Marlborough District Council backs proposed wine research centre

Plant and Food Research chemists Taylan Topal and Abby Albright in their lab at the Marlborough Research Centre.

Plant and Food Research chemists Taylan Topal and Abby Albright in their lab at the Marlborough Research Centre.

The Marlborough District Council has set aside a substantial kitty to help drive regional development over the next five years.

Councillors have unanimously backed a proposed world-class wine research centre in Blenheim to the tune of $75,000 this year and a further $150,000 a year for five years.

They have also increased the Marlborough Research Centre's funding from $110,000 to $250,000.

The council's support for the wine research centre could leverage $10.5 million of government investment between 2017 and 2019, putting Marlborough at the forefront of wine research and creating highly paid and skilled jobs. 

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The New Zealand Research Institute of Viticulture and Oenology had the potential to attract more government funding in 2020 to 2022.

New Zealand Winegrowers was committing $900,000 a year over six years.

All grape and wine research would be driven from the centre, in a model similar to Nelson's Cawthron Institute, with research focus on improved flavour and aroma of wines, bio-security and sustainability.

Marlborough Research Centre chief executive Gerald Hope, who backed the proposed research centre, said it could develop further tertiary education in viticulture and oenology courses in Marlborough.

Hope believed the council funding was in response to a government push to bolster regional development.

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Economic Minister Steven Joyce had appealed to mayors to take a leadership role in economic development.

Hope said Marlborough had an ageing population with a relatively small rating base.

To offset future rates increases, the region needed to increase its population and attract stronger businesses that brought in highly skilled workers, he said.

Hope said the Marlborough Research Centre was focused on the growth of Marlborough's economy through investment in science, technology and connecting research to business. 

The centre was not an economic development agency but it was filling that role by supporting regional development, Hope said.

"The councillors really value what MRC is providing to the regional economy."

The centre had grown consistently over 10 years and attracted tenants Plant and Food Research, Hills Laboratory, which provided high-tech analytical services to the wine industry, Wine Marlborough and the New Zealand Wine Sustainability Hub. 

New Zealand Wine spent around $7m a year in research, marketing and sustainability.

The presence of the Marlborough Research Centre ensured the majority of research funding was spent in Marlborough, Hope said.

The centre's achievements included VineFacts weather data collection, research programmes into new styles and flavours of sauvignon blanc, alternative pasture species for dryland farming and alternative eucalypt tree crops for Marlborough's east coast.

The Marlborough Food and Beverage Innovation Cluster continued to support emerging business growth around the primary sector and built stronger connections with markets in the United States, the United Kingdom, Holland and China.

There was an emerging connection between China and Marlborough with an associated programme developed for Marlborough food and beverage companies wishing to export to China, he said.

 - The Marlborough Express


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