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Marlborough and Ningxia sign deal ... over a glass of wine by OLIVER LEWIS15/09/2017  

Marlborough Mayor John Leggett and Ningxia Governor Xian Hui sign a 'sister-region' agreement.

The leading wine-producing areas in New Zealand and China have joined forces and signed a sister-region agreement to share training and expertise.

Marlborough Mayor John Leggett signed the agreement with Ningxia Governor Xian Hui during a visit to the north-central Chinese region last week.

Leggett said the agreement would help Marlborough wine technology companies grow their exports to China, and encourage Chinese students to travel to Marlborough for education and training.

Ningxia is the fifth largest winegrowing region in the world, with its vineyard estate growing rapidly from about 3000 hectares in 2005 to about 40,000 hectares this year.

Marlborough is the largest winegrowing region in New Zealand, making up around three quarters of total production with a vineyard estate of about 25,000 hectares.

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," he said.

During the visit, the delegation visited the Pigeon Hill winery construction project where VinWizard, a Marlborough company, was installing temperature control technology for the winery's tanks.

"It's a good example of how the links we have begun building with Ningxia can help develop new opportunities for Marlborough's winemaking infrastructure," Leggett said.

The sister-region agreement followed on from a memorandum of understanding signed during a visit from a delegation of Ningxia authorities to Marlborough in April 2016.

Leggett said the Chinese region had plans to expand its vineyard estate to 66,000 hectares, something he said could lead to increased opportunities for Marlborough companies.

"Of course they want to look at what we're doing and see if it's something they can further develop on," he said

The agreement would also lead to cultural benefits, and Leggett said he hoped to see more Chinese students coming to study at secondary and tertiary level in Marlborough.