Re-elected Prime Minister John Key may have enjoyed a glass or two after his historic win on 20 September but when he opened the recent NZ Winegrowers’ Romeo Bragato conference in Blenheim it had been five weeks since his last drink. He spoke to the 700 delegates about his view of the wine industry, but not until after attending the associated trade shows, talking with customers and taking the now seemingly compulsory “selfies” with them.
Key argued the wine industry was a model of New Zealand’s economy, saying it had changed from a regulated and protected market into a vibrant and thriving export industry worth more than $1 billion per annum. He said “if you look at New Zealand and want to understand why it’s done well over the past 30 years, look at the wine industry. Everything wrong in New Zealand was personified in the wine industry. It was a fortress environment, closed – there was no foreign investment.” With a wry smile he admitted his own wedding served Cold Duck and Marque Vue to guests.
Before moving onto the more political issues of free trade and the election, Key noted that wine industry had to make some tough decisions in the past. Growers had to replace existing vines (which no one wanted to buy) with grapes like sauvignon and pinot noir – the grapes that then made New Zealand famous. He applauded the industry’s innovation and responsiveness.