Wairau River Wines Ltd.

Wine Pioneer Blindsided With Honour

A stalwart of the Marlborough wine industry was acknowledged with a lifetime achievement award at an industry dinner on Saturday.

The award was bestowed on an unsuspecting Phil Rose, of Wairau River Wines, at a special dinner at Timara Lodge as part of the Marlborough Wine Weekend.

"I think everyone knew but me. It was a well-kept secret," he said yesterday, still humbled by the accolade.

Mr Rose and his wife, Chris, planted their first vines in Rapaura in 1978, and became a contract grower for Montana at a time the company was the only other grapegrower in Marlborough. They had to get permission from the council of the day to change the use of their land from farmland to vineyards, and they came up against stiff opposition.

"We picked up 56 objections, from moral grounds to forestry interests. It became an interesting couple of years," he said.

The Rose family owned farmland in Rapaura that was used to grow lucerne and they supplied their crop to the Lucerne Meal Company factory on Old Renwick Rd.

The factory went out of business about 1973 because of high oil prices, so the family started to look for something else to grow, he said.

The stony and well-draining soil in Rapaura was ideal for growing grapes, he said.

The expansion of the wine industry in the early 2000s was "probably too much, too fast", creating an imbalance between supply and demand.

"That's the growing pain in any agricultural industry. There's a certain amount of boom and bust before you reach equilibrium."

Family had always been a strong point of the business and most of his children and their partners were involved in running it, he said.

"It's one of our strengths."

Only two other people have received the lifetime achievement award – Gerry Gregg, of Pernod Ricard, in 2007 followed posthumously by Ross Lawson in 2009.

The recipients are chosen by a committee and based on a set of criteria and nominations.