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Marlborough Mayor takes trip to China to sign sister-city agreement by JENNIFER EDER30/08/2017  

New Zealand's largest winemaking region is about to cement a sister-city agreement with Chinese winemaking region Ningxia.

Marlborough Mayor John Leggett and representatives from Marlborough's Sister City Committee will finalise the deal in a visit next week.

Ningxia, in north-central China, is the fifth largest winegrowing region internationally, while Marlborough produces 80 per cent of New Zealand's wine exports.


Marlborough Boys' College principal Wayne Hegarty with Marlborough Mayor Alistair Sowman, and the principal 

of a school in Ningxia on an earlier visit. (File photo)

Marlborough Mayor John Leggett said he saw similarities between where Ningxia was now and where Marlborough was 30 years ago, when grapes were a relatively new crop.

"They recognise that Marlborough is now one of the world's leading wine regions and that a great deal of knowledge and expertise resides here."

The sister-city agreement comes after several exchange visits between the regions over the last 18 months, intended to create education and wine industry opportunities for the regions.

So far, the visits have led to a Ningxia winemaker spending a vintage in Marlborough, a group of Ningxia students visiting Marlborough Girls' College and Marlborough Boys' College, and six more enrolling in a viticulture and winemaking degree at Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology.

Some Marlborough wine technology businesses have secured contracts with Chinese customers.

Former mayor Alistair Sowman and Ningxia People's Congress vice chairman Wang Ru'gui in Marlborough last year.

Former Marlborough Mayor Alistair Sowman signed a memorandum of understanding with Ningxia last year.

Leggett said the next step was to formalise the relationship with a region-to-region agreement.

"We've been through the preliminary steps and now we have an understanding of what each region hopes to achieve from this relationship," he said.

The sister-region relationship was a great opportunity to expand the education and training delivered through Marlborough's secondary schools and tertiary institute, he said.

Committee members Alistair Sowman, Lily Stuart and Cathie Bell would accompany Leggett on the trip, which would run from Sunday to September 10.

They would be joined by winemakers Richard O'Donnell and Dave Tyney, who worked as a winemaking consultant in Ningxia for part of the year, and Ningxia-based education agent Kiki Chenshu.

Leggett's partner Anne Best would join the visit at her own expense.

Leggett was also president of the Marlborough District Brass Band, and would be an official guest at the opening ceremony of the Shanghai Tourism Festival, where the band was invited to perform.

Leggett said he was particularly pleased the business trip coincided with the Marlborough District Brass Band's international exposure.

"It's a great accolade for our brass band to be selected for this event. I sometimes wonder if Marlborough people realise the premiere status of our brass musicians.

"This event draws about 10 million people over the course of a week, and the Marlborough brass band members are the only New Zealanders who will be giving a performance, so I will be very proud to be there to support them."