New school | Marlborough-Ningxia viticulture degree proposed

A joint viticulture degree by schools in Marlborough and Ningxia is in the works. From a Marlborough Research Center post this month:

“Our proposal is to deliver the NMIT [Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology] Bachelor of Viticulture and Wine in partnership with the Ningxia University – one third taught on site in China by their staff, one third taught in China by our NMIT staff, and the final third taught on the NMIT Campus in Blenheim.”

Under the proposal, the first instructors from New Zealand would go to Ningxia this September — though that would be dependent on the COVID-19 situation — while the students would head to Marlborough in 2024.

The proposal is being presented to China’s Ministry of Education, with support from Ningxia University, NMIT and Marlborough’s Mayor’s Office, states the report.

Past collaborations

Marlborough and Ningxia are no strangers, whether it is in terms of wine study tours, equipment sales or consulting by New Zealand-based winemakers.

The current viticulture degree plan, for example, is rooted in late 2019 when a pair of student groups from Ningxia participated in study tours of Marlborough.

Prior to that, in 2017, Marlborough and Ningxia signed a “sister region” agreement “based on a mutual economic partnership, through wine consultancy, wine technology and education,” per a Marlborough District Council fact sheet.(This was preceded by the two sides signing a memorandum of understanding in 2016 when a Ningxia delegation visited Marlborough.)

Ningxia popped up on the Council’s radar a few years before that when an Australian winemaker based in Marlborough, Dave Tyney, won the inaugural Ningxia Winemakers Challenge. (That contest also featured New Zealand-based winemaker Patricia Miranda Taylor from Chile. See photo of the contestants above.)

“Since then, Marlborough winemakers have been travelling to Ningxia each year to assist with the vintage; in 2018, nine Marlborough winemakers worked in Ningxia wineries,” adds the fact sheet. (That presence also included numerous winemakers based in New Zealand, including in Marlborough, among the 48 candidates in the second Ningxia Winemakers Challenge from 2015 to 2017.)

Xige Estate aka Pigeon Hill in Ningxia

Equipment sales

Also noted in the fact sheet: Tyney’s company Viscosity secured a winery management contract with the Ningxia wine authorities while Marlborough’s VinWizard installed equipment in two Chinese wineries, including Xige Estate, a sprawling winery described as having aspirations of being a kind of Penfolds of China. Marlborough Mayor John Leggett attended the official opening of Xige Estate in 2017.

Leggett also signed the “sister region” agreement with Ningxia governor Xian Hui during a visit in 2017

An article in the New Zealand media addressed concerns that Marlborough was engaged with a quickly growing wine region that might become its competition.

“The Ningxia climate was more suited to growing red wine varieties such as cabernet sauvignon, so Leggett said it would not be in competition with Marlborough sauvignon blanc. ‘But Marlborough has expertise, high-quality processes and standards, a strong environmental reputation and advanced oenological research which would all be of interest to China’s viticulture sector, [Leggett] said.”

(I guess that Cabernet would be more of a potential competitor for New Zealand’s Hawke’s Bay.)

In any case, a viticulture degree program would be a further step in the relationship between the two sides, one that has already — in terms of education — seen some Ningxia students complete viticulture and winemaking degrees at NMIT or do study tours.

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