Nika Tiki is a Lanchester Wines best-seller, a flagship Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc that’s a firm favourite with the on-trade and its customers. So Lanchester’s director of purchasing, Lesley Cook, was facing a potential crisis when it became apparent that Marlborough’s 2021 vintage was going to have incredibly small yields. To make matters worse, such was the popularity of the previous vintage that there was nothing left from 2020. Add in a sharp increase in shipping costs and it looked like the perfect storm. Here, Cook tells David Kermode how she needed to work fast, to secure an alternative supply from South Africa, creating a new wine, Moloko Bay, that replicates the characteristics of Nika Tiki, without replacing it.
Every year brings fresh challenges to wine buyers as they roam the world looking for the right sources of wine for their needs based on global wine harvests. In 2021 that means Lanchester Wines‘ Lesley Cook has had to act fast to cope with the shortage of New Zealand wine.
What’s the challenge this year, when it comes to Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc?
The challenge for us at Lanchester Wines is that we would normally buy around 1 million litres of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc a year, plus around 200,000 to 250,000 litres of non-Marlborough Sauvignon from areas like Nelson and Martinborough. This fills our range of Sauvignon Blancs, including Nika Tiki and our own-label brands for on and off-trade customers. The vintage was excellent for quality, but the yields were incredibly low due to the early spring frosts. So, there’s high demand and very low supply, plus there’s a lack of residual stock left from previous vintages which might otherwise be blended in.
We have had a good relationship with New Zealand for a long time but none of my contacts there could find wine available in bulk, which wasn’t astronomically priced, and that seems to be echoed across the wine trade. Some of the bigger wine companies paid in advance for grapes when they were just budding, because they knew their own estate production was going to be too low to supply their own brands. Those branded wines that are bottled in New Zealand are going to shoot up in price, unfortunately, because the producers have no choice.
Presumably you have to be very sensitive to your customers’ requirements on price?
Yes, definitely. If we had managed to source bulk wine from Marlborough, the price was going to be around 25% higher than previous vintages. Plus shipping and processing costs have risen by around 7% this year because of the pandemic, so the price to the on-trade consumer (on the wine list) could have been as much as £6 to £7 per bottle more for the same wine.
Although we have faced increased costs across the business, we really want to avoid passing those on to our customers, as we’re well aware that they are only just reopening for business and also facing a rise in costs themselves. We have a loyal customer base and we have to find a solution that works for everyone.
When did you first realise that you were facing a potential shortage?
It was in November, when the frosts hit, that I realised we would have an issue, though I didn’t think the problem would be this big, with a complete lack of availability. I have good contacts in Marlborough, so I knew there was also no residual wine left from the ’20 vintage, so I started to work on a plan.
What did you decide to do?
It was paramount that we got exactly what we wanted, before everyone else started looking elsewhere for their supply too. My first thought was to go to South Africa as I thought it was best placed to replicate the style we were after, so I sent bottles of Nika Tiki to South Africa in January for analysis, so that the wineries could try to match it. It was a slow process as due to Covid 19, there were issues with shipping and delivery. Several samples later, we got to the blend that I wanted, so there’s been a lot of work done at both ends to get it right. We’re not replacing Nika Tiki, because that will always be a dedicated Marlborough brand, but we needed to find something to replicate it in the portfolio, to help our customers satisfy their own customers. I knew the moment I opened the final sample that we had cracked it and we’re excited to launch our first wine next month in our new Moloko Bay label.
Why choose South Africa?
I felt it would be able to provide the style and quality we were after at the right price and we have good connections there so I knew exactly who to go to. South Africa has had a really tough time over the last year or so, with domestic alcohol bans and even exports being stopped at one point, so it was important to support the country and hopefully New Zealand’s loss is going to be South Africa’s gain this year. In now feels even more pertinent, as our friends there are facing another domestic ban on alcohol sales, so it really is imperative that we do everything we can to help.
Nika Tiki is your most popular wine, so how do you describe the character that makes it such a success?
Nika Tiki is really approachable, the aroma is amazing as you open the bottle, with lemon, lime and gooseberry, it’s just delicious and it’s very consumer friendly.
How are you going to communicate the change, with a new wine in the market to fill the gap left by Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc?
We’re sending out samples of Moloko Bay to our customers, so they can taste it for themselves. Our sales team are spreading the word that we have the perfect wine to replicate the winning style of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. We have already had some fantastic feedback and some of our biggest customers have already placed big orders which is a great vote of confidence.
To make it a success, I think a lot depends on helping customers and consumers, directing them to a really good alternative that’s similar but also new and different.
Do you have other wines in the portfolio that might also be an option?
We do, yes. We have a number of Chilean Sauvignon Blancs within our Otra Tierra, Altaria and Founders Stone on- trade ranges. And, also within our Ventopuro Single Vineyard and Reserva ranges, which are produced by renowned Matetic, demonstrating the tremendous diversity of terroirs within the wine growing valleys of the San Antonio and Casablanca appellations.
Have your peers in the wine trade been suffering similar issues?
Yes, they have, we’re all in the same boat. Each year brings its challenges – there’s no such thing as a perfect year. But this has been very challenging personally and I have had a few sleepless nights, as it’s a really important wine for the business and for our customers.
So, is Moloko Bay just a temporary wine?
No, not at all. Next year, fingers crossed, we’ll welcome Marlborough Sauvignon back, assuming we can secure supply, but we shall still have Moloko Bay as it looks like it’s going to do really well and we are 100% committed to it, longer term.
When we will see the first bottles of the new wine?
The first tank is arriving in the UK imminently, we have the wonderful design for the labels signed off, so hopefully the bottling lines will be in action soon and it should be available to the first customers at the very start of August.
Nika Tiki is a personal favourite of yours, so has Moloko Bay earned a place in your fridge door?
Oh yes, it’s definitely good enough for my fridge. If it wasn’t, I wouldn’t buy it.
- Lanchester Wines is a partner of The Buyer. You can find out more about what they can offer the trade here.