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Wine Research Centre grew from local rugby concern

Marlborough Wine Research Centre grew from concern about local rugby

A wine research facility that opens in Blenheim this week had its origins several years ago when concern was shown about the number of young rugby players leaving the district because of a lack of tertiary study opportunities.

A degree course in viticulture and oenology (winemaking) at the Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology’s (NMIT’s) Blenheim campus was the first outcome. The relocated Marlborough Research Centre with a purpose-built wine research capability, sited on the campus, is the second.

Grove Mill Wine Company chairman Mark Peters who, as then chairman of the Marlborough Rugby Union, had lamented young rugby players heading elsewhere, says there was no point trying to retain them via degree courses like commerce or law.

“We needed something befitting this region. As chairman of Grove Mill I was aware of the need for suitably qualified people in many areas of the industry and very early on we realised that a quality tertiary course would need an associated high quality research facility.”

The degree course, a joint venture between the NMIT and Lincoln University, began in 2002, complementing diploma studies available since 1996.

The Wine Research Centre that will be opened by Economic Development Minister Jim Anderton on Thursday 18 March is a collaborative effort involving organisations including the Marlborough District Council, Marlborough Regional Development Trust, Marlborough Research Centre Trust, HortResearch, the wine industry both locally and nationally, and the NMIT.

Ivan Sutherland, chairman of the Wine Research Board, says its establishment continues the immense growth in the New Zealand wine industry in the past decade and will contribute to the industry’s ongoing global recognition.

“There is no doubt the industry is now centred around exports,” he says. “That means we have to look ahead in terms of sustainable production. We have to ensure we can continue to produce quality fruit to sustain a quality end-product. The Wine Research Centre will play an important part in assuring producers, investors and consumers of a sustainable future.”

Mr Sutherland says the centre’s establishment reflects Marlborough’s key role in the New Zealand wine industry.

The current area planted - 6831ha, or 44 percent of the national total of 15,800ha - is forecast to increase to nearly 10,000ha by 2006, 48 percent of the national total. Marlborough’s more than 250 winegrowers produced 44 percent of all New Zealand wine in 2003 – approximately 24 million litres of the country’s 55 million litres.

The research centre includes four laboratories, a technology transfer theatre seating 84, a wine sensory room for conducting specialised tastings, and a small-scale winery for teaching and training viticulture and oenology students.

Trade and Enterprise New Zealand contributed $2 million toward its development, with 40 mostly Marlborough but some national wine companies and industry groups pledging $300,000 per year for five years towards operating costs.

While research will focus on the local wine industry, its benefits will be felt by the industry nationwide. Research will also be undertaken – as it was at the 20-year-old Marlborough Research Centre that owns the new wine research facility - into a wide range of horticultural, agricultural and pastoral activities.

The wine research team is led by Dr Mike Trought, Marlborough regional viticulturalist for Villa Maria Estate Ltd for three years before taking up his new position. He has been involved in horticultural, viticultural and plant research for more than 25 years, mostly in Marlborough.

Management and administration is the responsibility of Gerald Hope, who has worked with the Marlborough Research Centre Trust for several years.

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