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How many Aucklanders who, in the next few weeks, will be enjoying luscious outdoor grapes from sunny slopes in the Auckland and Te Kauwhata districts know the history of the delectable variety and how the name Albany Surprise originated?

One has to go back nearly 50 years when Mr. G. Pannill, of Albany, found that his American Isabella vines, obtained from plants which had been growing since the earliest days of European settlement, had thrown up three particularly strong canes. On these the grapes were much larger and finer than any hitherto grown. Another season's experience convinced Mr. Pannill that he had struck something of exceptional value. He set to work to propagate a quantity of the fruit, but had no intention of marketing it at that stage.

In 1897 Mr. Pannill offered a few cases to the public. The grapes sold well and their fame spread far and

wide.' He was besieged with requests for cuttings and plants, but turned a deaf ear to them all. In 1898, however, the plants were distributed over a wide area, the largest grower being Mr. A. T. Potter, of Whangarei, then Government entomologist. At this time the Government was taking some interest in fostering grape culture, but Albany Surprise was not known officially, and the fact that its parent W ac the Isabella sufficed to condemn it untested as a table and wine grape. But the grape was being tested by a large number of growers, all of whom proved its cropping qualities. This, ogether with the high prices obtained by Mr. Pannill for the fruit, stimulated planting among settlers. By 1900 the grapes were appearing on the Auckland and Wellington markets in quantity. On March 24 of that year an Auckland daily wrote: "Yesterday there were on exhibition in Queen Street a quantity of remark-able-looking grapes. Inquiry showed that the new variety were Albany Surprise grown by Mr. G. Pannill and exhibited by Messrs. Bennett and Green."

In the next six or seven years, despite opposition, the grapes continued to win their way in popular favour. They survived the removal of the ban on imported grapes, and

actually sold here at 50 per cent higher than Australian varieties. As a result the Australian growers retired from the Auckland market, leaving Albany-Surprise in almost undisputed possession of the field.

Since then they have been the main variety of grapes in Auckland, and have proved eminently suitable for wine production. Mr. Pannill, originator of the species, will celebrate his 83rd birthday next month. He is still hale and hearty, and from his farm at Albany he continues to supply fruit to the city markets.

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Bibliographic details

LUSCIOUS GRAPES, Auckland Star, Volume LXXIII, Issue 53, 5 March 1942

Word Count

LUSCIOUS GRAPES Auckland Star, Volume LXXIII, Issue 53, 5 March 1942

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