Today grape growers take lasers and GPS for granted as basic tools that enable accurate row spacing and vine planting.
Back in 1973 it was a different story, with telescopic rifle sights used to ensure cables were straight while markers were placed in the soil so vines could be accurately spaced.
It's time for reminiscing among Marlborough's early grape growers as the company we now know as Brancott Estate celebrates its 40th anniversary.
In 1973 the first commercial planting in Marlborough of 750,000 vines began. The first plantings were predominantly riesling sylvaner and cabernet sauvignon but, as Brancott Estate chief winemaker Patrick Materman points out, many of these vines were replaced with others within the first few years.
"A whole range of vines were planted in those early years, both of popular grapes like cabernet sauvignon and riesling and old world varieties unfamiliar to New Zealand wine drinkers at the time like sauvignon blanc and pinot noir. Not everything we tried succeeded but the ones that did have been spectacular."
In 1977 another major milestone was achieved; the opening of a Marlborough winery, establishing winemaking as well as viticulture in the Marlborough region. More than 200 jobs were created as a result of the winery opening.
The people behind the wines we review are invariably interesting and first and foremost there needs to be acknowledgement of those in the Marlborough community who made the paper cones that protected the young vines; a far cry from the commercially made vine guards we have today.
The two longest serving staff members at Brancott Estate are Gerry Gregg and Warren Cairns.
In 1973 Warren was working for a tyre company when he spotted an ad in the paper looking for people to help plant the new vineyards in Marlborough. With no chance of promotion in his existing job and an opportunity to spend more time working out of doors, he jumped at the opportunity.
Warren began his career at Brancott Estate planting vines and was soon promoted to vineyard foreman then assistant manager. Today he is vineyard manager of one of the vineyards he helped establish.
"In the start there was a lot of innovation going on," he recalls. "If we needed some equipment we would have to build it ourselves, like we did with the watering tanks. You couldn't buy it off the shelf like you can now."
Gerry Gregg joined in 1976 as an engineer to oversee the construction of the Blenheim winery and as the company grew he moved through a range of roles from cellarmaster to national wineries manager. Among his career highlights, which are many, Gerry was responsible for the first tipping tanks in New Zealand, a Marlborough innovation now used by wineries globally. He also co-ordinated the visit by the Queen to Brancott Vineyard and oversaw the construction of the Brancott Estate Heritage Centre.
A personal highlight was helping to found the Marlborough Winemakers' Association, now Wine Marlborough. Gerry's standing in the wine industry was recognised in 2007 when he was awarded Wine Marlborough's inaugural David Herd Lifetime Achievement Award.
Equipment designed specifically for the wine industry has been manufactured in Marlborough from the outset. Early photos from Brancott Estate show operators pushing foot pedals to release a gravity-fed flow of water each time the trailer passes a cone. This locally designed equipment would soon be superseded by the type of irrigation systems in use today.
In 2000, local manufacturing was still leading the way when the world's first tipping tanks, made at Taylors Engineering, were installed at Brancott Winery.
On August 24, 1973, in front of a crowd of local media, politicians and business leaders, the Marlborough wine industry was born.
At the time, Brancott Estate founder Frank Yukich stated that "wines from here will become world famous" - and they have.
While Brancott Estate is home to sauvignon blanc and the first to commercially produce Marlborough pinot noir, the pioneering spirit is as strong as ever.
In 2010 the first Brancott Estate Marlborough Sauvignon Gris vintage was released. This ancient varietal is scarce in its home country of France and Patrick Materman says it's a rare opportunity to be part of pioneering a new variety.
"After four decades we are still exploring the potential in our vineyards and we are excited to see what we discover in the next 40 years."
The region's successes have been exceptional.
"What we've learned is to keep asking the question ‘what if?' That's a question asked by many wine companies in New Zealand - ‘what if' is keeping the industry vibrant, competitive and intensely interesting around the world."
Brancott Estate Letter Series B Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2012 ($37.99)
Gooseberry and armpit aromas, some citrus and pineapple fruitiness with a sherbet-like tingle.
The palate has a firm, fleshy structure, generous but retaining perfect balance. Tingly acids, subtle fruitiness and a lovely pink grapefruit flavour with some lemon and light mineral kick at the finish. This wine has subtlety, complexity and concentration. Enjoyable and highly recommended.
- The Marlborough Express