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A Kiwi vintage puzzle

31 Jul 2012 by Jancis Robinson

What vintage is this charming relic found in our linen cupboard, do you think?


Would anyone care to date, in the comments box below, this tea towel designed for New Zealand wine producer Nobilo's when pride of place (top centre) went to a wine described as 'French style red wine' with the marvellous name of Chateau Valley? (It reminds me of the brand Côte de Villages dreamt up by one long-gone UK wine importer to give a burgundian veneer to the most basic wine.) There are no vintages given on the labels above as clues but other notable wines made by the Nobilo family then included 'German style' Müller-Thurgau, an 'Ormond Valley Chardonnay White Burgundy' and a varietal Pinotage described as 'Light Classic Dry Red'.

At least the design was prescient enough to feature Gewürztraminer (accent proudly in place in this instance) top left, the variety to which Nick Nobilo, who sold the family company ages ago and has watched its passage as a small cog in the giant global machine that is Constellation, is now devoted with his Vinoptima label.

The text in the middle assures us 'The wine-making tradition of the Nobilo family began centuries ago on the sunny Adriatic Island of Korcula. Today this tradition is still maintained and is reflected in the superb, quality table wines produced at the Huapai Winery. Share this skill and enjoy the taste of the acclaimed Nobilo's red and white table wines.'

From the late 19th century there was a big influx of Dalmatians to New Zealand, initially in search of gold and then as diggers of buried kauri gum that was much in demand for varnishes and linoleum until synthetic floor coverings appeared from the 1930s. The first incomers were followed by later immigrants, particularly in the years leading up to the second world war, when prospects in Croatia were particularly poor. From the Croatian Adriatic coastline and its many islands (of interest to grape researchers today) they brought a wine culture, even if their wines were initially dismissed as 'Dally plonk'. Today's NZ wine industry still has many a revered Dalmatian name. Not just Nobilo (whose family also produced a famous golfer) but also Babich, Brajkovich (of Kumeu River), Delegat and Fistonich (Sir George, owner of Villa Maria and Vidal).

Nick reminded me that it is part of New Zealand folklore that, were it not for Dalmatian influence, the country might have voted for national prohibition of all alcoholic drink. The first vote, in 1911, had to achieve a 60% vote in favour for it to be carried. The proportion of voters in favour was 55.8%.

So, what date would you put on that tea towel?

Tags:  NZ


In the early 70's the Nobilo Cab Sav was on allocation--being thought of as the best NZ cab over a number of years before Te Mata took the mantel in 1982. The wines were light with little oak influence. They kept well. The pinotage was something of a Nobilo specialty up to the late 70's or early 80's. It was ripped up about the same time as the same time as the hybrid that went into the estate red. As a student I could afford a case at $3NZ per bottle and remember a distinctive strawberry character. Nobilo got a bit caught out initially by the triumph of Marlborogh over Gisborne and particularly West Auckland that went very much out of favour through the 90's being considered too wet and humid for grape growing. Kumeu River did a lot to keep the region alive during this time with its Mates Vineyard Chardonnay. For about a decade from 1970 or thereabouts Muller Thurgau was the most widely planted NZ white. It was truly ghastly, making sweet, floral, coarse, short (and short-lived) brews, as people doubted the ripening potential of more noble varieties. I doubt that there is a single vine of it left in NZ.Love the tea towel! 

5 Aug 2012 19:25 by Roger Palmer

We had the Pinotage 1978 on our list, so i would plump for mid-late 70's too. 

1 Aug 2012 17:15 by Mimi

Just had a delightful email from Nick Nobilo, currently on his fourth sales trip this year to China where his rich Vinoptima Gewurztraminer is going great guns apparently and is going very well with much of the local cuisine. Here's what he had to say about timing:

'What a gorgeous article! I remember well the tea towel produced in those halcyon days when we were both staking our mark in the world of wine like a "cat's pee on a gooseberry bush"!! I can't actually remember the exact year but I think it was somewhere around 1977-79. I am in China now but will ask my mother (93 - she has a wonderful memory, sharp as a tack and still lives at home and looking after herself!) after I get home in a week's time.'


1 Aug 2012 10:19 by Jancis Robinson

What interesting comments.  Thank you.

And of course I should contact Nick Nobilo. Duh. Twill be done...

1 Aug 2012 07:16 by Jancis Robinson

The great NZ vine pull (or perhaps more appropriately Muller Thurgau-pull) was 1986/87. Taking into consideration earlier comments, the tea towel may therefore be '84 or '85 vintage? If I may add a further noteworthy mention regarding Dalmatian influence, that is viticulturalist Romeo Bragato, of Italian/Austrian parentage, born and raised on the Croatian/Dalmatian island of Mail Losinj. His ground-breaking research and judgments of NZ's varying terroirs (many unplanted and unproven at the time) 1895-1906 was sadly sidelined for 60+ years due to the temperance movement. However his findings were incredibly accurate, and the legacy of that work over a century later greatly influenced the evolution and maturing of NZ's modern day wine industry.

1 Aug 2012 02:22 by Nick Aleksich

I am going to go with mid to late 70's as well, 77 is taken so I am in with 76.  The stock may have been around for a year or 3 as well. You shouldn't be so hard on yourself though Jancis, I am certain you have always been worth giving a tea towel to :)

1 Aug 2012 00:19 by Graeme Crosbie

Hi JancisJust been through a number of 70's NZWINE books from my collection - found no references to the Tea Towel or to Chateau Valley in fact. I would say mid to late 70's from what I read...   Nobilo's Trademark for Chateau Valley expired in 1984 but why not go straight to the source and drop Nick an email?CheersJohn BartlettNZ Wine 

31 Jul 2012 11:21 by JB NZ Wine Directory

Yes I think that's a bit more like it.

31 Jul 2012 11:15 by Jancis Robinson


31 Jul 2012 11:14 by Paul Norris

I wasn't writing about wine until 1975 and I certainly wasn't worth giving a tea towel to until about 1980, so I suspect these two guesses are too old..?

31 Jul 2012 10:53 by Jancis Robinson

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