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Wairau Valley farm converted into large vineyard

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A former historic Marlborough sheep run will soon undergo yet another transformation.

US wine conglomerate Constellation Brands is turning the Hillersden block in the Wairau Valley, southwest of Blenheim, into a 165 hectare vineyard producing 150,000 cases of sauvignon blanc.

The original 60,700ha station once spread from near Wairau Village south to the Wye River when it was bought by Marlborough councillor Thomas Carter in 1855.

About 200 staff were employed on the Hillersden sheep station.

A productive flax mill was later established and when the station was split up by the government in 1914 into 43 individual properties, 2600 prospective buyers put up their hands to buy a share.

The block has supported a variety of farm business operations in the past 160 years including a flax mill, and more lately an award winning angus beef stud, and dairy support unit.

Constellation Brands has leased the 165ha site off its Auckland-based owners who bought the land, owned by dairy farmer Phillip Woolley, in a receivership sale.

Since the purchase the area has been levelled, and shelter belts and travelling irrigators removed.

Marlborough operations and development manager David Sheard said the new vineyard would be fully productive in three years.

Sheard would not comment on the cost of the development which had so far seen 92,000 posts, or 556 posts per hectare, dug in to support 370,000 vines.

Most of the posts would be treated pine, but the company had also installed 40ha of environmentally recyclable steel posts, he said.

Projected production from the vineyard has also been kept in-house due to commercial sensitivity.

A small harvest was expected in 18 months and a first full harvest production would occur in four years, he said.

A wine industry insider estimated the vineyard could produce about two million litres of wine, or between 125,000 and 150,000 cases of sauvignon blanc, a year.

Sheard said the site, set to be one of the company’s biggest vineyards in the region, was chosen for its overall advantages.

“It’s a great site, combined with the need for availability of good, large scale parcels of land.”

“As with any site we develop we take into account the physical environment like landform, altitude, soils and nutrients, and water and drainage.”

There was also seasonal climate variations, and long term cycles, he said.

The average annual temperature in the area is 11.9 degrees Celsius, and average rainfall 1131 millimetres.

“Depending on the season, frost and drought are a common occurrence throughout the region,” Sheard said.

Water from the Wairau River for irrigation has been fully consented.

Earlier this year Constellation Brands invested $50 million (£39.85 million) to expand its Drylands winery and double annual wine production to 40 million litres.

Paul

The author Paul