Halt in wine jobs tipped

CHERIE HOWIE
Last updated 08:20 05/07/2011

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A predicted halt in new jobs coming out of Marlborough's wine industry over the next five years reflects an industry in consolidation, an industry leader says.

The prediction was made in an economic development report written for the Marlborough District Council by consultant and former council strategic policy planner Francis Pauwels.

Mr Pauwels' report suggests almost 600 new jobs could be created across a range of industries, including aquaculture, forestry and tourism, in Marlborough over the next five years.

However, the report indicates no new jobs will come from the wine industry.

New Zealand Winegrowers chairman Stuart Smith said he was not sure job increases would stall completely.

Market demand shifting towards pinot noir, the growing of which placed a heavier demand on labour, could provide a small boost to employment.

However, it was fair to assume the industry was in a phase of consolidation, Mr Smith said.

"We have enough production. What we need is to grow value, not volume."

He said the industry didn't need more vineyards or plants to process crop.

If anything, fewer vineyards were needed, he said.

"That's not to say there won't be more investment ... [there will be] if it aids productivity."

Some vineyards had simply been established in unproductive areas and would not work, even if their owners went into the venture carrying little debt.

"Even if you got the land for nothing, it's still too expensive to grow on because of the cost of production. In some cases you would have to be back to peak prices to break even."

Marlborough grape prices have been deflated since an oversupply of grapes and wine, combined with the global financial crisis, halved the average price for a tonne of Marlborough sauvignon blanc to about $1250 last year. That price remained the same this year.

Mr Smith said he was aware of some landowners pulling out vines and returning the land to former uses, such as dairying or pastoral farming.

"We're talking small numbers ... some people didn't do their homework."

It was easy to take aim at the industry's future, but growth was always going to slow eventually.

"There's not many areas left to plant. There's only a few pockets of land, mostly inside vineyards, that will likely go into grapes."

People should not forget what the industry had done for Marlborough over the last decade, he said. "It's really boosted Marlborough's economy. If it wasn't for the wine industry Marlborough would look a lot different, not just physically, but economically."

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- The Marlborough Express

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