Vinpro Limited of Cromwell in Central Otago has grown with the region’s wine industry. In 2005, Central Otago had 82 wineries throughout its wide area, with 978 ha planted in vines for wine. Now the region has 132 wineries and 1979ha are planted in vines.
Vinpro has been operating as Charnwood Mobile bottling company. It operated throughout the wider South Island, bottling wine in Marlborough, Canterbury and Nelson as well as Central Otago. There was insufficient product in Central Otago for the company to operate in that region alone.
In 1994 Morley Hewitt, with an engineering background saw the potential of Charnwood. It was not progressing and needed someone with Hewitt’s engineering and business skills. He bought into the company and began to work in its operations. He is now the managing director of Vinpro, which is one of the larger employers in Cromwell and bottles most of the wine produced in Central Otago.
As the wine industry grew in Central Otago, so did Vinpro. The business grew to such an extent that before 2000, the company had reached capacity in its operations, which were by this time, centred on Central Otago. This resulted in the construction of another mobile bottling plant, but by 2000 this too had reached its operating capacity.
As a result of this, the company decided it needed a base and set one up in Cromwell in 2000. About this time the corporate structure was reviewed and Charnwood became Vinpro Limited. Several years later, in 2005, Aorangi Laboratories Limited, bought into the company and this injection of capital allowed Vinpro to enlarge its operations. This included the construction of a warehouse to ease chronic storage problems and the major step into contract winemaking.
The business received a further shot in arm with the appointment of Otago entrepreneurs Alan and Baird McConnon to the board along with Morley Hewitt and his brother Peter.
As the industry grew so did Vinpro and the word spread that the company’s services were not only of a high standard but were also very affordable. In 2008 another bottling line was installed at the Cromwell plant and this cost over one million dollars.
Still the demand has grown and at present Vinpro is in the throes of replacing the first bottling line it installed in 2000. This is a major capital expansion and will result in a significant increase of the current daily capacity for the plant. It will increase from 40,000 litres per day to 60,000 litres.
The equipment for this investment is coming from an Italian manufacturer and will be installed at Cromwell. A major factor in this investment is the greater flexibility for bottling the company can offer the region’s winegrowers. Quite often a grower has scheduled a time for processing but the grapes are not ready at that date or are more advanced than anticipated. The new equipment will assist in overcoming this problem.
While Central Otago harvests only 2.5 percent of the grapes grown in New Zealand for the wine industry, it has in recent years acquired an excellent reputation both domestically and in the export market for the quality of its wine, especially Pinot Noir. In 2014, a total of 10,540 tonnes of grapes was harvested in Central Otago for the wine industry and this amount is increasing rapidly.
The Central Otago gold rush of the 1860’s saw New Zealand’s biggest strike of gold which lead to a massive influx of prospectors looking for their fortune. At southern latitude 45° south, Central Otago vineyards form the world’s southernmost winemaking region. The vines are planted amongst spectacular alpine scenery and are the highest in New Zealand, with most vineyards located between 200 and 400 metres above sea level.
Grapes have been grown in Central Otago since 1864 when Frenchman John Desire Feradu took money made from the Dunstan gold rush and set up his own winery. Using experience gained from his winemaking family in Europe he won prestigious competitions in Sydney and Melbourne.
Although small, Central Otago is rapidly becoming a world-class wine region, with an international reputation for Pinot Noir and other varieties such as Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, and Riesling. With around 200 vineyards throughout the region, Central Otago has become one of the premier New World wine producing areas.
While it is a small operation, Vinpro has responded well to the demands of the consumer. While some customers still preferred corks or the standard screw caps, other now want an alternative.Recently, the company invested $100,000 in a new type of cap for wine as an alternative to cork or the standard screw cap.
This is the Stelvin LUX cap. When a bottle of wine is capped by this process, the cap and bottle display a smooth surface. There is a plastic internally threaded insert so there are no external thread marks.
At present Vinpro employs a staff of between 35 and 40, with extra workers brought in at the season’s peak. It supplies services to the local wine industry that cover bottling, winemaking, temperature-controlled warehousing and distribution. However, the company had not forgotten its roots and still operates a mobile bottling plant around the winegrowing regions of Canterbury. This operation is based in Amberley for the growing number of vineyards in North Canterbury. However, the mobile unit still travels to Central Otago as a number of long-term customers still prefer the on-winery bottling process.