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Romeo Alessandro Bragato (1858–1913) played a significant role in the early development of the wine industry in New Zealand.
Early life and career
Bragato was born in Austria-Hungary and educated in Italy. He studied at Conegliano’s Royal School of Viticulture and Oenology achieving a Diploma. He was appointed the Government Viticulturist for Victoria in Australia in 1889.
Time in New Zealand
In New Zealand the 1894 Flax and Other Industries Committee recommended the establishment of a Department of Agriculture. The committee received considerable lobbying from the developing wine industry. As a consequence of this lobbying, Premier Richard Seddon requested the loan of the services of Romeo Bragato from the Victorian Government in 1895. Bragato arrived in Bluff, and was escorted by government officials to assess prospects for viticulture and wine making in New Zealand. His resulting report ‘Prospects of Viticulture in New Zealand’ submitted to the Premier on 10th Sept, was very positive and became important in promoting the development of the young wine industry. His report recommended:
- regions suitable for viticulture
- formation of district associations
- importation of phylloxera resistant vines for grafting
In 1897, Mr. W.J. Palmer, Government Pomologist, planted grapes at the Waerenga (Te Kauwhata) Experimental Station, including: Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot noir, Pinot Meunier, Chardonnay, Syrah, Riesling, Pinot blanc and Malbec In 1898, Bragato returned to New Zealand and identifies phylloxera in the Auckland vineyards of Mr Dridgman and Mr Harding of Mt Eden Road, Auckland. He recommended importation of phylloxera resistant cuttings from Europe to counter phylloxera In 1901, Bragato returned to report on the presence of phylloxera, persuading the Government to import phylloxera resistant vines and rootstocks from California and France. He also visits Waerenga Experimental Station In 1902, Bragato accepts the post offered the previous year as Government Viticulturist for the New Zealand Department of Agriculture. In this role Bragato:
- imports disease resistant stocks distributing them for grafting
- begins experimental winemaking at the expanded Waerenga Station
- takes control of government vineyards in Hawkes Bay and Tauranga
- organises field days for growers and prospective growers at Waerenga
In 1906, Bragato published ‘Viticulture in New Zealand’ In 1908, five wines from the Te Kauwhata Experimental Station won gold medals at the Franco-British wine exhibition. Despite this success official support for the Division of Viticulture began to wither due to the growth of the Temperance Movement The Viticultural Division of the Department of Agriculture was disbanded in 1909 and Romeo Bragato, frustrated and disillusioned, leaves New Zealand.
In 1912 he and his family, wife Laura and daughter Miriam, left New Zealand for Canada. Bragato died in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada in December 1912, from natural causes.