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Jul 10, 2012

 The past 15 years have seen major changes in the size and shape of our wine industry.

Cast your mind back to when screwcaps on wine were a rare sight; there was more Chardonnay in our vineyards than Sauvignon Blanc and just over a dozen wineries down in Central Otago. How things have changed, with the past 15 years witnessing the most radical transformation of New Zealand's wine industry in its entire history.

Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir may be the undisputed flagship white and red varieties in New Zealand today, but 15 years ago our vineyards harked back to an era when the country was still getting to grips with what it could grow best.

Chardonnay was our most widely planted variety, although Sauvignon Blanc was hot on its heels and just hectares away from pole position. Now it's 12,000 hectares ahead of any other variety and has grown by over 1000 per cent. It was also a time when we had more mundane Muller-Thurgau in the ground than prize-winning Pinot Noir, while Cabernet Sauvignon was our number one red.

It has been a period when New Zealand wine has really started to be taken seriously.

In 1997 we shipped 25 per cent of our wine overseas, while today it's 75 per cent, and worth $1.2 billion, becoming a major export industry.

As well as this success encouraging local wineries to proliferate - from 262 to 698 in this time - it also whetted the appetite for international investors. This saw some of New Zealand largest labels, such as Montana, Selaks, Nobilo and Matua Valley, gobbled up by global drinks conglomerates.

There's also been a green revolution in the vineyards with the commercial introduction of Sustainable Winegrowing New Zealand in 1997. Now encompassing more than 95 per cent of the country's vineyard area, SWNZ has helped drastically cut chemicals used on our vines and inspired a growing number to join the ranks of our rapidly increasing organic wine movement.

We're drinking more wine now, with a per capita increase of 50 per cent in the past 15 years. And we're drinking more of our own labels, assisted by a five-fold increase in our wine production, the fact that we now produce world class reds as well as whites and that these have largely never tasted so good!

* In 1997 there were 262 wineries, this has grown to 698 in 2012.
* 1997 saw the wine industry with 8455 hectares of vines. This has rocketed to 33,600 hectares in 2012.
* The value of wine exports in 1997 stood at $75.9m. The value in 2012 is now at $2.1bn.