Warren Moran is my hero… a voice of reason

Meet a new book that dispels nonsensical notions about wine tasting of soil and about the reality of terroir and turangawaewae – that sense of place we can sometimes taste…

New Zealand Wine, The Land, the vines, the people by Warren Moran, published by Auckland University Press, 384 pages, RRP $69.99


Every once in a  blue moon, a voice of surprisingly sane reason pops up in print. This is it. Author Warren Moran is a geographer and professor at the University of Auckland, who has written widely on wine – and read extremely widely too, as his new book reveals from its first chapter to its last discerning drop of wisdom. He dispels many suggestions that terms such as old world and new world can possibly still be valid because he shows a wide range of examples where these ideas are turned on their heads, particularly within the New Zealand wine scene.

This is important, given that wine is now the sixth biggest export earner for this country.

First and foremost for any published book, this is a great read. It is well written, straightforward and draws on fascinating writers, research and statistics that provide rich context to the New Zealand wine scene today.

It is also an authoritative book because, from the start, Moran dives into deep waters. He tackles the controversial and, he suggests, increasingly outmoded, notion that the French word ‘terroir’ has one clear meaning. He quotes a wide range of authors, old and new, to highlight what he describes as ‘the advertising hype’, which adopts the narrow meaning of ‘terroir’ as soil.

Terroir advertising hype

“In recent years we have been bombarded with so much about the soils and geology of Burgundy in particular that we are in danger of believing that the region makes great wine because the soils are ideally suited to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay,” he writes, adding from authors Roger Dion and Rolade Gadille’s book, Grands traits d’une geography viticolb de la France (1943) that “It suits us to see the qualities of our wine regions, the effect of a natural privilege, of a particular grace accorded to the land of France, as if there were greater honour for our country to receive from the heavens than from the struggles of people this renowned wine industry in which our ancestors found a collective pride even before the feeling of a French nation stirred in them.”

He suggests that terroir has at least six facets that interact and overlap from the physical territorial meaning of the word to growing grapes to the legal and promotional human aspects. He explains each, then leaves readers to make up their own minds.

New Zealand wine explosion

Not only does this book touch on controversial sacred cows, it contains a staggering amount of humbling facts and the figures that Moran has dug up. Like this one: in 1960, only 388 hectares of grapes were planted in New Zealand, 85% of which were in West Auckland and Hawke’s Bay and mostly in hybrid grape varieties. Their strong disease resistance made hybrid grapes the order of the day, including the once well known Albany Surprise, which began to be replaced with Vitis vinifera grapes, such as Muller Thurgau, in the 1970s.

For those who can read between the lines, his research offers outstanding suggestions on why a lot of New Zealand wine often tasted overtly green in flavour, due to being planted widely and extensively along the Hawke’s Bay’s coastline, but rarely ever inland where the weather is more settled, drier and less windy.

Further into the book, his strong theme continues with both the geographical and political history of the Gimblett Gravels and those who were instrumental in marketing – and capitalising on – this 800 hectares of stony soils.

No doubt, it helps that Moran has been watching, reading about, researching and writing on New Zealand wine since his 1959 MA thesis, but his measured global view and courage are incredibly refreshing. Talk about a breath of fresh air. His book is a great read and beautifully presented tome on the history of New Zealand, but for those who want food for thought with their nightly glass of vino, here it is at last – a book that tackles terroir with measured analysis and a lack of fear.

Or should that be turangawaewae?

Author: Joelle Thomson

I am a wine writer, author and educator... first bitten by a big buttery Chardonnay on a dark and stormy night in the 1980s and there was no turning back... Follow my tastings and join some too on this new site.

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