Grapes were planted in the Gisborne area as early as 1913-1914 for home wine production. It was Frederick Wohnseidler that planted the first commercial crop of grapes in 1921, he and others quickly found that the climate and soil conditions around Gisborne, proved abundant for grape growing. Between 1920 and 1950 three local families dominated the Gisborne wine industry - the Wohnseidler Family at Ormond (now Ormond Estate Chardonnay from Montana is made from this block), the Chitty Family at Hexton an the Zame family at Mangapapa.
Yields of the higher cropping varieties are large, and this lead to the reputation of the area as a "bulk wine" producer. In the sixties there were huge plantings undertaken by land holders cashing in on the market. The big names at that stage were Wohnseidler, Cooks, Montana and Corbans. Some of the "Cooks Chardonnay" wines that won so many medals in this decade, were sourced from Gisborne fruit. In the last two years of the sixties the Wohnseidler Wine Company produced 2 million litres of wine per year.
1970 and 1971 saw Montana and Corbans opening wineries in Gisborne. 1973 saw Corbans recommending the grape variety Chenin Blanc to Marshal Savidge a contract grower in Tolaga Bay, 45 minutes up the coast from Gisborne. The Corbans 1976 Chenin Blanc won two silver medals and was made from these grapes. It was also in the seventies that Matawhero Wines started winning overseas medals with their Gewurztraminer wines and early in the next decade for their Chardonnay wines produced totaly from Gisborne grapes.
The eighties saw The Millton Vineyard, Parker MC and White Cliffs (today known as Longbush) start production in Gisborne, these joined Marshal Savidge in the smaller boutique bracket. 1980 also saw Penfolds establish a winery in Gisborne across the road from Montana. Gisborne reduced it's planted area massively in the eighties with the government of the day sponsoring a vine pull scheme to reduce the wine glut in New Zealand. By mid-decade Montana bought out Penfolds and merged it into the Montana group along with Waiherere - formally the Wohnseidler Wine Company. With the boutique wineries excellent first few vintages, came some excellent smaller volume wines from the "big three" - Montana, Corbans and Villa-Maria. The end of the eighties saw Ross Revington producing gewurztraminer and Chardonnay wines from his own block of grapes.
During the end of the eighties and the beginning of the nineties various success's from the district spelled the end of the bag-in-the-box perceptions of many New Zealand and overseas wine critics. The 1987 Matawhero Pinot Noir, The Millton Vineyard Opou Rieslings and Late Harvest Rieslings and the many Poverty Bay / Gisborne Chardonnays that have won Gold medals both in NZ and overseas have done the real talking in dispelling the myth of Gisborne only producing "bulk wines".
The mid-nineties saw The Millton Vineyard with a Trophy, a best of show and second wine of show with their Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay in one London wine show, and various Gold and trophy winning wines from many different winemakers produced from Gisborne fruit.
Gisborne saw many changes during the "naughties". Dennis Irwin sold out of Matewhero Wines and several new wineries and labels were born.