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The right to plant vines
Between 1973 and 1977, Montana was the only enterprise planting vines in Marlborough. By the time other landowners applied to plant vines, they were considered a ‘conditional use’ in Marlborough County’s District Scheme largely because of the restrictions on spraying chemicals within 5 miles (8 km) of horticultural crops.
It fell to one of Federated Farmers’ ‘family farm units’, owned by Phil and Chris Rose, trading under the name of Kesteven Farm Ltd, finally to open the way to a new cluster of enterprises and innovation in the Rapaura locality by establishing their right to grow grapes distant from the Montana plantings in the Southern Valleys. In early August 1978 the application of the Roses to establish a vineyard on Giffords Road attracted 46 objections including from the Marlborough Catchment Board. After the Marlborough
County Council Planning Committee recommended that their application be declined, the recently formed Wine Institute of New Zealand entered the debate, arguing strongly for freedom of choice for landowners. Montana made a cogent case against the limitations of allowing regulations over spraying herbicides to restrict land-use change and even threatened to send the cuttings it was about to plant in Marlborough to Gisborne. At its September meeting, the Marlborough County Council overturned the recommendation of its Planning Committee and made grape growing a ‘predominant use’ everywhere south of the Wairau River.
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The way was clear for the Roses and all landowners in the region to participate in the Marlborough wine industry. The applications of J. E. and A. Marris (later Wither Hills), N. R. and J. M. Ibbotson (later Saint Clair) and A. H. and J. A. Dodson, plus two applications from Montana, were approved without further discussion. The large companies could now begin sourcing some of their grapes from specialist growers almost anywhere on the Wairau Plain and more widely. The shape of the New Zealand filiere established by growers from Gisborne and Hawke’s Bay was strengthened. In some years, grape growers have since provided up to 70 per cent of the New Zealand harvest, although the figure is now down to about 50 per cent.
This decision of the Marlborough County Council to make grape growing a predominant use had immediate effects on the geography of the industry, especially in Rapaura. By 1982 the area in grapes on Foxes Island, the area north of the Opawa River, was substantial. As in Auckland, Gisborne and Hawke’s Bay, competition between Montana and Corbans was enlivened in Marlborough when, in late 1979, Corbans (by then controlled by Rothmans) bought three properties to assemble its first large parcel of land fronting Rapaura and Jacksons Roads. This corner was to be the site of its Marlborough winery built in 1989.
On the Stoneleigh farm purchased by Corbans from A. L. Ferguson in 1981, Sauvignon Blanc was one of the six varieties planted. An alternative node to the Southern Valleys was born. The cluster of cellars on or near Rapaura Road, and from its junction with State Highway 6 towards Renwick, is now denser than on any other part of the Wairau Plain (Figure 7.5). The Southern Valleys saw fewer vineyards and wineries established in the late 1970s and early 1980s, although some were to prove pivotal. In 1979, Ivan Sutherland planted his first vineyard on Dog Point Road less than a kilometre from the Brancott vineyard, as did P. and W. Walsh nearby and the Hogans (Te Whare Ra) and the Roughans.
In 1983, by the end of its first decade, Marlborough’s area in vines had increased steadily to reach just over 1000 hectares – about half that of Gisborne or Hawke’s Bay at the time. Only four Marlborough enterprises crushed any grapes in the South Island during this first decade: Montana, Te Whare Ra, Hunter’s and Le Brun. By 1983 the two important vine-growing areas – Montana’s plantings in the Southern Valleys dating