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Clark: Address at Villa Maria Winery Opening

Friday 25 February 2005

Rt Hon Helen Clark Prime Minister
Address at Villa Maria Winery Opening

Villa Maria Estate, Mangere South Auckland

1.00 pm

Friday 25 February 2005

Thank you for inviting me to perform the official opening of this magnificent new Villa Maria Winery.

In recent months I have had the opportunity to visit this new development twice, and have been greatly impressed by the scope of the project.

This high-tech, modern facility very much reflects the vision and drive of Villa Maria’s founder and managing director, George Fistonich. From the beginning, George has worked to build a major New Zealand wine company, based upon strong viticulture, quality in processing, and innovation in marketing.

The results of George's work and his dedicated staff, have been there for all to see. Villa Maria has been a pioneering presence in New Zealand’s major wine growing regions. It has established processing facilities in Marlborough, and now this major new winery and conference facility in Auckland. The company has developed more than 40 export markets. Villa Maria is now the largest privately owned winery in New Zealand.

Villa Maria has also been a consistently strong performer at wine competitions, both nationally and internationally, culminating in a virtual sweep of this year’s Air NZ Wine Awards.

The company has also been at the forefront of leading the industry onwards in the screw cap movement, with a commitment to sealing its wines only under Stelvin screw cap closures from the 2004 vintage. George has even gone so far as to say he would rather turn down export orders than supply under corks ! This bold move is consistent with Villa Maria’s commitment to always achieve the highest levels of quality in the eyes of international buyers and consumers.

I congratulate George and all the staff of Villa Maria on their achievements; and I thank George for his big contribution to the growth of the New Zealand wine industry; past, present and future.

George is representative of the strong contribution which the Croatian/Dalmatian community has long made to the New Zealand wine industry. Indeed New Zealand owes this community a lot for providing the base for an industry which is one of the fastest growing within our food and beverage sector. George is highly respected within the industry, and is a current board member of New Zealand Winegrowers, which is spearheading the collective development and marketing of the industry in the future.

To add to George’s accomplishments, he was named “New Zealander of the Year” for 2004 by the National Business Review for 2004, which recognised him as a successful exporter, arts patron, and benevolent employer, as well as an accomplished winemaker. He was also shortlisted short listed as one of fifty prominent wine industry figures by Wine International Magazine in the United Kingdom.

George has also recently agreed to contribute more of his invaluable time, knowledge, and drive to a new joint government and private sector initiative. I am pleased to announce today that George has been appointed as the wine industry’s representative on the new Food and Beverage Taskforce. There he joins other leaders from the food and beverage industry who are working with the government on new strategies to take the sector ahead. This broad sector is responsible for fifty per cent of New Zealand’s exports and its success is critical to our future prosperity.

The success of the wine industry over the past decade makes it a flagship sector for the rest of the food and beverage industry to look to.

At ‘100 per cent transformed’ or ‘value-added’, the wine industry has all the attributes we are looking to promote: a premium international price position, a distinctive positioning with Sauvignon Blanc; and a clear synergy with other New Zealand food products, like seafood, meat, and specialty foods. As well, wine has a cross-promotional pull with the creative and arts sectors, and with tourism and entertainment, through its association with hospitality and fine food experiences.

Yet the wine industry too is well aware of the challenges it faces in maintaining its position as a premium producer in the global wine market for the long term.

The industry has prospered in recent years because of its commitment to quality and to smart marketing and branding.

Today’s highly competitive market conditions mean that to stand still would be fatal.

Our dollar is high, and huge volumes of wine are being produced worldwide.

We face stiff competition from old and new world wine producers. And according to MAF our world leading Sauvignon Blanc is under threat of being replicated by Chilean and South African companies.

So we have to keep raising the bar and simply doing better than our competitors.

We will need to continue to invest in research and innovation to maintain our niche and premium status in the world’s wine markets.

Three years ago, the government committed to funding a major regional initiative in Marlborough to build a Wine Centre of Excellence.

It has become a key research centre for the industry, and is currently involved in a major project on Sauvignon Blanc. The aim is to consolidate and enhance New Zealand’s special flavour profile and entrench the niche position our Sauvignon Blanc occupies internationally.

New Zealand Wine Growers does an excellent job of spreading the generic message on New Zealand wines and promoting them in our major markets. New Zealand Trade and Enterprise is supporting its efforts through tasting events and seminars, and through the Wine Channel Development Project to develop strong new markets.

Today is a day for acknowledging the many achievements of the New Zealand wine industry and those of Villa Maria in particular.

This industry has flourished because it has been developed by people who have a passion for it, and a drive to produce wines which are simply the best in the world.

This new facility at Villa Maria takes winery facilities in New Zealand to a whole new level – and this is only stage one !

Congratulations George and Villa Maria on this magnificent project.

It is now my pleasure to declare this first stage of the Villa Maria Auckland Winery and Vineyard Park officially open.


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