"We want to develop the best products in the world," enthused Pierre Ergas of Chateau Raphael at Springlands Blenheim. The retired french businessman and EEC diplomat has travelled in 70 countries over 25 years, and has experienced first hand the effects of pollution and population pressures on the environment. He is developing an organic line of products because, "what the planet is missing most are liquids; besides food, it is good clean liquids."
Two years ago, Pierre and his family moved to the Marlborough region and initially bought an apple orchard to develop a line of pure organic juice. Currently with C1 BioGro status, he is against the use of chemicals, using instead only natural materials such as seaweed and lime. They are also developing biological controls with the assistance of Andreas Welte of Motueka.
Avoiding the use of concentrates in the juice manufacturing, they have developed 'Organic Dew' apple juice which is shipped fresh and marketed worldwide to 22 countries, 15% to the US and 85% elsewhere from India to France. "New Zealand cannot compete with certain countries in quantity, but it can compete in quality and quality is what I want to develop, and help make New Zealand famous for its high quality product."
Last year they built a winery capable of producing fine wine and 2 million litres of apple juice from their own property. It is because they wish to maximise the winery's use that they also process fruit juices and vinegars. Besides apples they are investigating the use of pears, berries and cherries. They produced their first 'millenium' organic wine vintage last year, and last week they were busy processing organic merlot grapes from the Awatere valley.
"We are mainly in the export market but New Zealanders are enjoying the products too and you will see more on the shelves here soon," Pierre said.
Chateau Raphael is also involved with the mineral water project in Golden Bay, for which a complete proposal is due to go to necessary councils in the next month. They are proposing to export water that, "is certainly as good as Evian in France." The substantial $20 million investment would see 600,000 litres per day of some of the purest water on earth, exported from Nelson and Takaka ports. The proposed bottling plant is currently being developed in Italy and South Africa. The high quality stainless steel automated system eliminates human and air contact with the liquid until it has been safely sealed in glass bottles.
"We would only use glass, no plastics; everything is recyclable with all waste able to be safely disposed of or recycled," Pierre explained. "It is a long term project that takes a lot of investment. For the region it will mean good economic growth bringing work for the people. It will bring a lot of business to the whole region."
Pierre is very passionate about his new home, saying it is still a very clean country and he wants to help keep it clean, avoiding the mistakes he has seen overseas. "I literally love your area, it's fantastic for hiking and tramping - I'm often in the Abel Tasman park. This is a unique area of the world and one of the nicest, in my opinion."