Research to ensure the long-term future on world markets of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc will be the initial focus of the Marlborough Wine Research Centre opened in Blenheim late last week.

Ivan Sutherland, chairman of the centre's board, said: "The establishment of this centre is part of that growth, part of the industry's evolution and will be part of our further recognition in the international market place."

The Minister of Economic Development, Jim Anderton, who was instrumental in securing NZ$2m government funding to build the centre, officially opened it.

Anderton described the centre, which is on the campus of the Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology (NMIT), as "a stake in the ground" for enhancing New Zealand wine creativity and research capabilities. It would set the benchmark for research not only in New Zealand, but also internationally.

"We have to do better, we have to be smarter in our use of technology, creativity etc - and that's what this centre will allow us to do. Its pay-off won't be next week or next year, it will be in 10, 15 or 20 years."

The centre's establishment complements a two-year Diploma in Viticulture course that has been available at the NMIT since 1996 and a three-year Degree in Viticulture and Oenology course that began there in 2002. The latter is a joint venture between the NMIT and Lincoln University.

Both the degree course and the research centre are the result of concern expressed several years ago about the number of young rugby players leaving the district because of a lack of tertiary study opportunities.

The centre is a collaborative effort involving the Marlborough Research Centre Trust (which owns it), the Marlborough District Council, Marlborough Regional Development Trust, the Marlborough and New Zealand wine industry, HortResearch, the NMIT and Lincoln University, each of which contributed funding and/or management/staff services to its operation. The wine industry has pledged NZ$300,000 per annum for five years for operating costs.