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Luxton: Speech For Annual Grape And Wine School

SPEECH NOTES : HON JOHN LUXTON
Minister for Food And Fibre
Opening Speech To The 7th Annual Grape And Wine School
Lincoln University
24 July 1999
(check against delivery)

Vice Chancellor Frank Wood, Dr Jackson, students, wine-makers, growers, connoisseurs,

Opening the Annual Grape and Wine School today is a great delight for me. This school is a shining example of the importance of the knowledge economy to New Zealand prosperity.

I am told this school marks the 27th anniversary of Lincoln University or Lincoln College as it was then, first planting grapes in Canterbury, an innovation that led to the discovery that Canterbury [plains climate brings "lightness and freshness" to wines.

This was a fortuitous discovery and is a key part in the story of the growth of New Zealand's phenomenally successful export wine industry.

This is the seventh annual Grape and Wine School today.

Seven years ago in 1992 New Zealand had 166 wineries, 6100 hectares in vines and earned $34.7 million in export earnings.

Since then, the industry has more than tripled its export earnings to $117 million in 1998 with a bumper vintage just harvested. There are now twice as many wineries and 50% more land in vines.

Go back four more years to 1988 and the figures are more startling. Since then then New Zealand's export wine industry has grown more than 10 fold.

There is an elegant numeric symmetry in the fact that today we are also celebrating the 10th anniversary of the first student intake to the Lincoln University Wine Course.

Our export wine industry is a very high value industry for the New Zealand economy. It creates large numbers of onshore, skilled, jobs in a range of very useful disciplines. From marketing and e-commerce, to the sharp end of wine research, biotechnology and chemistry in halls of learning such as this.

Critical in the path to success over the past decade, has been the wine industry's foundation in excellence.

New Zealand wines have competed for and won the palates of new consumers in Europe and the US. New Zealand wine-makers are very wine-proud and over the past decade have won so many international awards the news hardly rates in the local media anymore.

But kiwi wine has won the most valuable asset of all - consumer loyalty. As a result the industry enjoys stable high-earning prospects and huge growth potential.

In many ways it could be said that the hard yards have been done in achieving the reputation of New Zealand wine, and the industry is now reaping the rewards.

An article from the June 15 issue of the Wine Spectator - a leading US wine publication - illustrates very clearly just how well New Zealand's wine producers doing internationally.

"Barely a blip on American wine drinker's radar a couple of years ago, New Zealand has burst onto the scene with a seemingly endless supply of racy sauvignon blancs, distinctive chardonnays and even a few eye-catching reds," the writer says.

"Since 1997 the number of Kiwi wines available in the US has exploded. Two years ago this report would have comprised barely 25 wines, this one has 230 all reviewed in the past year...in addition the quality of these wines is remarkably consistent. With 89% of wines tasted scoring 85 points or higher, if you see a New Zealand wine on the shelf, and the price is right, you can't go far wrong".

Indeed you are not going wrong if you are achieving praise like that.

I have another item here from a trade publication in the UK - the leading export market for New Zealand wines. It is titled :"Reds on the Move" (and know it's not about the Labour Party) it talks of the rise in stature of New Zealand reds in the market.

Like the article in the Wine Spectator the author positively waxes lyrical about the potential of the New Zealand wine industry .

"If transported to Europe, this area [New Zealand] would stretch from the Rhine Valley, through Alsace, Champagne, Loire and Bordeux to Southern Spain. Quite enough variety in soil and climate to produce most wine styles successfully."

The writer concludes saying New Zealand's, "top white and sparkling wines are already recognised, it will only be a matter of time before selected reds can justly claim the same glory."

And if that doesn't impress then consider this. At the Royal wedding last month a Marlborough vintage was served to wedding guests. Sophie Rhys-Jones is in the PR business. What does that say about the fashion of Kiwi wine among the Chelsea set?

Lindauer has taken the UK sparkling wine market by storm. Led by Montana New Zealand producers now have an estimated 1% of the UK sparkling wine market overall and 8% of the premium market. Lindauer's main-line wine retails at 7 pounds 49 p - that's around NZD$21 - not what it costs here. The wine commands a substantial premium and is considered desirable. But most importantly - in comparison to the New Zealand capacity to produce - the market is practically limitless.

Like all parts of the knowledge economy, the wine industry is supported by strong industry ties with research institutions such as Lincoln University and this school.

In its ten years, the Lincoln degree level wine-making course has trained around 200 graduates. These are no doubt spread liberally around the globe - working on a huge range of vintages.

These Kiwi wine ambassadors are an invaluable resource to New Zealand.

While overseas they illustrate through their talent that New Zealand clearly has what it takes to become a great wine-making nation. At the same time they have the opportunity to learn their art in the best training grounds they can find.

When they return, they bring back with them knowledge, expertise and connections.

Not that there is any shortage of jobs here in New Zealand for New Zealand's new wave of wine professionals.

Just north of here on the Canterbury plains at Waipara is a very impressive site. An investor from the US has built a massive winery and has so far planted 100 acres in vines with another 300 acres planned..

The same story is occurring throughout the country. New parts of the Wairarapa are now being planted following the outstanding success at Martinborough. And plantings in Marlborough and Gisborne continue at pace. Public listings may soon see the wine industry start to grow even faster.

Here in Canterbury the first commercial vineyards were established in the late 1970s. In the early 1980s there were a handful of plantings. Now there are around 100 plantings and 30 odd wineries.

I understand that promising recent research conducted here includes efforts to minimise the use of sprays in the production process through the better management of vine canopy.

This sort of research is vital if the New Zealand wine industry is to remain at the forefront of excellence in wine-making. It shows commitment to excellence and it shows sensitivity towards growing consumer pressure for more options for their palate.

I can assure you all that the National Government recognises clearly the value of institutions such as this to the future of New Zealand.

Quality wine requires quality education and the Government is committed to continuing to support both.

This meeting today of students, producers, winemakers and wine consumers is evidence that it is the applied skills of a diverse range of people which have led the industry to where it is today.

Interestingly the story of the success of the wine-export industry over the past decade is one that was predicted over 100 years ago by an early, little known Italian immigrant.

In the late 1890s - Romeo Bragato - an Italian wine-maker came to New Zealand after being brought out to Victoria, Australia, by the Department of Agriculture. He toured the country and made observations from Central Otago to Northland before establishing a research station at Te Kawhata. He was convinced a wide range of wines could be made here and said so.

Unfortunately no one believed him and so we continued to make and drink cheap bad plonk that mostly came from the Auckland region until the 1970s. The conventional wisdom was that wine could not be grown in the South Island because it was too cold and the majority of production remained around Auckland.

Marlborough whites have since taken the world by storm in just a couple of decades. Gisborne similarly has driven a wave of interest in New Zealand white wines.

Bragato also thought great Pinot Noir could be grown here. And as we all here know, 100 years later it turns out he was right.

Over the next five years the New Zealand wine industry is expected to increase export earnings to over $275 million. I would almost put money on the industry beating those expectations.

It is my pleasure to now declare this School open for learning.


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