Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The prophet of sparkling wine in New Zealand

François Rayer, New Windsor’s viticulturalist, died in 1883 – tragically before his project’s goal could be realised. As the Weekly News put it (3 February 1883):
“Many of our readers will regret to learn that M. F. Rayer, the vigeron at Mount Albert, is at present very ill, and his medical advisers give little hope of recovery. Mr. Rayer is not an old man, between fifty and sixty years of age, but since he purchased the place at Mount Albert he has worked hard, early and late, and lived soberly, and it is feared that the privations thus undergone are telling upon him now. M. Rayer began without capital, and thus a great deal of heavy work fell to his lot, which would have lightened had he been able to employ a sufficient amount of capital in the undertaking. Many were looking anxiously to the result of Mr. Rayer’s efforts to grow the vine here for wine-making purposes, and should his present illness terminate fatally, it will have the effect of retarding the development of this promising industry. We learn that the patient is quite satisfied that his present illness is to end in death. A week or two ago he was brought into town to the residence of M. Garnier, where he could receive better attention and more comforts than at his place at Mount Albert.”
A week later, the Weekly News published a translation of a letter written by Rayer to the Neo-Zelandais paper:
“Having often been asked my opinion upon sparkling wines, especially champagne, and whether I shall be able to manufacture the same from grapes grown in my vineyard, I should feel obliged if you will kindly insert the following answer in your paper, for the benefit of my various interrogators, and the public generally. The consumption of sparkling wines by all nations shows a great development, and according to the best authorities in viniculture, the grapes especially used in the preparation of this class of wines can be grown in any kind of soil at all suitable for vine-growing; therefore, the manufacture of champagne can be generalised in any of these vine-growing countries.

“Of late years the progress in the manufacture of sparkling wine has been most remarkable. France has, up to the present time (thanks to her suitable soil, climate, taste, and the experience of her vignerons), had the happy privilege to produce and furnish to the whole world this specialty of wine. Since, therefore, after the above statement that sparkling wines can be prepared in all countries where the grapes can be grown, it is an incontestable fact that there is every chance of success here. Not only are we in nearly the same latitude as France, but we have not nearly so much to fear from hail, or the frosts of autumn and winter, which are so prejudicial to the vines in many vine-growing districts in that country. I can, therefore, without fear assure the people of this beautiful land that my vines will grow, and that I shall be able doubtless to furnish them with sparkling wines, made from the “grapes de Dinau”.

“As to the value of these wines, champagne is the glory of the vigeron as also the most esteemed wine in the highest ranks of society. The finest connoisseurs are supposed to be the English and Russians, the latter using it in their soups. Taken in this way it is considered a great help to digestion. It is always the favourite beverage of invalids and the fair sex. We can trace its delicate effects (taken in moderation) in stimulating the functions of the brain. It re-animates and predisposes the mind to generous and kindly thoughts of our fellow creatures. In the works of the poets, in the prose of Voltaire, in the songs of Béranger, it pleads warmly the cause of “La Belle France,” the country of its birth. Is it not also taken by all amateurs as the wine “par excellence” for dessert? In short, there is no other wine which we drink with more pleasure without feeling thirst, or which excites the mind to perform any arduous task, without undue agitation as champagne.

“In my vineyard at Mount Albert I shall be able to produce wines where qualities will be excellent, and agreeable to many; but to the true connoisseur there is no comparison between champagne and other wines. It is the wine of the refined and elegant of all civilised nations. For the vigeron of to-day, the sparkle, “the bouquet,” of these wines are none the less precious because aided in the manufacture by apparatus which science has perfected, with which, by experience and careful handling, he can produce an excellent article for the benefit of the public; and also to show the kind of industry the climate of New Zealand is capable of encouraging. I have no fear in saying that, as time advances, viniculture and sericulture will be extensive industries here. If they are not, it is due to no fault of the climate, but to the want of knowledge on the part of the population. The colony is young yet, and there are many dormant resources in her which will by and by be brought forward, and enrich her revenue far more than any of us at present can imagine.”

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