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Opening of the Romeo Bragato Conference 2001

Hon Dr Michael Cullen

Opening of the Romeo Bragato Conference 2001

Napier Municipal Theatre

Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you for inviting me to open the 7th Romeo Bragato Conference here in the Hawkes Bay - my home and the area, by the way, that over a hundred years ago Romeo Bragato, the Italian trained wine expert this conference honours, declared as, "the most suitable region for the cultivation of the vine."

As a dedicated enthusiast of the local product I take my hat off to the man for his vision. Although - while the celebrated Signor Bragato held this region in the highest regard, Malborough is now the undisputed queen of the vine - holding over 40 percent of the national grapevine,

with Hawke's Bay producing just under a quarter. And an even bigger nationwide harvest is predicted for next year.

Our Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc have focussed the attention of the world on New Zealand. Now the industry is starting to broaden its base by producing quality reds - the focus of your conference this week.

New Zealand now boasts seven certified organic vineyards and we are seeinng the emergence of regional groupings such as Hawkes Bay and Martinborough wanting to label themselves distinctly as from "New Zealand".

All of this is frankly amazing when you think how New Zealand's wine industry has grown from almost nothing to a world class producer of high quality wine in a few short few decades.

Yours is a fantastic success story. Today, our wine is recognised and acclaimed the world over thanks to the dedication, vision, individual drive and collective responsibility for the future by people like you

and those who have gone before you. The indusrtry is a flagship for New Zealand in export markets.

In 1895 Romeo Bragato came here, at the invitation of Premier Seddon, to investigate New Zealand's potential for wine making.

He was impressed with what he saw. Bragato did his best to convince New Zealanders that wine making would bring both social and economic gain. He gently tried to encourage the leaders and shakers of those colonial days that wine drinkers were more contented, industrious and sober than beer and spirit drinkers. It was his opinion that with a little effort New Zealand could become a kind of antipodean bucolic paradise.

Alas - it was not to be, for dispite Bragato's glowing report and his enthusiasm and vision for establishing a wine industry here, the government of the day determined that New Zealand's agricultural base was sheep and beef farming - virtually to the exclusion of any thing else.

And so it was. Bragato lost heart and seven years later returned to Italy and from then until the 1970s, New Zealand's wine industry was on the straight and narrow.

Yes, New Zealand produced significant quantities of wine but it was the lower end of the domestic market.

We exported very little and it was no wonder that international market had no inkling of the quality and passion that would soon mark the New Zealand brand.

In the 70s the industry (like all others) was heavily protected and it was virtually impossible for imported wines to compete at the lower end of the market. It is hardly surprising then that this is where local growers chose to target their production.

But in the ensuing years tariffs and government protection were removed and New Zealand was forced to compete with Australia and the rest of the world. In order to remain viable, producers knew they would have to come up with a higher quality product.

There needed to be experimentation to determine the best vines for particular areas, research into the possibility of planting of grapes in new areas, the adoption of new wine making technologies, and the attraction of new sources of capital into the industry.

The wine industry deserves great credit for your success. You have transformed an industry and the results speak for themselves.

New Zealand now has more than double the number of wineries we had twenty years ago.

The value of our wine exports have increased from around $100,000 in the 1970s to over $200 million a year. And though wine may be small in terms of horticultural crops it is definitely one of New Zealand glamour industries with vineyards becoming increasingly popular upmarket tourist attractions.

Finally, let me turn briefly to the wine review currently underway to deal with the complicated mass of acts controlling the different parts of your industry.

The Ministry of Agriculture and the Wine Institute have been working on a number of issues, including:

- standards and standard setting, including introducing risk management to winemaking

- developing an export system so that only exportable wine is actually exported and that the government can stand by its official assurance of quality

- compliance and enforcement issues

- the funding of industry activities, and better protecting levy payers than under the current Act.

The recommendations of the review have yet to be considered by Cabinet so it is not possible to talk further of the details proposed. But I can certainly say this - your industry is much too valuable and too important for its future to be left to chance.

I am sure that the review and the subsequent new Wine Act will clarify the roles and responsibilities of different industry players and determine the most effective and efficient regulatory regime for the wine industry's continuing success.

I wish you all the best for your conference. Or, more appropriately, I drink to your success. Frequently (but not to excess).


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