New Zealand Winegrowers has hailed the decision to plant grapes in Marlborough as the “single most important event in the history of the New Zealand wine industry” as the region prepares to celebrate its 40th anniversary.

On August 24, 1973, Brancott Estate planted the first vines in Brancott Valley, marking the beginning of an international success story.

Forty years on and Brancott Estate is part of the Pernod Ricard portfolio and distributed across the UK, and Marlborough is an internationally acclaimed brand. Patrick Materman, chief winemaker at Brancott Estate, said: “At the time, the founder of what is now Brancott Estate [it was formerly called Montana], Frank Yukich, made the statement that ‘wines from here will become world-famous’ – and indeed they have.”

New Zealand Winegrowers said Marlborough’s high sunshine, low rainfall and free draining soil were the driving factors in the decision to plant vines in the region, and although many thought the pioneers were crazy, the risk paid off.

“Fast forward 40 years and Marlborough is now a world brand,” said Philip Gregan, CEO of New Zealand Winegrowers. “Planting those vines was probably the single most important event in the history of the New Zealand wine industry.”

With 23,232 hectares of land planted with grapes, Marlborough is the largest wine-producing region in New Zealand and makes up 75% of the country’s total production. Wine exports from the region are now valued at £577 million a year.

New Zealand wine sales are worth £315 million to the UK off-trade (Nielsen, year to May 25).

While the region is famous for Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand winegrowers said it has high hopes for Chardonnay, Riesling and Pinot Noir now coming from the region.