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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 73

Fruitgrowing in Central Otago. — Signor Bragato's Lecture

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Fruitgrowing in Central Otago.

Signor Bragato's Lecture.

A lecture, under the auspices of the Chamber of Commerce, was delivered in the hall of the chamber on Friday evening by Mr R. Bragato, viticulturist to the Victorian Government, on "Viticulture and Fruitgrowing in Central Otago." The ball was filled to overflowing, and Mr A. C. Begg, president of the chamber, occupied the chair.

Mr Bragato, before beginning his lecture, thanked the Chamber of Commerce for the compliment they paid him in affording him an opportunity of advising the public respecting the fruitgrowing capabilities of Central Otago, and expressed his gratitude for the numerous audience. It was suggested to him, he said, that the subject of his lecture should be the cultivation of fruit generally. He had very much pleasure in falling in with the suggestion, as he was glad at all times to afford any information in his power in regard to this important matter. He proposed, therefore, to furnish the meeting with some facts and suggestions for their future guidance, which, he trusted, would be the means of inducing them to seriously consider the greater reward and the more prosperous future which awaited them in the cultivation of fruit and vines. They knew that in order to improve the economical condition of this country it was necessary to increase the productive power, develop the industries and commerce, and promote agriculture. To its industries were entrusted the future prosperity, wealth, and power of this country. New Zealand was essentially more agricultural than manufacturing or commercial, and by promoting agriculture and increasing the productions of the land they gave life and vigour to the industries and commerce, thereby enabling them to more successfully compete in the larger markets of the world. To increase the value and productions of the land they should cultivate those plants which were most suitable to the nature of their climate and soil, best adapted to the economical condition of the farmers, more certain of a large and ready market, and the least precarious in their cultivation. He had carefully studied the suitability of climate and soil of the province, the conditions of its markets, and after thoroughly investigating the subject he was firmly of the opinion that if there was one industry more than another which would afford the maximum of profit, pleasure, and health with the minimum of labour, that industry was fruitgrowing. The exportation of these products, he was confident, would be enormous and highly lucrative. He knew of nothing to prevent New Zealand from becoming one of the greatest fruitgrowing countries in the world, as all its natural conditions were favourable—climate, soil, demand, easy communication with the foreign markets, and the advantage of the scarcity of fruit in the European market when its splendid season was at its height. It was proved in this country that fruit trees would grow almost everywhere—in rich soil. in poor soil, on hilly ground, on flat ground, in dry or stony ground, and in ground where the cultivation of cereals had proved a failure and had been abandoned Fruit culture gave better returns than any other cultivation, and a vineyard or orchard paid in a good season double or treble the value of the ground on which it was planted. The vine would grow in many districts in the colony—in Central Otago, at Nelson, Richmond, Motueka, and Akaroa, in Hawke's Bay, and in the Wairarapa, at Tauranga, Opotiki, part of Auckland, Waikato, Wanganui, and Whangarei—and would produce fruit not inferior for quality to the most celebrated vineyards of the world. Its cultivation was simple and remunerative, and required less work in proportion to its profit than any other fruit. The appliances required both for its treatment and for the working of the soil in which it grew were of the simplest description. No expensive and intricate reaper and binder, or winnower, seed-sower, stripper, thresher, or other highly expensive imposed machinery, bearing heavy protective duties, was required, but a plough, scarifier, and pruner were sufficient The cultivation of the vine gave work and food to a numerous population. Where it was planted more families would settle, and under much more prosperous conditions than in wheat districts of very much larger area. It would also sustain a thriving population on poor and neglected ground and on land which had been worked out by wheat-growers. In his advocacy of extensive vine-growing and wine-making he confidently expected the hearty support of all persons interested in the promotion of temperance, properly be called, for his own somewhat entensive experience taught him—and statistics most emphatically supported this statement—that the population of wine-drinking countries were amongst the most sober, contented, and industrious people on the face of the earth.—(Hear, hear, and laughter.) Thus the vigneron must be regarded as a great moral agent, doing his best for the country, both commercially and morally. Who would deny that wholesome wine was infinitely superior to much of the so-called whisky and brandy sold in this country?—(Laughter.) This nauseous stuff would disappear from the market if cheap wines of good quality were available.—(Hear.) There was not a better country on the face of the earth for fruit-growing than Central Otago The climate was good, and the nature of the soil was just what was required for fruit culture. There was also every facility in the district for irrigation. The Otago Central district, by having a dry climate, a good soil and subsoil, was suitable especially for the cultivation of plums and apricots, and they knew very well that at the present time in Europe there was a great demand for dried apricots. The plum industry was also a very important one when the fruit was dried, and the climate of Central Otago was just suitable for plum cultivation. It was very easy to dry the fruit, which did not require any preparation for market. What was wanted in the district, however, was better communication.—(Applause.) He had seen, he was sorry to say, in many parts of Central Otago splendid fruit lying on the ground because it could not be exported owing to the want of railway communication When he came to Dunedin he was astonished to see the rubbish that was sold in the fruit shops when they had splendid and beautiful fruit going to waste in Central Otago for the want of better communication He thought the Government should assist the grower in the Central Otago district by giving a bonus of so much per acre for planting vines and fruit trees Then they should provide cultivators with technical knowledge. He noticed that the Department; of Agriculture was doing very good work in this line already, and bad in fact appointed two experts—Mr Blackmore and Mr Palmer—who were disseminating knowledge all through the colony, and from what he had seen he was quite satisfied that they were doing very good work There was also another gentleman appointed by the Department of Agriculture who was well acquainted with his subject. This was Mr Kirk, the botanist, who was doing good work in assisting the grower how to find out fungus and insect pests and teaching him how to deal with these things. What was now wanted was for the Government to offer a bonus of so much per acre for planting the vine and fruit trees as they had done in Victoria. Then if the Government assisted the grower by opening up the country, he considered that Central Otago would be the best fruit district in the whole of New Zealand.—(Applause) When he spoke of the vine grower he intended to speak of the vine grown for wine making. The wine industry was now, and had been for the past 20 years, one of the most important, and also the most lucrative, in the old country. Since he came to Victoria 20,000 acres of vines had been planted, and he hoped that in a few years that colony would have 100,000 acres in vines. In another 70 years probably it would be a large vineyard. Italy had over 6,000,000 acres of vines, and still they could not supply the market, and France had over 5,000,000 of acres, although a few millions of acres had been destroyed by phylloxera. The population there drank more wine than any other kind of liquor. If bis bearers went to Europe they might go anywhere they liked on the Continent and they would see the people drinking nothing else but wine, and that was the cause of their being so sober and industrious. He advocated wine growing in this colony because it would not only assist to get rid of the existing depression, but it would promote sobriety. We would have a sober population here, and a drunkard would not be seen about the streets. In that case he was sure that it would not be necessary to have a temperance society, or an alliance society in the place—(Laughter and applause.) In his own country they had no such societies, because they were all temperate.—(Renewed laughter.) In Italy at the present time they produced 800,000,000 gallons of wine and, as he said before, there was not enough to supply the market. In Victoria they produced nearly 2,000,000 gallons, and that quantity was not sufficient to supply Paris alone for one week. They could not afford to drink much wine now, as it was too costly in this colony, but if it were cheaper every man could drink 25 gallons a year.—(Laughter.) He proceeded to say that the planting of the vineyard was not very ex-pensive. To plant an acre of vine would cost £10, and an acre would in the fourth year produce 200 gallons of wine. If this were sold at 3s per gallon it would return £30. The cultivator would be able to sell his wine at 6d per bottle, and he dared to say that when they produced wine at that price every man would take a bottle.—(Laughter) He was quite sure that if wine were cheaper everybody would drink it. The cultivation of the vine was not a difficult thing, and the central district of Otago was very easy to work. He proceeded to explain by the aid of diagrams the proper method of cultivating vines, and then said that he would advise the planting of the following varieties of vines in Central Otago:—Black Hermitage, Pinot Noir, Dolcetto, Pinot Munier, Riesling, White Hermitage, White Tokay, and Chasselos. He thought there was in Central Otago room for thousands and thousands of people who, so soon as they were settled, would live very comfortably and increase the revenue of the country.—(Applause.) Not only that, but the public would have the satisfaction of seeing a very laborious population in a district which had been nothing else but a home for rabbits.—(Laughter.) His lectors had been rather dry, for wine-growing had not yet been established in this Country. (Laughter.) If any gentleman wished to ask any [unclear: estions] he was always prepared to answer and a give all the information it was in his power to give.—(Applause.)

Mr A. C. Broad asked if it was not a fact that in Victoria many powers of wine grapes could only get 3d or 4d a gallon for their products?

Mr Bragato believed that was so with many growers, but not because of a drug in the market. The fault consisted in men making wine who had not the knowledge of how to make it, and who would not take notice of the suggestions of experts, the result being that the wine was spoiled and was not fit for drinking, so that is had to be sold for distilling. The price for fine wine in Melbourne was 1s 6d to 5s a gallon and 500,000 gallons were exported from Melbourne, which did not fetch less than 2s 6d in bond in London, and 2s 6d a gallon was very remunerative. Many of the vignerons, who possessed good vineyards of from 100 to 600 acres, were, when they started, not worth a £5 note.

Mr Broad asked the lecturer if, in his opinion, as good wine could be produced in Otago as in Australia.

Mr Bragato replied in the affirmative, and said he was astonished on visiting a few of the vineyards in this country. After having travelled throughout Europe, and having never been satisfied with the growth of grapes of the Burgundy type, he was astonished when he came to this colony to see how well they grew; in fact, there was no country on the face of the earth which produced better Burgundy grapes than were produced in Central Otago and in portions of the North Island. He was astonished in Mr Beetham's vineyard in the Wairarapa to see how successful vine culture was; and at Taradale, Havelock, and Hastings, in Hawke's Bay, vines were grown outside which were loaded with beautiful grapes.

Mr A. Bathgate asked what would be the probable cost of the labour in bringing a vineyard to the state of bearing and in subsequently maintaining it.

Mr Bragato said the first outlay would be £10 per acre, supposing always that they had the laud. £10 would buy the cuttings and plant them and would bring the vine to the fourth year. In the fourth year the grower might secure 300 gallons, which, at 2s per gallon, would give him £30. From the fourth year, when the vine would be full-bearing, the grower would spend £2 10s for pruning, scarifying. and ploughing.

In answer to Mr Schlaadt,

Mr Bragato explained the process of wine making, and said the principal thing was, as in butter making, that there should be scrupulous cleanness.

Mr Broad asked if it was not a fact that in Victoria the Government were thinking of taking steps to stop the fortifying of wine? Was not three-fourths of the wine fortified by spirits made from deleterious substances? And was it a fact that the winegrowers were not able to produce wine that would take the place of spirits?

Mr Bragato replied that in Victoria they did not fortify the wine, excepting in hot seasons when the fermentation went wrong and growers were consequently compelled to fortify in order to save the wine. For that reason the Government wisely granted to growers the right to have stills in their cellars so that they might distil their bad wine to fortify their good wine and save it in bad seasons Some of the people in Victoria agitated to take the stills out of the hands of the growers the reason being that one grower, it was said, was selling brandy from the cellar, and that was not allowed, the growers only being allowed to distil bad wine to fortify their wine for exportation and to save it from bad fermentation. He was surprised in New Zealand that he hardly saw a drunk man. It was not the wine that made men drunk. Most of the people who drunk wine in Victoria were foreigners—the British were just beginning.—(Laughter.) It seemed to him that the British had a taste different from that of the Continental nations, and when they began to drink wine they liked strong wine It they were given light wine they would say, "This won't make me drunk, and I don't care for it."—(Laughter.) Beer, of course, was bad.—(Laughter.) The beer in this country was very bad indeed—(loud laughter),—and he did not hesitate to say that most of the people who got drunk were drunk with beer and not with whisky. The only safety for this country was to induce the people to drink wine, and if a cheap wine was produced there would be a large quantity consumed.—(Laughter and applause.)

In reply to Mr C. W. Adams,

Mr Bragato said that from 1 ton of grape 120 to 140 gallons of wine would be produced, and 5lb of green grapes would give 1lb of raisins.

The Chairman said he was sure they were all obliged to Mr Bragato for the information be had given. He was sure they were all agreed that it would be a good thing for New Zealand if it became a very sober country.—(Laughter.) They might not all agree with Mr Bragato as to the means for making it sober, but they could agree it would be a good thing if the population of New Zealand was made a good deal more sober than at present.

Mr Bathgate seconded the vote of thanks proposed by the chairman, and said the lecture had shown that the people who spoke contemptuously of the capabilities of Central Otago were wrong, and that Mr Vincent Pyke was, after all, right in describing the district as a garden. He hoped one effect of the meeting would be to awaken Dunedin to the capabilities of the interior to which the citizens had in the past been strangely blind; and he hoped also that the people would press their members and the Government to have the Otago Central railway pushed on so that the great capabilities of Central Otago might be utilised.

The vote was carried by acclamation.

Mr B. Hallenstein thought that the election of a committee was the first practical step to be taken to utilise the valuable information supplied by Mr Bragato. He had therefore much pleasure in moving—"That, a committee be appointed to consider what steps may be taken to practically utilise the information supplied by Mr Bragato, such committee to report to a future meeting; such committee to consist of Messrs W. Fraser and J. A. Millar, M.H.R's, Hazlett, Shiel, Stronach, Bartleman, T. Brown, W. Barron, G. Howden, W. P. Watson, J. F. Nixson, C. Colclough, S N. Brown, C. S. Reeves, A. Bathgate, the Hon. T. Fergus, and the mover, with power to add to their number."

Mr J. Hazlett seconded the motion, which was carried unanimously.

A vote of thanks to the chairman terminated the proceedings.

Printed at the Otago Daily Times Office, High Street, Dunedin.