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Yealands Estate Wines Ltd habitats that the grapevine has colonised and modified. As far as the vine is concerned, the Dry Plain is no longer dry. This was the preferred site of planting up to the late 1990s. Since then, grapes have successively extended their domain into the Spring Country, the Old Dune Country and the Coastal Lands. The Wairau Plain, Awatere Valley and Marlborough region are nearly full of vines.
The irrepressible Peter Yealands thinks differently. An early advocate of the Awatere Valley as an alternative growing area to the Wairau, he announced in late 2006 his intention to continue planting large areas in vines there and further south. In the early 2000s he had established an average of 125 hectares of vines annually and later increased this to over 150 hectares. By 2008 he owned over 1000 hectares in vines, over 90 per cent of which were Sauvignon Blanc. His Awatere winery has a final capacity to process 20,000 tonnes of grapes – or 2500 hectares of grapes, assuming an average of 8 tonnes to the hectare. Given that the Awatere Valley has an area in grapes approaching that of Hawke’s Bay, and Yealands was only its third winery after Vavasour and The Crossings, the need is obvious. Some grape growers in the Awatere and further south will undoubtedly use the Yealands facility to have their own wines made under contract as they attempt to capture a higher proportion of the profits from their vineyards.
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Peter Yealands vision is not confined to the Awatere Valley. His Marlborough region extends further south. Purchase of the Flaxbourne Station south of Seddon allows him to continue to increase his vineyard land, although at a slower rate because much of it is too hilly. But his vision extends still further. Well aware of the importance of irrigation water in almost all South Island viticultural regions, Yealands has plans for an irrigation scheme to service the Ward area. The Marlborough District Council and the Environment Court turned down his initial application for water rights from the Awatere. He responded with a new scheme. His plans include extending his development of vineyards in the Ward area and further south to Kekerengu and perhaps later into the catchment of the Clarence.
The Yealands and other initiatives south of the Awatere bring Marlborough’s regional boundary into contention. In revising the regional and district boundaries of Marlborough in its 1989 determination, the Local Government Commission placed considerable emphasis on catchment boundaries and less on communities of interest, accessibility to urban centres and the economic geography of regions. The decision to transfer Kaikoura County to the Canterbury region was contentious at the time. There is little doubt from an economic perspective that the former Kaikoura County would benefit itself and New Zealand by being tied, as it was historically, to the Marlborough brand.