New Zealand is very much at a crossroads in its young life as a major wine producing country. To assess its position today and its potential for the future The Buyer teamed up with Villa Maria and a panel of leading buyers and influencers across the on-trade for our latest trade debate.
Leading on-trade buyers put New Zealand under the microscope as The Buyer teams up with Sir George Fistonich and Villa Maria to look at the challenges and opportunities ahead.
If you could put all the New World wine countries around a gambling table then New Zealand would be the one faced with the hardest decision over whether to stick or twist.
Does it play safe and put all its power behind what has brought it overwhelming success on the international stage. Namely Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir. As good a strike partnership as Lennon & McCartney.
Or does it twist and look to branch out, explore different varietals and risk losing what made it famous and popular in the first place. Ending up with a Wings double album only the hardiest fans want to buy.
That was the central agenda at the heart of this week’s trade debate organised by The Buyer with leading New Zealand producer, Villa Maria, and key buyers and decision makers across the on-trade.
The panel’s challenge was to assess how far New Zealand has come, in its relatively short life as a major wine producing nation, and what direction it should go in the future.
Who better than to guide the conversation than Sir George Fistonich, the self-taught winemaker who has arguably done as much, if not more, to champion New Zealand wine around the world.
Playing the right ball
For Sir George it is about applying the right strategy for the right export market as New Zealand has to listen closely to what approach will work best where.
For the UK he believes there is certainly plenty of life in Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir. The UK has arguably, he said, not seen the best out of both varieties. Developments in viticulture and winemaking practices mean there will be very different styles of Sauvignon Blanc, in particular, and Pinot Noir, coming out of the country to keep both varieties fresh, interesting and different for many years to come.
Simon Jerrome, purchasing director for Matthew Clark, which has had a long-standing distribution partnership with Villa Maria in the UK, believed strongly that New Zealand needs to tread very carefully and not take its eyes off the ball when it comes to Sauvignon Blanc in particular. There are plenty of countries in the wings desperate to take New Zealand’s crown if it slips, he warned.
But if it does then it is very well placed to take on Spain’s regional white wine varieties. Particularly Albarino, Verdejo and Godello, stressed Jerrome.
Chris Stroud, European marketing manager for New Zealand Growers, said there is also a lot of exciting work being done with Pinot Gris with New Zealand showing it can make a number of different styles with good regional variety.
But for New Zealander Melanie Brown, who set up her dedicated wine merchants for New Zealand wine, the New Zealand Cellar, in Brixton two years ago, the country can risk being as adventurous as it wants. There is now a strong, knowledgeable consumer base for New Zealand wine willing to spend much higher than average on more left field Kiwi wines. She has seen particularly strong interest in aromatic wines from New Zealand her Riesling sales are strong.
She also believes quality Chardonnay is a good direction or New Zealand to push. “Our Chardonnay selection is about the same size as our Sauvignon Blanc one and attracting a high price point,” she said.
Thor Gudmondssen, co-founder of The Wine Rooms, with three outlets in west London, believes the interest for him and his peers in the on-trade is how New Zealand progresses in developing more site specific, terroir driven wines, that can really give him a point of difference when listing wines and recommending something different to his customers.
The debate also looked closely at the future of Pinot Noir from New Zealand, which potentially has a very exciting future with all the panellists confident it can grow and grow. Patrick McGrath MW, managing director of Hatch Mansfield and Villa Maria’s UK partner, said if New Zealand can get it “right” with Pinot Noir then the “opportunity is massive”. But he also cautioned that Chile was making big strides and with its price point and commercial push could prove a strong competitor down the line.
Ben van de Meutter, wine buyer, manager and sommelier at the Shepherd Market Wine House, sympathised with New Zealand’s position as there was a danger the UK white wine scene was becoming dominated by Sauvignon Blanc and becoming boring as a result. Caution was needed, he said, in how New Zealand went forward with the variety and its overall position in the eyes of sommeliers.
The key initial takeaways from the buyers’ debate were:
- the strong opportunity that exists for Albarino and Spanish whites
- growing interest and demand in Pinot Gris
- a more focused channel specific strategy to tell a different New Zealand story for areas of the on-trade
- the gap and opportunity for more icon wines from New Zealand
- the role of Pinot Noir and opportunity to see more diversity and regionality
- how sustainability, and organic winemaking could be more of a calling card in the future.