The pick of regions

New Zealand is famous for the quality of its sauvignon blanc wines.

They are, say many critics, the best in the world. And the best place in New Zealand to grow sauvignon blanc grapes is Marlborough, with its sunny climate and well-drained river plains.

Image of vineyard

Today Marlborough dominates New Zealand’s wine industry – and production is expanding. Around 240 square kilometres of the region are planted in grape vines, producing around 75 per cent of New Zealand’s grape harvest. Over the next five years, around another 68 square kilometres will be added.

This growth is transforming the region’s main town of Blenheim, says Marcus Pickens, general manager of Wine Marlborough, who moved from Auckland in 2008.

The migrants bring with them their skills, experience and ideas. They challenge the way we do things. They make us better.

Marcus Pickens

He lists some of the developments he has seen. The Raupo Café, run by Frenchman Stephane Ughetto, opened the year he arrived. The indoor pool complex was redeveloped and launched as part of a larger sports facility in 2012. The new theatre, which seats 700 in the main auditorium and which opened this year, is already attracting international quality performers – including the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra.

New Zealand’s wine industry was largely established by early migrants from the winegrowing countries of Europe. Frank Yukich, whose father Ivan migrated from Dalmatia, was the first to see the potential in Marlborough’s landscape of fields of dry grass, then grazed by sheep. He established the region’s first commercial vineyard in 1973, and planted the first sauvignon blanc grapes two years later.

Today migrants play a major role in the vitality of New Zealand’s wine industry. Many of the skilled machinery operators who bring in the grape harvests and prune the vines originally come from the Pacific Islands, and Europeans and North Americans have a strong presence among the winemakers and vineyard owners.

The migrants bring with them their skills, experience and ideas, says Marcus. “They challenge the way we do things. They make us better.”

And in the next five years, Marlborough will need more. Planned grapevine plantings are expected to require around 200 new permanent workers, but the demand won’t just be in the wine industry. As the region’s population rises, there will be a growing demand for a range of skilled workers. Teachers, doctors, financial professionals and tradespeople: all will be needed.

Marcus is pleased he made the move from Auckland. “Marlborough has been brilliant for me.” He likes the quality of life, the absence of time spent stuck in traffic. He likes the pace of life and the friendliness. “People stop and say hello and spend the time of day with you.” On the weekends, he can take his children for overnight walks to mountain huts or try out a new mountain-bike trail.

He has also become part of the governing committees for a sports group and a tourism organisation. “There are so many opportunities to get involved with the local community.”

For a country town, Blenheim is highly connected. Wellington is a 25-minute flight away, and Marcus sees Marlborough in a global context.

“New Zealand is a tiny wine producer: we account for just under one per cent of world supply. But we represent three per cent of global wine trade turnover. We are number one by average price per litre in every market we go into.”

He is working to keep it that way. “Yes, we are increasing the volume of wine we produce, but we are also thinking strategically about protecting our investment.”

Building a skilled workforce will be key.

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