0800 782 666 
Mobile: 027 544 0140
Grafting orders for GRAD® 1 Cinsaut may be placed now.

GRAD® ‘Thomas’ Clone Chenin blanc: (currently undergoing r&d nursery propagation and final assessment): This under-development clonal line is a revival (if not near-resurrection) of what was once the source of very exciting 1970s and ’80s Chenin blanc wines made by classic producers like Cooks and Collards. It derives from a genetic line with a curious history in N.Z. because it started out as a D.S.I.R. quarantine ‘retained’ ex-U.C.D. line of Chenin blanc that was imported by Te Kauwhata Research Viticulturist Alistair McKissock in mid-January 1962.  As far as I can determine, this material, imported on permit 3981 issued in 1961,was successfully heat-treated in D.S.I.R. quarantine after being biologically indexed as virus infected. Most of the other material in this permit’s importation was released from quarantine on 8th April 1963, but the Chenin blanc would appear to have been one of three accessions held back for extra time — and thus almost certainly for virus-elimination heat-treatment — in quarantine. (The other two were Cardinal and the Pinot gris that in the early-2000s I rediscovered and re-christened as the now well-known ‘Berrysmith’ clone.)

At the time of McKissock’s 1962 import, there was only one U.C.D. Chenin blanc clone. It had come to U.C. Davis before 1956 and was located at K125v2 in the vineyard of the Department of Viticulture & Enology on the U.C. Davis campus. This was Chenin blanc U.C.D. 1. It received no heat treatment because it successfully completed basic virus indexing in 1956, after which it was incorporated into the U.C. Davis foundation grapevine collection and was immediately listed as a registered vine. The U.C. Davis export card file for the McKissock permit 3981 order shows, by the attaching of a handwritten ‘F’ beside the typed Chenin blanc listing, that the material supplied was from the then U.C.D. Foundation Vineyard — so it was definitely clone U.C.D.1.  It is a little curious then that at least some of this accession’s 6 cuttings indexed as virused in N.Z., but the range of biological indexing in use in 1962 was wider than that used when Chenin blanc U.C.D.1  was originally indexed — in a very rudimentary way — at U.C.D. in 1956. In particular, one strongly suspects that biological indexing on Rupestris St. George for RSPaV was a recent step at the time (and indeed only appears to have begun in N.Z. in 1962).  This rather inconsistent indicator test (the relative insignificance of which, in most cases, was not recognised until the early 2000s) may have tripped up the U.C.D.1 Chenin blanc, as well as the Cardinal and Pinot gris that were also ‘retained’ in quarantine with it. As such they would have been heat-treated before their resultant clean explants were released (and the original imported material destroyed).

In any case, by 1967 — 5 years after its importation — this line of Chenin blanc, now surely in the novel form of a New Zealand heat-treated clonal version and not the U.C.D. original, was in Frank Berrysmith’s Greenmeadows trial in the Mission vineyards at Hawkes Bay. It didn’t however gain much industry traction at first outside of the huge, 80 hectare, Cooks vineyard plantings at Te Kauwhata ca. 1969. From here, as I can personally attest, some extremely fine varietal Chenin blanc wines with good weight and balance (and not too much residual sugar) flowed in the later 1970s and after. As these Cooks Chenin blancs garnered show medals and critical acclaim (and, as I can again attest, proved moderately age-worthy), other industry players jumped on the bandwagon too. Indeed, ca. 1980, Delegats imported Chenin blanc U.C.D.1 from Australia (on import permit 20630) and this material was released to them and to M.A.F. from quarantine in late April 1982. (Some remnants of this second importation may still be in circulation, e.g., from early Central Otago and / or Nelson plantings.) Ultimately however, only Collard Brothers in Auckland stuck with the variety, and by the turn of the 21st century it was a very long way into decline in N.Z. plantings. Indeed, vines of the h.t. U.C.D.1  D.S.I.R. clone had all but disappeared entirely from N.Z. vineyards. But of course, as the 1980 Delegat’s importation of U.C.D.1 Chenin blanc from Australia shows, the decline of the D.S.I.R. heat-treated clonal line was already underway in the 1970s as virus infection (doubtless by by GLRaV3, and quite possibly also GVA and GLRaV1) gradually consumed its North Island plantings.

But while the 1970s-80s Chenin blanc boom was in full swing, whence came the Cooks, and subsequent, Chenin blanc vine material? It was certainly only made up of the ex-D.S.I.R. h.t. line —there was no other Chenin blanc in N.Z. — and having found several remnants of this line, and looked at the likely 1970s vine nursery and distribution sources, I can determine just one factor in common between them all: Wayne Thomas’s Avondale vine nursery. Indeed, the Chenin blanc that I have regenerated and reselected for the clonal line currently under-development in the GRAD® r&d nursery in Christchurch, definitely came from this Avondale source in the early 1970s. It was one of several old rogue vines of this  Chenin blanc which I found in 40+ year old South Island own-roots plantings of Chardonnay, Sauvignon blanc, and so forth, all with Thomas nursery provenance. Apparently, the heat-treated D.S.I.R. Chenin blanc was a not altogether uncommon rogue in a range of varietals from this source, albeit at low levels of incidence.

Of course, nowadays, these vines are hugely obscure and extremely rare, but they nevertheless represent the survivors of a line that established a serious track record from the 1970s and through the 1980s for the D.S.I.R. h.t. ex-U.C.D. 1 Chenin blanc in New Zealand. After this period however, Millton and Collard Brothers wines’ aside, interest and plantings waned fast, and eventually  Collards, too, succumbed despite Chenin blanc remaining as one of their stand-out wines to the very end. Today therefore, the success of the D.S.I.R. h.t. line of Chenin blanc has been largely forgotten. Nevertheless, very good wines that won prominent show awards were made from this line. (In the pioneering case of Cooks, one suspects there was a reasonable amount of cold skin contact in the course of their initial processing — something all too unreasonably eschewed nowadays in many white varieties because of the current slavish fashion for whole-bunch pressing.)

I’m hoping that by regenerating a superior high health new clonal re-selection, a renaissance of the D.S.I.R. h.t. genetic line of Chenin blanc may yet occur. It has a clear track record for quality in this country — one that offers a potential antidote and alternative to yet more Sauvignon bland and Pinot gristle coming forth from our wineries. All going to plan therefore, testing and evaluation of the finalised development clone now in the GRAD® r&d nursery in Christchurch will see mothervines provided to Stanmore Farm in 2021, with grafted vines from this material becoming available in progressively larger number from 2022 onward.

For further information about this resurrected and re-selected GRAD® ‘Thomas’ Chenin blanc clonal line, contact Dr. Gerald Atkinson at .

GRAD® Pinot noir précoce clones (Meristem-Cultured U.C.D. 5 Pinot noir Mutations): The foundation vine and several G1 mothervines of this entirely new and unique genetic line are currently undergoing GRAD® r&d nursery assessment before being sent to Stanmore Farm for commercial bulking up. Initial release is expected in 2023, all going to plan. This all-new clonal line of Pinot noir précoce flowers and ripens up to 6 weeks before its meristem-cultured ex-UCD5 Pinot noir source vine in Christchurch. (Its veraison in 2020 in Christchurch began on 9th January!) Clearly, if this remarkable mutation proves to be as good as it currently looks, it offers potential for production of commercially viable high quality Pinot noir on Canterbury plains sites all the way to Waimate and beyond, very cool Central Otago sites, Waitaki Valley frost free sites, and cool / south-facing Marlborough and Nelson sites. The key proviso here being that, in all cases, frost protection (or elevated frost-free planting on hillsides) is available in these very cool sites. Coming as it does from (National Foundation Block, Blands) U.C.D.5 Pinot noir via meristem culture and a freak bud mutation in its parent explant, this Pinot noir précoce is descended from an exceptionally fine Pinot noir genetic line. But now the potential opens up to ripen it in as little as 1000 Centigrade degree days heat-summation sites!

For further information about this breakthrough GRAD® Pinot noir précoce clonal line, contact Dr. Gerald Atkinson at .

GRAD® ‘Berrysmith’ Pinot blanc clones 1, 2, and 3 (currently undergoing bulking-up at Stanmore Farm): I have had three different clones of Pinot blanc, all selected as high quality blanc-berry colour mutations of Berrysmith Pinot gris, in the GRAD® r&d nursery in Christchurch for some time. Perhaps the most exciting is what is currently in my database as ‘F15S’, which is a vigorous-growing quite early-ripening Pinot blanc with mixed-berry bunches. Like the other two GRAD® Berrysmith clonal lines, the fruit has rich yellow peach, greengage, and nectarine flavours, with good acidity. ‘F15S’ looks however to have the greatest potential for making super-premium wines because of its on-average medium-small berries and the intense flavour they develop.

Before phylloxera, the great white Burgundy -producing vineyards of Bourgogne were composed of freely inter-planted Pinot blanc and Chardonnay, often with a little Aligoté (and Pinot gris) as well. In no way was Chardonnay either favoured or necessarily in the majority in any given high quality vineyard producing white Burgundy. Moreover, the clear varietal distinction we now expect and use, between Chardonnay and Pinot blanc, did not exist: the terms ‘Pinot blanc’ and ‘Pinot blanc de Chardonnay’ were used interchangeably to denote either or both Pinot blanc and / or Chardonnay, while the name ‘Chardonnay’ (or ‘Chaudeney’) was used comparatively infrequently. Consequently, Pinot blanc and Chardonnay were very much co-planted in the vineyards of Montrachet, Meursault, Chassagne, etc. in  pre-phylloxera times. Modern (1970s – 2000s) accounts of very old, pre-phylloxera Montrachets and other top white Burgundies from grand cru vineyards of this time that refer to black currant and / or white currant aromas and gooseberry and golden peach characters are as much — or likely as not far more likely — describing great Pinot blanc dominant pre-phylloxera wines from these renown climats as ever they are Chardonnay wines. The assumption that these pre-phylloxera white Burgundies are ipso facto Chardonnay, or even Chardonnay-dominant, is seriously questionable, if not simply fallacious (depending on the wine in question).

We need therefore to realise that the post-phylloxera ‘very poor cousin’ reputation (and treatment) that attaches to Pinot blanc is not based on sound viticultural or oenological science or history. Especially (as white Burgundy has long since shown) when grown on limestone / calcareous soils, Pinot blanc, when properly ripened (but not over-ripe / surmature) has a clear track record of producing great, rich and generous, wines. The key, as with all Pinot, is the combination of good site selection (with shelter and lack of vine stress being paramount), good vine husbandry, and the use of high quality clones.

Weighty wines with golden peach, greengage, mango, white currant, and nectarine characters are definitely on the cards I would expect from the GRAD® Berrysmith Pinot blancs. I believe the three GRAD® clones I have selected carry over the very high quality of their exceptional ‘parent’ Berrysmith Pinot gris clonal source, but, of course, under the blanc skin colour instead.

For further information about these under-development GRAD® ‘Berrysmith’ Pinot blanc clonal lines, contact Dr. Gerald Atkinson at .

GRAD®’Berrysmith Original’ Pinot gris: The significance of this pending release of GRAD® clonal material comes down to a simple, but key, question: how sure do you want to be about what you’re growing and where it comes from? The GRAD®’Berrysmith Original’ Pinot gris clonal line that is now undergoing bulking up at Stanmore Farm nursery derives directly and provably from the the first and original G1 mothervine of Berrysmith Pinot gris which I had previously held in my nursery (in a PB95 poly-bag ‘pot’) for around 18 years. In turn, this GRAD® foundation mothervine is almost certainly the only available first-generation propagule of the original Berrysmith Pinot gris vine.

Unfortunately, after I established this genetic line as a unique clone (in the early 2000s), N.Z.G.V.I.G. elected to rush-release what was putative third generation material from Canterbury vineyards (which included GLRaV1 and GLRaV3 — i.e., ‘leaf roll virus 1 and 3  — infected vines and Pinot gris Gm 2/15 rogues) as a ‘mass selection’ of ‘Berrysmith’ Pinot gris. (Careful selection by N.Z.G.V.I.G. eliminated the type-3 positive material, but the very presence of this virus (and the type 1 leaf-roll) shows how far this material had strayed from the original single vine source which was PCR clean, except for the benign RSPav1 virus.) The material distributed by N.Z.G.V.I.G. certainly resembled what I had identified and then went on to set up as my own unique clonal line, but it nevertheless came from obscure second or third-hand sources: it was not therefore a clonal line, and it did not have clear and unequivocal provenance. Consequently, I believe there is not one single planting outside the GRAD® nursery (and now Stanmore Farm) that can indisputably prove and / or trace its genetic lineage to the original Berrysmith Pinot gris source material. So far as I have been able to determine, the plantings N.Z.G.V.I.G. drew upon consisted in several generations derived from early 1980s Canterbury vines that had no more than a possible (but never conclusively established or proven) connection to the original Berrysmith source. In a nutshell then: no-one but me has ever established the provenance of their ‘Berrysmith’ Pinot gris directly to the original source.

The problem I’m seeking to throw light upon here is this therefore: what has been inferred by the industry about the provenance and clonal status of the ex-N.Z.G.V.I.G. ‘Berrysmith mass selection’ is far more than the available evidence supports. Consequently, as very good as it generally is, the current available ‘Berrysmith Pinot gris’ vine stock necessarily derives from an indeterminate gene pool; one that is more or less probably, but in no way is proven as, traceable to the original Berrysmith Pinot gris vine. By comparison, the GRAD®’Berrysmith Original’ Pinot gris is a genuine clone and I can and will personally guarantee its provenance back to a single original vine in Frank Berrysmith’s late 1960s – early 1970s Pinot gris trial in Hawkes Bay. There were a range of Pinot gris lines in this trial, both original imports and, I expect, D.S.I.R. heat-treated versions of these as as well. For example, the so-called ‘Barrie’ (i.e., Wadenswil) Pinot gris was another, distinct and separate, clone planted there.

This critique of the claims that attach to so much of the currently available ‘Berrysmith Pinot gris’ should not be misunderstood however. It is absolutely not intended here to suggest that nurseries (or growers) are acting, or have in the past acted, in anything less than good faith. They are being entirely honest in offering ‘Berrysmith Pinot gris’ as they know it, usually sourced in the 2000s from N.Z.G.V.I.G.  or a regional G.V.I.G. group. But unfortunately what has been overlooked is the true significance of the ‘mass selection’ denominator under which N.Z.G.V.I.G. and its affiliate organisations chose (somewhat to my misgivings at the time) to sell this vine material: it was never a clonal line because it could not meet the criteria for such a crucial status; and it never had clear and unequivocal provenance. The only Berrysmith Pinot gris clonal line is therefore the the GRAD® ‘Berrysmith Original’ Pinot gris line that I established in the early 200os in my R&D nursery, and which, until now, has never been offered to the market.

I have now decided it is time to change this state of affairs and to offer the growers of N.Z. Berrysmith pinot gris as a 100% bona fide, fully-provenanced, clonal line. This is not least because of the woefully poor standard of most Pinot gris wine produced in this country, and that in turn is overwhelmingly thanks to the huge plantings of Geisenheim Pinot gris clones, as well as a massive failure by our winemakers to take Alsatian Pinot gris as the wine-model we should be following rather than the dire and dilute slush that is typical Italian ‘Pinot grigio’. By stark contrast to the Geisenheim and other clones that still hugely dominate this country’s plantings, and putting it quite simply, the GRAD® ‘Berrysmith Original’ Pinot gris clone is the finest Pinot gris genetic line in Australasia: end of story.  If you want the best, its is this clone, and this clone only.

Material from the foundation vine of the GRAD® ‘Berrysmith Original’ Pinot gris clone was supplied to Stanmore Farm in winter 2020, and volumes of budwood available for grafting should increase steadily from 2022 onward. At some time in the future, I will also detail on this website the remarkable story of the origins and provenance of this clone — right back to the Dijon University mothervine, in Burgundy, from which it came.

For further information about the GRAD® ‘Original Berrysmith’ Pinot gris clone, contact Dr. Gerald Atkinson at .

GRAD® ‘Mission’ and ‘Bragato’ Heritage Pinot Meunier noir clones:Pinot Meunier — which in (genetic ‘principle’, at least) can occur in any of the various colours that manifest in Pinot, viz., blanc, rose, rouge, gris, violet, noir, moure, and teinturier) — is undoubtedly the most poorly understood and (outside of méthode champenoise production) under-rated of all the Pinots among  growers and winemakers. It is a periclinal chimera, so the inside (L2) cell layers of the vine are ‘normal’ Pinot (usually) of the berry colour variety in question, while the outside (L1) layer is rich in fine woolly white hair, like a finely distributed white ermine coat, on the leaves and especially the first 10cm of the upper shoot. (I suspect that in principle the berry colour of the ‘inner’ L2 vine might be able to be different from the visible, L1 layer, berry colour, given suitable mutational circumstances.) But the Pinot Meunier vine (of whatever berry colour) is nevertheless all Pinot; it’s just ‘wrapped’ as it were, in a white ermine coat.

From a viticultural point of view, the key thing that this coat does, and the likely mutational ‘utility’ / advantage that Meunierism coveys to the vines it affects (e.g., Grenache and Tannat also have Meunier forms), is the creation of a protective, genuinely micro-climatically effective, layer of hair that both insulates the vine’s growing tips and its leaves from the key environmental stresses that Pinot (and often other varieties) most dislikes: wind, cold, excessive heat, and wind-driven transpiration stress; in short most key environmental (as opposed to nutritional or physiological) sources of stress. As a consequence, Meunier forms of Pinot are typically the toughest and most stress tolerant: they do better in windy sites; they tolerate chilly conditions better; and they are more tolerant of heat and dry hot winds. In a nutshell: all else being equal, it takes a harsher vineyard environment to stress a Pinot Meunier form of a Pinot vine than is the case for the normal ‘non-Meunier’ form. And it is Pinot Meunier’s ‘white ermine coat’ that gives it this advantage.

Meunierism in Pinot seems to me, from many few years observation now, to be strongly and commonly triggered at an epigenetic level by environmental stress, and particularly by lack of shelter. Look closely at a Pinot vine that is in a windy exposed situation, and it is extremely likely that the harsher the conditions the more the Pinot’s leaves will lose the definition of their teeth and sinuses and will thus become more entire, they will become rougher in appearance and to touch, and they will develop a lot more Meunier-like woolly hair on the leaves, as well as on the vine’s growing tip and first 10cm of the vines likely-as-not short-internode-laden shoots. This is an epigenetic response to environmental stress in Pinot — gene-switches in the vine trigger these phenological responses — but in some circumstances and instances, the ‘switches’ stay on, and the once merely epigenetic changes in the vine’s phenology become entrenched as genuine persistent mutations. The result is Pinot Meunier.

By contrast, as someone who has propagated a lot of Pinot in tunnel-houses / glasshouses, I can attest first hand that in these ultra-sheltered conditions many Pinots’ leaves become near glabrous — (apparently) hairless and shiny, and the leaves’ teeth will be well defined, as will the vines’ leaf lobes and their shoots’ internode length (given adequate nutrition and freedom from disease). What this underscores is the key fact that Pinot loves and needs shelter and lack of stress — indeed, this is the paramount ‘golden rule’ for understanding how to maximise this variety’s viticultural performance and its translation into superbly plush rich wines with loads of finesse. In Burgundy, it has long since been recognised that the climats that are wind-exposed, or are in the path of cool air drainage, or which are otherwise unsheltered and in a less than stable and commodious environment, are inferior. So too are those climats that are cold, frosty, or plagued by poor drainage or, alternatively, have soil that drains too fast and retains too little moisture for too short a time (so as to often cause vine water stress in Burgundy’s unirrigated vineyards). The Burgundians have thus long-since recognised that Pinot is a ‘Persian cat’ of a vine, as it were: it loves comfort! Indeed, Pinot is fundamentally and essentially a variety that is very highly sensitive to its vineyard environment, and this is the fundamental scientific truth to the otherwise very over-hyped (and frequently highly opaque) notion of ‘terroir’ as it bears, most particularly, upon Pinot.

In this country, over-exposed and poorly sheltered vineyards, never mind Pinot noir plantings in such conditions, are a dime a dozen. Compared to the great cool climate vineyards of Europe, most New Zealand sites are second-rate or worse: very many are on valley floors; quite a few are still on rich soils; and especially there are many sites that are highly wind-exposed. Hillside sites in much of this country are poorly exploited and often ill-developed, so that all too often (e.g., in Waipara) their advantages are utterly squandered by severe wind exposure and corresponding lack of shelter for the vines. Industrial viticulture eschews these considerations of course: being able to drive picking machines for the maximum possible distance in the least amount of time with the minimum of turning complexity, is held to be vastly more important than the positive effect of vineyard shelter on fruit quality and ripening.

Pinot, of all kinds, suffers under these circumstances as a direct result. its quality potential is immediately and inescapably limited and diminished, often very markedly so. This is hidden of course, to a good extent, in white wines made from Pinot varieties (chiefly Pinot gris in this country of course) because it is in their phenolics (and their slower ripening) that stressed Pinot vines principally express their negative response to environmental (as well as water, nutritional, and virus) stress. Stressed Pinot produces short-chain, catechinic, hard phenolics, and its fruit gives mean, pinched, leaner and both less sumptuous and less subtle wines. Whole bunch pressing allows these deleterious organoleptic factors largely to be sidestepped, but it comes at the not-insignificant cost, as so much N.Z. Pinot gris so woefully demonstrates, of body, flavour, and richness — except that these finer characteristic expressions of Pinot are not of course to hand anyway in fruit from stressed vines.

But in red wine made from Pinot noir (or from Pinot Meunier noir, or Pinot violet or moure), the transfer of the deleterious effects of stress upon fruit quality into the wine via its dry extract, and particularly its phenolics, is inescapable. So it is then that in this country’s Pinot noir plantings, environmental stress from widespread lack of vineyard shelter is utterly commonplace. I was recently in a vineyard of a highly renowned Martinborough Pinot noir producer where the nor-west wind often sweeps through their foremost plantings almost entirely unimpeded. Their wines  have long been criticised by more acute (rather than sycophantic) critics, for often being excessively tannic and extractive, and lacking the finesse that sets great Burgundies apart from New World wannabes. What these astute critics are getting at is a phenomenon for which there is a direct causal connection at work here: the wines are reflecting the Pinot noir vines’ dislike of, and reaction to, the highly wind-exposed vineyard environment. This particular producer’s unwillingness to forego the wind-stress-induced hardness of the fruit’s dry extract brings this right to the fore, and that of course is what acute Pinot noir critical palates rightly home in upon. (The Bendigo region of Central Otago is a closely similar case in point, and anyone foolish enough to attribute the tough hard tannins that characterise so many of its Pinot noirs to its ‘soil’ is blind to the very serious environmental, wind-exposure-driven, drawbacks of this climat as a Pinot site.)

In the face of this, Pinot Meunier noir goes some way to overcoming these problems, although it is by no means a Pinot type made of steel, as it were. But more to the point, in good sheltered sites, in combination with good vine husbandry, Pinot Meunier noir will, I suggest, always qualitatively outperform its otherwise identical ‘normal’ Pinot noir form (all else being equal). This is because its is inherently more tolerant of being restricted — and thus limited in its growth, but not stressed — and especially so in terms of the amount of water deficit it will tolerate while correspondingly producing small(er) berries due to this managed restrictive practice. I estimate that in a sheltered stress-free, but only low-moderate potential site, Pinot Meunier will tolerate at least 10% less soil moisture before going into vine stress than an otherwise identical Pinot noir vine. (For more vigorous Pinot Meunier clones, the level of extra deficit tolerance is probably greater, too.) In terms of berry size determination, and taking account also of the fact that using clones that are genetically driven to produce large berries is pointless from a Pinot-qualitative point of view, minimising the amount of water Pinot gets between fruit set and veraison is utterly crucial. But — and here is the all-critical caveat — this must be done without at any point inducing vine stress (by taking the water deficit too far). Once Pinot stresses, it produces catechinic tannins and other fruit-quality-deleterious components that then tend to persist in the fruit and thus blight its quality and thereby inherently limit that of the wine it produces. Yet Pinot Meunier very likely offers about a 10% (or slightly more) extra ‘buffer zone’ against environmental stress, and in this case especially, against going too far with soil moisture deficit regulation. It’s a tougher vine, and it’s easier to get it to produce smaller berries accordingly — even if it’s a drop from, say, 1.1 grams / berry to 0.98 grams — than for its non-Meunier Pinot homologue. The higher level of dry extract, produced free of stress-induced catechinic tannins and other stress products, equates to higher wine concentration and (in principle at least) greater quality.

Translated across to Pinot noir (rather than the more stress-tolerant Pinot Meunier), this is of course the road to Grand Cru Pinot noir production, simply put (although there are of course more causal factors involved in traversing it than just carefully managed, stress-free, moisture deficit post-fruit set). There is good empirical evidence that the great Burgundy Grand Cru vineyards have soils with both drainage and water-retention properties that precisely emulate these effects, although the quality of the genetic lines they are planted with, and the close hands-on viticultural attention the vines receive, are also crucial contributing factors.

The road to Grand Cru red Pinot is nevertheless easier to traverse using Pinot Meunier noir! It is highly salient to note therefore that I’ve yet to encounter anyone who can discriminate between Pinot noir and Pinot Meunier noir wines where the clones involved are very similar as well as the winemaking. The popular notion that Pinot Meunier noir wines are short-lived, light, easy-drinking and insubstantial is entirely due to the overwhelming dominance of methode champenoise Meunier clones in the world’s plantings today: big-cropping clones with big bunches and big berries — an inevitable recipe for wines without substance and lacking in richness or ‘breed’; genetic lines where insufficient dry extract can be provided to meet the standards set by top quality red Burgundy.

But this doesn’t have to be the case, and in certain, now very rare but still-extant, gene pools it isn’t. My ongoing research in vineyards in Victoria and other parts of Australia planted with pre-phylloxera Pinot noir and Pinot Meunier noir genetic lines (original and 1st generation) has consistently exposed the fact that it is the unfashionable Meunier — once you get past the Champagne clones — that, in these old genetic lines of red Pinot, offers the greatest numbers and range of truly exciting Grand Cru clonal prospects. One finds, and has found, vine after vine with small berries in mixed-berry bunches on classic Pinot fine vines, with the Pinot Meunier noir always holding the biggest and most exciting range vis-a-vis the Pinot noir versions of the gene pool. It is a look into an Arcadian past (except it is still here today, in a very few sites), where there are vines aplenty of genetic quality par excellence that phylloxera has all but entirely eliminated almost everywhere else. The only other key exception, where these genes (entirely in their Pinot noir incarnation of course) are retained in vines even today, is in the very finest and most exclusive Grand Cru Burgundy vineyards (where of course not a single ‘Dijon clone’ vine is to be seen, or would ever be planted).

In New Zealand, Pinot Meunier noir was a very early introduction, in all likelihood, from English vineries (where the variety was very popular for its hardiness, early-ripening, and sweet fruit), but otherwise from Australian (Sydney and Port Philip / Melbourne) sources. The longest-extant Pinot Meunier noir vine in this country was planted in the 1890s at the Mission Church at Meeanee in Hawkes Bay, and it survived there until the early 1990s when, alas, it was finally pulled out. It was sufficiently distant from vineyards never to be threatened by phylloxera and its inherent hardiness saw it achieve close to one hundred years of age before its demise. Undoubtedly it was from the same Auckland-regional vineyard source as Keith Stewart, in his classic book, Chancers and Visionaries: A History of Wine in New Zealand, showed was drawn upon by Brother Cyprian Huchet when he introduced Pinot noir, Pinot Gris, and Pinot Meunier noir, to the Mission vineyards in Hawkes Bay in 1889. My own research has shown, in turn, that this vine stock came not from France, but from across the Tasman. In Sydney, a key source — if not the key source — was William Macarthur’s Camden nursery and its vineyards. The Macarthurs imported Pinot Meunier noir (and Pinot noir) from Burgundy in 1817, and later William offered additional (generally) high quality Pinot noir lines from the 1833 Sydney-landed and grown Busby vine collection, along with its Pinot gris. In all likelihood, during the 1840s and 50s, this vine stock was planted in various Auckland regional colonial vineyards, and as Stewart points out, by 1889, Br. Huchet knew full well that they had good Pinot varieties upon which he could draw. The notion that the old Mission Pinot stock instead came directly from France is simply a myth and lacks any supporting evidence whatsoever.

I was lucky enough the access material from the Meeanee Pinot Meunier vine and have been growing and observing mothervines of it, designated in my collection as GRAD® ‘Mission Heritage’ Pinot Meunier noir, for around 17 years now. It is a lovely, moderately strong-growing, classical Pinot fine form of Pinot Meunier noir with medium-sized bunches of medium-sized berries; it is not a ‘gros Champagne’ genetic line therefore. Ripening is more or less as per Pinot noir clones like B114 and U.C.D.5, and the fruit aromatic and flavour spectrum looks to be in the dark red cherry spectrum. The GRAD® ‘Mission Heritage’ Pinot Meunier noir has great potential as a classic Pinot fine source for high quality red wine production, but it looks very promising also for the making of Pinot rosé wines. This is a P.C.R. tested high-health clone that offers a genuine opportunity to make red or rosé Pinot wine from a 100% bona fide pre-phylloxera Heritage vine source.

Even more difficult to find than remnants of the old Meeanee vine, and especially difficult to recover in high health form, was another key Pinot Meunier line that has played a major role in past fine wine production in this country. This was introduced in the 1890s by Romeo Bragato, almost certainly as cuttings from the South Australian government Belair nursery in the Adelaide Hills. Bragato had great success with this line of Pinot Meunier and made a number of much-acclaimed wines from it at the Waerenga Research Station in the first decade of the 20th century. Indeed, of all the vinifera varieties in this country between the late 1880s and the later 1960s, Pinot Meunier noir was the most widely and persistently grown. In the early 1960s it was actually still this country’s number one red vinifera wine grape — albeit much overshadowed by very much larger hybrid red varietal plantings.

As I detail in my research paper published in the ‘Posts’ section this website (“The Origins, History, and Confusion of Pinot Noir Clone A.M. 10/5 and Certain Pinot Droit and Other Pinot Noir Clones in New Zealand“) Pinot Meunier was, because of this (today, quite surprising) importance as our no.1 vinifera red wine grape of the 1960s, the first variety heat-treated by the D.S.I.R. as part of its huge national foundation vine-stock virus elimination project of the 1960s and early 1970s. Two high-health explants were produced, although at first only one was released, in the latter 1960s, the second not becoming available until the mid-1970s. The vine material heat-treated by D.S.I.R. came from Te Kauwhata of course, and it was sourced from ca. 70 year old Pinot Meunier remnant vines that were none other than Bragato plantings.

Given Bragato’s descriptions of his ex-Belair, South Australian, Pinot Meunier noir, we know this genetic line was a fairly early ripener and a fair cropper, as well as a producer of good quality red wines. I have little doubt, based on these characteristics and my observations of the remnant (likely) high-health material that I have, after much searching, been able to recover, that the D.S.I.R. h.t. line is genetically distinct from the Mission heritage line. Accordingly, I have tentatively entered my re-selection of the small amount of ex-D.S.I.R. heat-treated Pinot Meunier noir I have recovered, into the GRAD® clonal catalogue as GRAD® ‘Bragato’ Heritage Pinot Meunier noir.

In colonial times in this country, and through into the 1920s even, a good few outstanding vineyards grew Pinot Meunier noir with considerable success, not least including William Beetham (who blended it with Syrah / ‘Hermitage’) in the Wairarapa and Henry Tiffen and Bernard Chambers in Hawkes Bay. The keeping and ageing qualities of Beetham’s ‘Brancepeth’ vineyard Wairarapa Pinot Meunier noir – Syrah blended red are somewhat legendary of course, but just what were the genetic lines that were so prominent in N.Z. colonial vineyards and then onward up to Bragato’s time is a tricky but very interesting question. I have no doubt that they were virtually all, if not in fact entirely, sourced from Australia, with privately obtained imports from New South Wales and Victoria almost certainly making up the near totality. There was in fact a lot of Pinot Meunier, from quite a few sources, in colonial N.S.W. and Victoria: the 1817 Macarthur ex-Burgundy introductions; material from the Victorian 1842-established (very probably ex-Chambertin) Neuchatel vineyard in Geelong whose Pinot Meunier and Pinot noir vine stock was eventually very widely dispersed in that colony through its vine nursery; material from a documented introduction ca. 1801(?) by Samuel Marsden to Parramatta in Sydney (that subsequently was, quite possibly, widely dispersed in colonial N.S.W. vineyards); Pinot Meunier noir from the Chiswich collection of the London (later Royal) Horticultural Society; and quite likely a good sprinkling of the variety from a number of private-settler English vinery sources into N.S.W. especially.

It’s presently (in advance of my tracking down and establishing sufficient definitive clono-type specimens in Victorian and perhaps also N.S.W. vineyards) hard to nail down just how many pre-phylloxera genetic lines of Pinot Meunier noir (or even just Pinot noir) there were, and / or still are, in old Australian plantings. So determining which ones Beetham, the Brothers at the Mission, Chambers, and Tiffen, Bragato, et al, planted here is a major task. In time, genetic deep sequencing can tell a good deal of this tale, and this is something my research is very much seeking to follow through on in due course. A wealth of pre-phylloxera Pinot riches awaits….

But in the meantime, in the form of the GRAD® ‘Heritage’ Pinot Meunier noir clones — ‘Mission’ and ‘Bragato’ — two very promising high quality Pinot Meunier noir wine grape (rather than ‘gros Champage’) clones with very clear pre-phylloxera lineage are to hand. First to be released will be the GRAD ®’Mission’ clone. Budwood from its mothervines may indeed be available for grafting this season (2020) in modest quantities, with larger amounts becoming progressively available as Stanmore Farm bulks up its mothervine stock. Meanwhile, my re-selection of the early-ripening GRAD® ‘Bragato’ clone is continuing in observation and testing in the GRAD r&d nursery in Christchurch. Final testing to confirm this line’s being definitely negative for GLRav3 and GVA in particular (as these two viruses have been endemic in all other remnants of the D.S.I.R. h.t. line I have discovered) is still required. (The ‘Bragato’ clonal re-selection I currently have under development is visually clean and looks very promising as to its vine health.)

For further information about the GRAD® ‘Bragato Heritage’, and GRAD® ‘Mission Heritage’, Pinot Meunier noir clones, contact Dr. Gerald Atkinson at .

To place forward orders for the initial, 2020-23, releases of these two Heritage Pinot Meunier noir clones — which should ideally be grafted to the free of detectable virus GRAD® 420A rootstock — contact Stanmore Farm nursery:
E-mail for orders or inquires:
Phone: 0800 Stanmore / 0800 782 666 
Mobile: 027 544 0140
Fax: 06 364 317

GRAD® 1 Carmenere (Remnant Experimental Tissue-Cultured  Line): Available for grafting this season (2020) and onward at Stanmore Farm nursery: Carmenere is almost certainly a moderately old Bordeaux variety, one whose parents almost certainly go back to the times when ’round ships’ (known as ‘cogs’) transported huge amounts of Bordeaux ‘claret’ (actually rosé) to England in the 1300s. It is probably about as old, or a little older, than Cabernet Sauvignon (which comes from the early-to-mid-1700s in all probability), if mentions of these names in records are taken as indicators. Not long ago held out as the result of a cross between Cabernet Franc and Gros Cabernet (both venerable, and relatively closely-related, Basco-Pyrenéan varieties), we now know that Carmenere’s parentage actually consists in the crossing of Cabernet Franc and Moural. (This latter variety is extremely rare, obscure, and also a very venerable Basco-Pyrenéan vine which is genetically very similar to Gros Cabernet, and thus also to Cabernet Franc).

In any case though, Carmenere  is undoubtedly the most misunderstood and undervalued of the classical tête de cuvée Bordeaux red varieties. The fundamental problem that eventually saw it all but disappear after the phylloxera plague of the 1870s – 1890s, was particularly well described in the classic work by Armand d’Armailhacq, De la Culture des Vignes, de la Vinification et des Vins Dans le Médoc. In this book, d’Armailhacq captures in a nutshell the essential problem which the variety posed for its growers:

It produces even fewer adventitious shoots on the old wood than Cabernet. This is one of the reasons that it is grown less [than the Cabernets]; and most winemakers, who do not know this give up on it. The sap favours the buds at the end of the shoots, [so] it is often impossible to bring it back [to reduce the extension of the vine’s framework by successfully cutting to older wood]. The result is that the spurs elongate inevitably each year, so that they can give more reliable production, crossing to the right and left on the neighbouring vines [planted very close, of course, in Bordeaux].  It is one of the major drawbacks of this grape variety, which has to be overlapped [with its neighbouring vines] very often.  ….  It is because of this that this grape variety needs to be pruned to long canes. It would produce [next to] nothing [pruned] to spurs, and the system followed in Médoc, slats and ligation of the canes in arcs, it is absolutely necessary…. (My emphasis, and my translation, from the 3rd edition, published in 1867.)

So it was then that despite Carmenere’s wines being highly esteemed by the top Châteaux in the Médoc, it was nevertheless notorious and disfavoured everywhere else in Bordeaux because of its extremely apically-dominant growth habit. Indeed, prior to Guyot’s ca. 1864 famous advocacy of the cane and spur pruning system that carries his name, Carmenere was the high quality ultra-problem-child of Bordeaux red wine producing vineyards. Its growth habit simply did not suit the trellising systems in the overwhelming majority of pre-phylloxera Bordeaux vineyards where vines were trained free-standing, en goblet, or otherwise using cordons supported by stakes (depending on what the grower could afford). Only the very richest Chateuax (and so the finest in the Médoc in particular) could afford the relatively costly and labour-intensive light wooden horizontal cross-piece slatted trellises required to cane-prune and then cane-arch Carmenere. (Wire was either unavailable or far too expensive.) Guyot’s spur and cane system was the answer of course, complete with stake-and-wire trellis, but phylloxera struck before this system had become much adopted (or widely affordable) in Bordeaux. Thus when the vineyards were reconstructed, the easier to manage, much lower labour input, major red Bordeaux varieties that dominate today (give or take Merlot which has only really taken off in the last 40 years) utterly eclipsed Carmenere plantings. One suspects also that nurseries well knew of the costly-to-grow and troublesome pre-phylloxera reputation of Carmenere, and did not bother offering much of it, or otherwise offered none at all, as a grafted vine. (For example, the latter appears to have been the approach taken by the very prominent and influential Richter nursery at Montpellier.) As a result, the variety was overwhelmingly unwanted for, and very scarcely available anyway for planting into, the new reconstructed vineyards — despite the fact that, actually, Guyot training was exactly what it needed. Consequently, as the 20th century unfolded, Carmenere had almost become extinct in its Freanch homeland and its Bordeaux home region.

As we know, 1850s-imported Carmenere in Chile, grown under rather more commodious, cane-pruned, training systems than in most of pre-phylloxera Bordeaux, turned out to be the variety’s saviour, and internationally at that. But it took a very long time for this to unfold, and during that period Chilean Carmenere was mistakenly confused everywhere in the country for Merlot (even though, if anything, it is more like Cabernet Franc, but with vermilion upper shoot internodes, juvenile leaves, and very hairy vermilion-into-pink shoot tips in spring in particular).

For its part, New Zealand very probably had no Carmenere (be it mistaken with Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, or Merlot) until the 1960s. But even then it was not imported under its correct identity, and its name would in any case have meant nothing to contemporary N.Z. growers and viticultural researchers. Nevertheless, at some stage between 1960 and 1980, Carmenere entered this country as, at least, vines named ‘Cabernet Franc’, if not also as perhaps one (now extinct vine) named either ‘Cabernet Franc’ or ‘Merlot’. Crucially however, the overwhelming majority of the cuttings from these imports were used by D.S.I.R. as virus indicators rather than being released for planting into vineyards.

The first possible (quasi-documented) import was in 1962, from France, on plant import permit no. 3674. This was either 50 cuttings of Rupestris St. George, or perhaps a mix of it with Cabernet Franc, and it was in any case almost entirely consumed by in-quarantine biological indexing by D.S.I.R., although some offspring Ruperstris St. George from this importation were eventually released in August 1967. There is no record of any Cabernet Franc being made available to winegrowers from this permit however. Nevertheless, I am very suspicious about the notion that this importation was composed only of Rupestris St. George cuttings. This is because it is otherwise not until 1973-4, on permit 12689, that Cabernet Franc is clearly documented as being imported into N.Z. (in this case from Australia) — which would mean that D.S.I.R. never used, and had no access to, the key indicator variety Cabernet Franc right through the 1960s. Grafting scions to it for testing for the appearance of leaf symptoms of leaf-roll viruses was standard international practice (although Cabernet Franc passed for many years, unrecognised, as a very unreliable and very often false-negative, indicator of the the pseudo-leaf-roll virus GLRaV2 which has now been reclassified as a viral type of its own). I find it hard therefore to believe that when the D.S.I.R. started their comprehensive virus-testing, and then virus-elimination (thermotherapy) programme in the early 1960s, they did not ensure they had to hand Cabernet Franc, by importing it as clean new vines. (Cabernet Sauvignon would have been an adequate make-do interim alternative if it has been available in high-health, leaf-roll-symptomless form, but was not until ca. 1970.) Given these facts, I consider permit 3674 was extremely likely to have included Cabernet Franc: it was needed here by D.S.I.R. a.s.a.p. from at least 1962 onward, and although Mission was used as a further alternative indicator for leaf-roll virus, it is hard to believe that D.S.I.R. eschewed what was internationally advocated and recognised as  best practice, and went without Cabernet Franc right throughout the 1960s when they could (e.g. on permit 3674) easily import known clean stock (most especially) from France.

Be this as it may however, what I think is fairly certain is that once D.S.I.R. successfully heat-treated the old T.K. Cabernet Sauvignon (of which the GRAD® 1 and 2 clones are now the pre-eminent high health exemplars) and released this material in 1972, industry interest in Cabernet Franc also began to burgeon. Thus there developed a certain keenness for its importation for use as a wine grape, and not merely for consumption by D.S.I.R. in biological testing for leaf-roll viruses in quarantine. Frank Berrysmith’s permit 12689, from ca. 1972-3 almost certainly reflects this, and as best I can trace this Cabernet Franc import, it appears to derive, ultimately, from Penfolds 1958 importation of vines into New South Wales for their (ultimately unsuccessful) Wybong vineyard Upper Hunter plantings. Berrysmith’s source was almost certainly the Australian C.S.I.R.O. foundation vineyard at Merbein, which acquired clean material from the Penfolds 58 line in 1972. I hasten to add that nobody should get too carried away just because of the Penfolds connection here: many of the varieties this company imported for Wybong were failures, and the quality of many of the vines involved is seriously questionable. Nevertheless, it seems that what was likely to be ‘Penfolds 58’ Cabernet Franc, ex-Bordeaux, (although almost certainly not under that clonal identity) was released in this country in April 1975. This then was almost certainly the very first Cabernet Franc available to the N.Z. industry.

But it is here, immediately, that Carmenere comes back into the picture — because there is a strong possibility that at least some of the material that was denominated in Australia as ‘Cabernet Franc P58 / C24-1’ was / is actually Carmenere. Indeed, I’ve seen what I believe is very probably this line of ‘Cabernet Franc’ in Victoria and much of it is in my opinion actually Carmenere (and I know likely as not identically-sourced mixed up Cabernet Franc and Carmenere vines were in South Australia too).

Ironically, after Frank Berrysmith’s tragic enforced retirement ca. 1979, another ‘Cabernet Franc’ import of his from Australia was released, but it too was not what it appeared. It was imported on permit 17493, and although Berrysmith may well have thought it was a different clone to that on his 1972-3 permit 12689, it was ‘C24-1’ — the C.S.I.R.O.’s re-nomination for clean Penfolds 58 ‘Cabernet Franc’; more of the same therefore, and possibly a mix of Cabernet Franc and Carmenere, or even straight Carmenere, depending on how many vines supplied the 6 imported cuttings! In addition, between 1976 and 1979, there were three other Cabernet Franc releases in N.Z., and while some of these were quite possibly correctly identified, the possibility of mixed varietal imports (if cuttings came from more than one mothervine) or simply straight Carmenere being introduced, cannot be ruled out a priori.

In any case though, Cabernet Franc did not become a serious and ongoing addition to N.Z. Bordeaux varietal plantings largely until the rise of the Gimblett Gravels and the Ngatarawa / Bridge Pa Triangle red-metal plantings in the 1990s. Being a bit later ripening and particularly unforgiving of canopy shading of its fruit, whatever Carmenere may have been in circulation as ‘Cabernet Franc’ became ‘selected out’ and effectively disappeared. The arrival of high-quality E.N.T.A.V. – I.N.R.A. clones of Cabernet Franc in the later 1990s then more or less finished the job as it were.

Today, Carmenere is gravely undervalued and seriously misunderstood in New Zealand (as in Australia). Most growers in Australasia simply do not know of its once-noble status, documented by d’Armailhacq and others, in the Rolls Royce vineyards of pre-phylloxera Médoc etc.  They regard it, at best, if they give it any attention, as a recovered and re-identified Chilean curiosity; no more, no less.  The variety is however particularly suited to poor droughty soils, and as d’Armailhacq says, accordingly: “A crucial condition” for Carmenere “is that the terrain does not conserve water.” That said, and notwithstanding that d’Armailhacq astutely recommends planting on sloping ground with lighter soils rather than on flats with heavy, less well-drained conditions, Carmenere is not truly drought resistant. It will go into damaging water stress — like virtually all the other major Bordeaux varietals — if it cannot access deep subsoil moisture in autumn as it ripens its fruit. But the key thing here is to recognise that it does best in well-drained deep soils that are low in fertility, because the variety is a strong grower and its need for deep sub-soil moisture must not be combined with its also being able to feed freely in the soil in which it is grown. In Bordeaux, leached-out porous ‘non-active’ limestone layers and / or bands of mildly water-retentive and water-transferring (semi-sponge-like) sandy layers in the deeper sub-soil, are key factors in the great sites (outside of the few with suitable clay deposits, principally around Pomerol).

Historically, Carmenere excelled alongside Cabernet Sauvignon in particular, as d’Armailhacq’s emphasis on its performance in Médoc suggests. It ripens contemporaneously with this variety, and it also very much shares its need for good fruit exposure to drive methoxypyrazines out of its berries and thence the wines they produce. The key here is to understand that Carmenere adds middle-palate weight to Cabernet Sauvignon and gives intense and distinctive cassis character on both the nose and palate. No other Bordeaux red varietal is so richly driven by this liqueur blackcurrant character in combination with middle-palate generosity. But in addition, it also has to be said that Carmenere blends superbly with very ripe Merlot (as Chile has proven well and truly). It brings the excesses (low acid, jamminess, elevated pH) that come with the current vogue for picking Merlot surmature, under very acceptable organoleptic control, and the resultant wines (as again Chile can testify in spades) are very attractive. Quite possibly it could do the same also for Malbec, which in Hawkes Bay in particular now suffers egregiously from gross surmaturity in too many vintages (with wines of 15% alcohol or more being made from it at times). To suggest therefore that N.Z. Bordeaux blends have no need nor use for Carmenere, or just as foolishly, that we don’t have the right climatic and / or soil conditions for it (in Hawkes Bay or on Waiheke Island) is sheer nonsense. Certainly, the variety is not suited to the warm wet climate of Northland or Auckland, but on Waiheke Island slopes and on deep poor gravelly and / or sandy soils in Hawkes Bay, it has huge potential. It is not a mere old Bordeaux curiosity, and it does a lot more than merely ‘add complexity’ (whatever that really is). Rather, Carmenere is a grape variety which once had Rolls Royce credentials in the Rolls Royce vineyards of the Médoc, and many N.Z. red Bordeaux-blend growers and producers should awaken from their dogmatic slumbers and adopt it as a major addition to their vineyards; it can and will improve and enhance their wines.

The GRAD® 1 Carmenere is a remnant that I discovered entirely by chance. It probably comes from obscure experimental trials in vine tissue-culture carried out on, inter alia, ‘Cabernet Franc’ by M.A.F. in the early 1980s. The old vines I found may indeed have been generated just as much (or perhaps even entirely) for the purpose of being used as high-health virus indicators as for any release for wine production, and indeed there is no record of this line of material ever being made available to the N.Z. industry. The remnant vines I found  looked, in their very out-of-the-way block, like a somewhat odd and struggling old vine line of Cabernet Franc when I first saw them, and I admit that I only collected material from these very obscure vines for potential use as virus indicators in my r&d nursery. But as the cuttings grew on, I became less sure of their exact Bordeaux-varietal identity but nevertheless ever more sure of their quality (and one propagation line in particular). In due course, D.N.A. testing proved they were Carmenere, as has also proved to be the case for several other older ‘Cabernet Franc’ lines (or parts of them) in this country.

One initially disconcerting feature of these vines that spooked me at first is their disposition to have their leaves go pale cherry to vermilion red when the vine is water-stressed in later summer or autumn, or simply when it goes to senescence. As it turns out, this is absolutely typical for Carmenere: it isn’t of itself in any way a sign of GVA (or red blotch) virus infection in the variety. This is underscored in any case by the fact that the GRAD® 1 Carmenere clone is free of detectable virus by P.C.R. test. So its autumn red leaf colours are 100% natural and in fact bespeak the unusual and distinctive anthocyanin mix that is present in Carmenere and the way they manifest late in the season in the vine’s senescing leaves. Because of its unique combination of anthocyanins, no other red Bordeaux varietal gives such very dark maroon / dark-cherry red colours in its wines.

The GRAD® 1 Carmenere clone is a strong grower, so it needs to be planted in deep free-draining poor soils only, and like Cabernet Sauvignon, with which it contemporaneously ripens, it must have its canopies’ fruit zones  fully leaf-plucked (ideally within a weeks or so of fruit-set) to ensure good fruit flavour and aromas, low pH, and absence of methoxypyrazines (which are usually in a stale green capsicum spectrum in Carmenere). I recommend GRAD® 106-8 and GRAD® 44-53 as rootstocks for this variety as they will ensure it can be got into sustained balance in the very poor deep dry soils it needs. Of course, Carmenere should only be cane-pruned, ideally with arched canes of not more than 8 buds; NEVER spur prune Carmenere or let those who are inexperienced in maintaining correctly-placed head-cane spurs on cane-pruned vines, prune it. Correctly grown, the GRAD® 1 Carmenere clone should be a great foil for the likes of the later-ripening U.C.D. 7 and 8 Cabernet Sauvignon clones, adding classy cassis aromas and flavours to these two clones’ at times rather two-dimensional plum and black bean characters. On the other hand, with the much more refined (and earlier ripening) GRAD® 1 and 2 Cabernet Sauvignon clones, GRAD® 1 Carmenere will add middle-palate weight along with its cassis aromas and flavours to the classic cigar box and redcurrants of the GRAD® 1 and 2 Cabernet Sauvignons. Blends with very ripe Merlot and / or Malbec should work well too — far better than Cabernet Sauvignon or Franc handles these two varieties when they are made from surmature fruit. I also suspect that the somewhat feral, almost nightshade, characters that Petit Verdot slips into red Bordeaux blends would be very much ameliorated by the use of Carmenere in blends with it.

Material from high-health mothervines of GRAD® 1 Carmenere is available now for grafting at Stanmore farm nursery.

For further details contact Stanmore Farm:
E-mail for orders or inquires:
Phone: 0800 Stanmore / 0800 782 666 
Mobile: 027 544 0140
Fax: 06 364 317
Grafting orders for GRAD® 1 Carmenere may be placed now.

GRAD® Zweigelt Clone 2 (undergoing bulking up at Stanmore Farm): One hears that Marlborough Pinot noir is at a point of oversupply, although there can be little doubt that in good measure this is because (aside from the likes of the usually exemplary mass production Montana / Brancott Estate South Island Pinot noir) industrially-grown Pinot tends very much to make quite plain wines. And the drinking public prefer more than red ordinaire for between $15 and $20 (before supermarket specials). The truth however is that it is a hard ask to produce attractive Pinot noir with 12 tonne to the hectare crops (or more): big crops demand plenty of water for the vines, and plenty of water produces big berries and, in Pinot in particular, dilute wines. — But is there a realistic varietal alternative for South Island growers and winemakers in this market segment?

I contend there most certainly is, and its name is Zweigelt. And before you respond that ‘nobody will buy it because they can’t pronounce the name’, remember that everyone had to learn to pronounce ‘Sauvignon’, ‘gris’, and ‘Pinot noir’ too: the problem-with-pronunciation objection is lazy marketers’ bullshit therefore; if a wine is tasty enough, the drinking public will buy it and will learn to (satisfactorily) pronounce its name, too.

And Zweigelt is certainly tasty enough: ‘Pinot noir meets cool-climate Syrah’ is a good starting point for describing its wines. But in the first instance it is much easier to grow than Pinot, and it is a natural generous cropper and early ripener. From its Blaufrankish parent, Zweigelt gets a bolt-upright growth habit: it shoot-positions itself in V.S.P. canopies — and really well, at that. It also does not generally need multiple canes laid down either side of the head to produce good crops, so the widely ignored problem of over-dense ‘industrial’ Pinot noir canopies (that are neither vertical nor open to good light inception and air movement) need not arise with Zweigelt. Pruning and training costs will be significantly lower therefore, while canopy quality will be superior. — Are you starting to get the picture? — Zweigelt is also tougher than Pinot: more wind and exposure tolerant; more robust and less stress-prone. And its wines have more tannin to balance their elegant ripe cherry and spiced plum fruit compared to Pinot noir, so the still over-represented body of heavy Aussie-red and Argentinian Malbec drinkers here and elsewhere around the world won’t instantly turn up their noses and withdraw their palates at a good ripe Zweigelt. Its wines do not demand new oak either  — ideally, big older oak is the way to go for cellar maturation, although stainless steel tank élevage with a racking or two (to polymerise the tannins as necessary) won’t hurt either. It’s a very reliable producer of quaffable cool-climate red wines, but with a bit more effort in the vineyard, and a reduction of the crop to 7.5 – 10 tonnes/ hectare, along with a bit more work in the winery, wines of genuine depth and richness can be made too — and much more readily (and less expensively) than comparable Pinot noirs.

What is stopping South Island growers, in Central Otago, North Canterbury, Nelson, and Marlborough, is fundamentally Pinot noir tunnel-vision and, alas, a very big dose of ignorance about all things Germanic in viticulture (barring a smattering of knowledge about Riesling). To date, where Zweigelt has been (long-and-lone-) grown by Hermann Seifried in Nelson, the vines (by his own admission when I spoke to him about the variety some years ago) are seriously infected by leaf-roll virus, and the resultant wines lack the intensity that good Zweigelt should deliver. No doubt however, if they were made more extractively, the catechinic short-chain tannins that leaf-roll infected vines produce in their fruit, would be woefully obvious and the wine hard and bitter. It’s a great pity, because at times Seifried Zweigelt has given glimpses of what the variety can achieve — but glimpses (from very good vintages) are all that virus-infected vines can deliver, alas. Nevertheless, in the last year, no less a palate than Janis Robinson M.W. singled out and notably commended a recent vintage of Seifried Zweigelt as a shining example of where New Zealand reds could go as an alternative to yet more industrial Pinot noir ordinaire. If only she could taste good N.Z. Zweigelt made from fruit from high-health vines!

Well, I’ve long been of the view that German and Austrian viticulture (and wines) have a lot to teach New Zealand, and that our viticultural and oenological obsession with all things and varieties French is ill-advised and narrow-minded. And that has led me to take an interest in, amongst other varieties, both Zweigelt and St. Laurent as potential serious red wine prospects for South Island producers. I won’t address St. Laurent here except to say that the failure of Central Otago growers to take up the torch ignited by Paul Jacobson at Judge Rock is a massive oversight. But Zweigelt is easier to grow and crops more generously than St. Laurent, yet finding high-health material in this country is very very hard indeed.

After considerable research, I discovered that the 1970-imported ex-Austrian ‘Zweigeltrebe’ imported by Ruakura Research Station’s Dr. David Sheat from (probably Klosterneuburg in) Austria on plant import permit 9321, became virused within a few years of its late May 1972 release. I remember talking to David Jackson about this line of Zweigelt, as he had trialled it (and rejected it) at Lincoln in his vine trials, and he said that the ex-Te Kauwhata material he received was ‘ruined by virus’. This was, and remains, a great tragedy for N.Z. cool-climate viticulture, but there was, my research eventually suggested, a small glimmer of hope. This arises from M.A.F. 1982-3 tissue-culture experiments that, as it happens, included a few Zweigelt vines at Ruakura. Unfortunately, as with the rest of the clean material made from these experiments, there were virtually no releases made to the industry, and only the leaf-roll and GVA infected 1970s original Zweigelt seemed extant by the mid-2000s when I began hunting for high-health vines of the variety.

I was tipped off however that there had been interest, in the early 1990s, in Nelson and Marlborough at least, in experimenting with Zweigelt, and that — perhaps — some ex-Ruakura clean tissue-cultured Zweigelt might have found its way into some very obscure M.A.F. plantings or even small private trial blocks in the upper South Island. A contact with a particular interest in German varieties helped, and after a lot of looking around, I found two vines that proved not only to be visually clean but which were free of detectable virus by P.C.R. testing. Further research convinced me that these were G1 offspring of the Ruakura tissue-cultured explants. Thereafter, I grew on a range of cuttings from these Zweigelt vines in my Christchurch r&d nursery, and a small trial amount of the two best nursery lines (one more vigorous than the other) was also planted in an experimental, very cool, mid-South Island hillside vineyard.

At present, Stanmore Farm is bulking up the GRAD® 2 clonal line that came out of this r&d and trial process. Like the GRAD® 1 (which is still undergoing observation and possible ex-trial vineyard re-selection) it has been confirmed as Zweigelt by D.N.A. testing at Montpellier in France, and aside from testing free of detectable virus by P.C.R. at the Waite Institute in Australia, it has also more recently E.L.I.S.A. tested negative for GLRaV1, 2, 3, and GVA. The GRAD® 2 Zweigelt clone is a moderately strong grower (about 10% less than GRAD® 1), and has slightly smaller bunches and berries also. I expect crop levels of 7.5 – 10 tonnes to the hectare will be its norm (at 3,000 – 5,000 vines / ha.), depending on growing conditions and soil fertility. At these crop levels, ripening is contemporaneous with ‘industrially cropped’ Pinot noir, but at between 5 tonnes – 7.5 tonnes / hectare, it will be earlier by a week or more. The GRAD® 2 Zweigelt clone, like the yet-to-be-released GRAD® 1, will significantly benefit from being grown in a tall V.S.P. trellis: if you can use trellis extensions and can get away with hedging as high as 2.2 metres, do so, as the extra (and younger, upper) leaves will ripen more crop and do it faster, and Zweigelt is easy to train in V.S.P. trellising even to 2.2 metres height because it is such a strong bolt-upright grower. Do not waste your time spur pruning Zweigelt: it must be cane -pruned; spur-pruned vines will lead to hopeless extended spurs and shoot-crowding because the variety is such a bolt-upright grower. Leaf-plucking of the fruit zone — completely if possible, just after fruit set — ensures early physiological ripeness and low botrytis incidence, and an extended hedge up to 2.2 metres high will give plenty of younger, much more photosynthetically-effective, leaves for ripening, while the old (and poor sugar-producing) lower leaves are fully removed. The GRAD® 2 Zweigelt clone also has potential to make serious high quality Zweigelt (giving wines like a 50 / 50 blend of premier cru red Burgundy and second-tier Côtes Rôtie) at 5 tonnes to the hectare under controlled deficit irrigation (which this hardy variety tolerates well enough), and for these purposes use GRAD® 420A for close-planted vineyards, or otherwise GRAD® 44-53 or GRAD® 106-8 rootstocks. For industrial or at least larger crop production, GRAD® 125AA is a good choice (provided autumn sub-soil moisture is moderately available), or for big crops in potentially droughty situations, the new GRAD® DRC5 Super rootstock is an excellent choice (but don’t feed it too much!).

Production costs per hectare for Zweigelt (even with the initial extra cost of trellis extensions) are almost certain to be lower than for comparable Pinot noir crops of the same fruit quality. Moreover, Zweigelt wine acceptability is wider, I suggest, because of its more generous fine tannin structure and greater palate impact compared to comparably-cropped Pinot noir. The variety does have a characteristic white pepper finish (like Grüner Veltliner, also) to its wines, but Syrah drinkers will find this somewhat familiar, and the generous and broad middle palate of Zweigelt will appeal to many lower and mid-market drinkers both in this country and abroad. Right now, of all the red varieties that could be planted in the South Island, Zweigelt is, in my opinion, the first and foremost — growers and wineries simply need to wake up to what it offers and to the relative ease with which it delivers.

For further information about the GRAD® 2 Zweigelt clone (and / or the still under-development / re-selection GRAD® 1 clone), contact Dr. Gerald Atkinson at .

To place forward orders for the initial, 2020-21, release of GRAD® 2 Zweigelt, contact Stanmore Farm nursery:
E-mail for orders or inquires:
Phone: 0800 Stanmore / 0800 782 666 
Mobile: 027 544 0140
Fax: 06 364 317

Questions about this wine grape? Contact us.

Author: Dr. Gerald Atkinson

Company director, viticulturist, grapevine researcher and historian, and sometime wine-writer.