HISTORIC MOMENT: Member for Mildura Peter Crisp, Weilong winery’s general manager of Australian operations, Bruno Zappia, Mildura Councillor Glenn Milne, Weilong Winery’s managing director, Wang Zhenhai, and Member for Mallee Andrew Broad help mark the turning of the first ‘sod’ at the site of a new $110million winery to be developed in Red Cliffs. Photo: PAUL MENSCH

By JOHN DOOLEY

WEILONG Wines Australia held a ceremony today (November 9) to mark the turning of the first ‘sod’ at the site of a new $110million winery to be developed on the company’s Treviso Way property, near Red Cliffs.

The winery will be built in multiple stages, with the first stage earmarked for completion by vintage 2019. It will have a yield of 26,000 tonnes and cost $45million.

The final stage is set to yield 84,000 tonnes, and at its peak, the operation is expected to employ 100 permanents and 100 casuals.

Weilong Wines general manager of Australian operations, Bruno Zappia, said the project was a multi-millon dollar investment in the Sunraysia district that would deliver multiple benefits to the region.

“It’s a very significant project being undertaken by a Chinese company which has the confidence in the district to invest tens of millions of dollars in a brand new winery and vineyards, which once fully developed, will become a big employer of local people,” he said.

Mr Zappia said he had been working with the company for 11 years and convinced them that Mildura was the ideal place for the new winery.

“They decided my home town was the best place for the winery, given the majority of the wine sold in China is produced in this region, and so the company wanted to be here and have made a big commitment to establish a long-term investment,” he said.

Mr Zappia welcomed everyone to the soil-turning ceremony, especially Weilong managing director Wang Zhenhai, and said the project, which has been five years in the making, had been made possible with the support of local people who can now see their hard work coming to fruition.

Weilong’s managing director, Wang Zhenhai, said he was greatly appreciative of the opportunity Mildura has provided his company to establish their winery in the district.

“This is a historic moment for our company and we are very proud of our $110million investment in your region, which symbolises the ever-growing business connections between Australia and China which are becoming closer and closer, especially since the introduction of the Free Trade Agreement (FTA),” he said.

Weilong is the third largest wine company in China, and crushed about 20,000 tonnes of grapes from the Mildura district in 2017, most of which was processed in local wineries.

To supply the ever-increasing demand for Australian wine in China, Weilong also bought another 15 million litres of bulk wine from local wineries, all of which was exported to their Chinese headquarters, where it will be bottled and sold into the Chinese marketplace via Weilong’s sales distribution network.

Mildura Councillor Glenn Milne, who has had a close association with the lead up to the project, joined a gathering of more than 60 stakeholders, politicians, invited guests and the Chinese delegation from the Weilong headed up by the company’s managing director, Wang Zhenhai.

“I think this project heralds a turning point for the wine industry, eventually providing 200 jobs – 60 during stage one – and when it is at full operational capacity it will represent an investment in our region approaching $200million,” Cr Milne said.

“This is a big winery, it will be as big as Lindemans and eventually will fill the void their departure created and hopefully secures the future of our wine grape growers.”

Member for Mildura Peter Crisp also played a pivotal role in ensuring the permits to develop the site were issued, something that was acknowledged by the company at the launch.

“It’s reassuring for the wine industry to have this confidence about the future, the industry has been through a very difficult period and now with the establishment of a new winery, that signals a return to better times and hopefully better prices,” Mr Crisp said.

Member for Mallee Andrew Broad said the investment was an extension of the FTA his government had established with Korea, China and Japan, and has been the catalyst which has allowed business to business contacts to flourish.

“There are a lot of people in China who want to consume the products we produce. We produce great wine, we have a reputation for producing healthy, clean, environmentally-friendly wine, and now they will have even more opportunity to drink more of it,” he said.

“The potential for investment in this region in table grapes, almonds and dried fruit has opened up enormously with the advent of the FTA, and it all translates into jobs for locals and more economic activity.”

Already a big player in our region, Weilong owns about 600 hectares of vineyards in Mildura, which were purchased at a cost of about $15million, and they have plans to develop a further 600 hectares on land they own.

Under the FTA, tariffs on wine exports into China will drop to zero by 2019, which will see further proliferation of wine sales into China and other markets.