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Research centre’s initial focus sauvignon blanc’

Sauvignon blanc’s long-term future is research centre’s initial focus

Research to ensure the long-term future on world markets of New Zealand’s acclaimed sauvignon blanc will be the initial focus of the Marlborough Wine Research Centre opened in Blenheim on 18 March.

Ivan Sutherland, chairman of the centre’s board, says the New Zealand wine industry has grown immensely in the past decade.

“The establishment of this centre is part of that growth, part of the industry's evolution and will be part of our further recognition in the international market place,” he told the opening ceremony, attended by about 250 people.

The Minister of Economic Development, Jim Anderton, who was instrumental in securing $2 million government funding to build the centre, officially opened it.

Mr Anderton described the centre, which is on the campus of the Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology (NMIT), as “a stake in the ground” for enhancing New Zealand wine creativity and research capabilities. It would set the benchmark for research not only in New Zealand, but also internationally.

“We have to do better, we have to be smarter in our use of technology, creativity etc – and that’s what this centre will allow us to do. Its pay-off won’t be next week or next year, it will be in 10, 15 or 20 years.”

The centre’s establishment complements a two-year Diploma in Viticulture course that has been available at the NMIT since 1996 and a three-year Degree in Viticulture and Oenology course that began there in 2002. The latter is a joint venture between the NMIT and Lincoln University.

Both the degree course and the research centre are the result of concern expressed several years ago about the number of young rugby players leaving the district because of a lack of tertiary study opportunities.

Local wine industry leaders saw no point trying to retain them via degree courses like commerce or law.

“We needed something befitting this region,” Grove Mill Wine company chairman Mark Peters, who was also Marlborough Rugby Union chairman, said at the time. “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 centre is a collaborative effort involving the Marlborough Research Centre Trust (which owns it), the Marlborough District Council, Marlborough Regional Development Trust, the Marlborough and New Zealand wine industry, HortResearch, the NMIT and Lincoln University, each of which contributed funding and/or management/staff services to its operation. The wine industry has pledged $300,000 per annum for five years for operating costs.

The main establishment funding of $2 million came from New Zealand Trade and Enterprise’s Major Regional Initiative Programme. Other government grants came via the Foundation of Research Science and Technology, the Polytech Regional Development Fund and the Sustainable Farming Fund. The Community Trust contributed $150,000.

Mr Anderton applauded the partnership involved in the centre’s establishment.

Access to New Zealand Trade and Enterprise funding had been a valuable catalyst, but it was the region that had made the centre happen. “We – the Government – didn’t tell or suggest you do something. It was your idea. You developed it, you decided on it. It’s yours. Well done.”

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

The centre’s strong linkages to Winegrowers New Zealand and to education and research providers throughout the country will allow collaboration with them, resulting in a unified effort for the benefit of the wine industry nationally.

“There is no doubt the industry is now centred around export sales,” Mr Sutherland told the opening. “This brings a need to look ahead in terms of sustainable production, ensuring the continuance of quality fruit to sustain a quality end product. This centre will play an important part in assuring producers, investors and consumers of the sustainable future of our industry.

“Sauvignon blanc is undoubtedly the variety that has given the New Zealand wine industry our greatest recognition. Accordingly, the board intends focusing resources on this variety, with the aim of ensuring that we retain and understand its unique flavour, thereby ensuring it continues to have worldwide acclaim.”

He says the centre’s opening “celebrates the achievement of turning an idea into a reality”.

Its establishment reflects Marlborough’s key role in the New Zealand wine industry - the 6831ha planted in grapes is 44 percent of the national total, and last year Marlborough’s more than 250 winegrowers produced 44 percent of all New Zealand wine – approximately 24 million litres of the country’s 55 million litres.

John Marris, chairman of the Marlborough Research Centre Trust, told the opening that the centre is a tribute to the drive of a large number of people and businesses from within the Marlborough wine industry, and the wider business, education and scientific communities.

Jim Anderton had been a fervent supporter all along “and helped get the government funding that put the bricks and mortar in place”.

Mr Marris says the Trust was set up in 1984 to research, encourage and promote all forms of pastoral, horticultural, agricultural and arable production in Marlborough.

“Our ever-burgeoning wine industry, which will be a major beneficiary of the work undertaken at the new research centre, was just a baby then. Look at it now – some 24 million litres of wine produced locally last year and still growing apace.

“However, despite a significant focus on wine research at this centre, I stress that in no way have we, the Trust, lost sight of our original objectives. The Trust will, here as it did at its Grovetown premises, undertake research into all uses of land for production purposes.”

Both the NMIT and Lincoln University expressed delight at being part of the centre’s establishment.

NMIT chief executive Neil Barns says research and trained personnel are vital to the continued growth and success of the New Zealand wine industry.

“Having research facilities on-campus will help strengthen the ties between wine research and education,” he says.

“The NMIT committed more than $600,000 to expand its wine education facilities to complement the new research facility. It also provided the land for the centre. A government regional polytechnic grant provided $300,000 for specialist laboratory equipment. The NMIT has also undertaken to provide ongoing technician support via wine education programmes.

Professor Tony Zwart, Lincoln University’s Assistant Vice-Chancellor, Business Development, describes the research centre as “a marvellous addition to the wine industry’s South Island infrastructure and a fine example of regional initiative and resourcefulness”.

“We’re delighted that our long-standing educational and research commitment to viticulture and wine science has given us the opportunity to become a partner in this research facility.”

Professor Zwart says Lincoln’s involvement in the industry began in 1973 – the same year, coincidentally, that Montana started its large investment in Marlborough – with a “modest grant” of $500 to Dr David Jackson to investigate grape varieties suitable for the cooler conditions of Canterbury.

“The region and the university have both gone on to become leaders - Marlborough for the quality of its wines and Lincoln for its wine science and viticultural education and as the first New Zealand university to offer under-graduate and post-graduate degrees in viticulture and oenology.

“Undoubtedly the Marlborough Wine Research Centre will become a leader too, making a major contribution to wine and viticulture research both locally and nationally. There is scope for influence on the world stage, too, because the language of wine is international and a New Zealand qualification in viticulture and oenology can be a worldwide passport to employment.”

For further information, please contact: Dr Mike Trought – Lead Scientist, Marlborough Wine Research Centre -; 021 533 498 or 03 577 2375

Gerald Hope – Executive Officer, Marlborough Wine Research Centre -; 025 331 059 or 03 577 2377


Pic 1: “The Marlborough Wine Research Centre is a tribute to the drive of a large number of people and businesses.” – John Marris, chairman of the Marlborough Research Centre Trust, speaking at the centre’s opening.

Pic 2: The plaque unveiled by Economic Development Minister Jim Anderton.

Pic 3: Celebrating the opening – from left Gerald Hope, Marlborough Wine Research Centre executive officer; Economic Development Minister Jim Anderton; Ivan Sutherland, chairman of the centre’s board; and John Marris, chairman of the Marlborough Research Centre trust that owns the new research facility.

Pic 4: Inspecting the subject matter: Economic Development Minister Jim Anderton on a tour of the Marlborough Wine Research Centre, with, on the left, John Marris, chairman of the Marlborough Research Centre Trust, and on the right HortResearch scientist Dion Mundy.

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