If I were to mention New Zealand wine it is pretty much inevitable that Sauvignon Blanc would be the first thought that is conjured up in your mind before venturing off towards Pinot Noir. Not only would your thoughts be about Sauvignon it is likely that flavours of passion fruit, ripe melon and grapefruit would be prominent. It is no surprise that Sauvignon has gained this reputation as it accounts for 2/3rds of the wines produced here and the world had fallen in love with it.
The publics perception of New Zealand wines can suffer from this one dimensional aspect at times, so a collective decision about the countries future direction might be need to be made. This is important as around 2/3rds of the countries wines are exported so formulating a long term plan is essential. Given the space accorded to NZ wines by retailers it would be easy to have the impression that winemaking here is significantly larger than it actually is. In reality the area under vine is equal to that of just Champagne with 84,000 acres so relatively small and to a certain extent it is still finding itself.
What path should the country take to ensure continued global growth? There are essentially three options available to them :-Regionality, grape varietals or premium wines. Or of course a mixture of all three. I attended a debate on this at BAFTA with Sir George Fistonich, Peter McCombie MW, Rebecca Gibb MW and Joe Wadsack recently and came away with the following thoughts:-
I believe that this is a tough sell. Marlborough is strongly associated with Sauvignon Blanc but beyond this other regions are far less known. People are drawn to a Marlborough Sauvignon as it is relatively predictable and consistent which provides reassurance that any given bottle will be enjoyable but how do you emulate this with other regions? Do you promote via varietal or the region as a whole? Is there significant regional difference between Auckland and Gisborne Chardonnay for example that the public can distinguish between?
Lets look at the main winemaking regions and identify what is grows particularly well in them :-
Northland – Chardonnay, Viognier, Cabernet, Pinotage, Syrah
Auckland – Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Syrah, Bordeaux Varietals
Waikato – Chardonnay and Cabernet
Gisborne – Chardonnay and Pinot Gris but they do experiment with new varieties here.
Hawke’s Bay – Bordeaux Blends, Syrah and Chardonnay
Nelson – Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Sauvignon but good with other aromatic varietals as well.
Wairarapa – Pinot Noir, Sauvignon, Dessert wines
Marlborough – Sauvignon, Pinot Noir
Canterbury and Waitara Valley – Riesling, Pinot Noir
Central Otago – Pinot Noir, Riesling
We can determine from above that certain varietals do well across a number of regions so can argue that customers may be persuaded to try a Sauvignon from Nelson if a currently drinking ones made in Marlborough. I think this would need a huge marketing budget which may not be viable. How can a national agency promote regions equally when there is a large discrepancy between the availability of wines from each region and the size (and therefore money generated) of them? What is fair to all regions? To make this a success they would have to identify specifics about each region and how they differ from one another and promote this differences.
I like to drink premium wines. Invariably they are more complex, more interesting and have a multitude of layers. It is the finest expression of a winery or wine maker. They offer the promise of intellectual debate and transport a wine to a level where you may wish to discuss its various attributes in addition to the enjoyment of it. But this level is very much directed towards the wine enthusiast and not the standard wine drinker. They will be actively sought out and not a random purchase so seems a little pointless in strongly promoting this as a way forward. The largest majority of those currently enjoying NZ wines would be priced out of the market. Purchasers of premium wines may go to a lower price point in recessionary times. The market would decrease substantially and discounting would be hard to recover from. The premium sector is a niche one so not one that the country should promote as a whole.
Sauvignon has proved that this works. Excluding France/Italy/Spain people seek out and purchase by grape varietal and NZ is renowned the world over for its Sauvignon Blanc so a strong contender for marketing based on varietal. It quite simply works and is universally understood. It allows all regions to benefit and explore laterally not only via variety but region. Pinot Noir can be exceptional and excels here due to the cool climate (which can be the envy of Australian wine makers) and Riesling has proved itself along with aromatic varietals ordinarily associated with the Rhone Valley. For me promoting by Variety and the by regionality is the common sense option with premium wines being marketed within these independently by the wineries.
What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.