Scientific winemaking contribution 'rewarding'

CHLOE WINTER
Last updated 05:00 13/08/2014
Marlborough Research Centre
DEREK FLYNN/FAIRFAX NZ
LOOKING BACK: Plant&Food Research senior scientist and research leader Mike Trought, liaison scientist Rob Agnew and research associate Sue Neal with the Marlborough Research Centre flag.

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As Marlborough's wine industry continues to grow into an internationally recognised force, there is one organisation that has been quietly working away in the background, supporting winemakers on their journey.

The Marlborough Research Centre, which celebrated its 30th anniversary last month, was set up in 1984 to undertake research that could help the region's primary industries.

Founding member and Plant & Food Research senior scientist and research leader Mike Trought says the centre would not be where it was today without the fast-paced growth of the wine industry.

The organisation was originally set up by Bob de Castro, Maf, DSIR and Marlborough United Council. Once based out of a small building in Grovetown with minimal staff and limited resources. Fast-forward three decades and all that has changed.

The organisation now works out of a purpose-built building with more than 14 staff who are mainly dedicated to researching the region's wine industry.

"If you look at the photograph of the vineyard in the 1980s and look at the difference today, it's huge. It was irrigated once a week, cultivated between the rows and it was not trimmed," said Trought.

While their surroundings have changed greatly, the goal hasn't: "We look down the track at how the [wine] industry might change over the next so many years . . . we might get it right, we might get it wrong. [But] if you don't test the boundaries and accept failure and learn from failure then you don't go forward," Trought said.

Plant & Food Research liaison scientist Rob Agnew, who had been involved with the centre since 1986, said the "rapid increase" in the wine industry had forced them to focus more on grapes.

The research centre had "lifted the profile of New Zealand's wine industry," he said.

"There have been quite a number of programmes in recent years that have benefited the industry . . . I get a real buzz out of projects which have a practical use for the industry.

"With the wine industry being very young, especially in Marlborough, they are rapid adopters of new technology and new research."

Part of Agnew's research involved monitoring 10 weather stations on vineyards throughout the region.

"Marlborough's definitely got the best access to weather data and lots of people in the wine industry use the summaries which are readily accessible, which you wouldn't find in other regions," Agnew said.

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Plant & Food research associate Sue Neal said co-ordination and co-operation with wine industry companies had helped them get to where they were today.

"We couldn't do what we do without their help and support . . . we are really grateful."

Neal, who has been involved since 1986, said research had evolved in hand with the industry.

"It's great to see an immediate use for the work that you are doing - that's the satisfaction."

The centre was led for decades by late Blenheim businessman John Marris, who served as a chairman for 30 years.

The centre last month launched an award to celebrate 30 years in operation.

The inaugural award was presented to the Marris family, in recognition of John's contribution and "forward-looking, innovative projects.

- The Marlborough Express

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