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Montana celebrates three decades of Marlborough sauvignon blanc

Frank Yukich’s decision to plant grapes in Marlborough in 1973 was a leap into the unknown, now more than thirty years on New Zealand's sauvignon blanc is widely considered one of the world's best.

Montana’s 2009 Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc vintage will mark 30 years for the wine that was born when Frank Yukich, founder of Montana Wines, made the controversial decision to plant the first grapevines in Marlborough, New Zealand in 1973.

Last Friday on March 6, Montana’s parent company, Pernod Ricard New Zealand, enlisted Prime Minister John Key to unveil a sculpture immortalising the founder’s prophetic words in a celebration of Montana’s history in Marlborough.

The sculpture has been erected at the company’s Brancott Vineyard, where Frank Yukich first uttered “wines from here will become world famous”, upon the planting of the first commercial grapes.

The first years in Marlborough were not without incident. Many of the vines initially planted failed from poor irrigation or as a result of being incorrectly planted.  Conflict between Yukich and the directors of Montana was also brewing following Yukich’s unilateral decision to plant sauvignon blanc in Marlborough.

However, today, Yukich’s foresight is regarded as one of the most momentous steps ever taken in the New Zealand wine industry.

“Frank’s was a bold, inspiring, breathtaking leap into the unknown. In the early 1970s the conventional wisdom in the New Zealand wine industry was that wine grapes would not ripen in the South Island. Montana Wines disregarded that wisdom and planted vines [including the little known sauvignon blanc variety] in Marlborough on a grand scale.” said New Zealand Wine Growers CEO Philip Gregan.

This combination of locale and grape variety has gone on to “produce one of the great global wine styles – Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. It was a decision that forever changed New Zealand wines’ place in the world,” said Gregan.

Yukich closed his speech with a caution to New Zealand winemakers producing sauvignon blanc today.

“Economic downturns are temporary but the damage to the industry of poor quality wine on the shelves is long term,” he said.

“Too many Marlborough sauvignon blancs develop an excessive taste of “canned pea character” after just a couple of years in the bottle. This is a critical issue that the industry must address,” Yukich said.

In 1990 Montana Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc won the prestigious Marquis de Goulaine trophy for the world’s best sauvignon blanc at the largest wine competition in the world, the London International Wine & Spirit Competition.

Today Montana Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc is exported to more than 30 countries including the top markets of the United Kingdom, Australia and the United States.

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