The Buyer
New Zealand Debate: the opportunities and challenges

New Zealand Debate: the opportunities and challenges

New Zealand’s enormous success in the UK off-trade, where its Sauvignon Blanc has created a category of its own, has not always been reflected in how many of its wines are on premium on-trade wine lists. The Buyer teamed up with Villa Maria, and its UK partners, Hatch Mansfield, to ask a panel of leading UK buyers to set out the challenges and opportunities for New Zealand in the premium on-trade

Click here to read the full report on The Buyer’s New Zealand debate with Villa Maria and leading UK on-trade wine buyers.

Roka, Charlotte Street: All sitting comfortably…now we can begin

If you were putting together a wine list in the same way amanager might choose the best players for their football or rugby team, then New Zealand would be one of the first countries on the list. With Sauvignon Blanc doubling up as the best performing wine from that country.

Which on paper all sounds very good. But beyond a Sauvignon Blanc, and perhaps a Pinot Noir if the manager was looking for a bit of “flair”, then New Zealand often struggles to get any names on the team sheet.

Which despite all its success in the UK is a worry for both New Zealand producers and their importers aware of how much talent it has which is not even getting a chance to get in thedressing room never mind on to the playing pitch.

To help address where major UK on-trade buyers now perceive New Zealand, The Buyer teamed up with Villa Maria, its founder, Sir George Fistonich, and its UK partner and distributor, Hatch Mansfield, to get under the bonnet of their wine buying decisions at a special debate hosted by Roka, Charlotte Street.

The full findings from the debate are published in a specially produced downloadable PDF report. It includes the thoughts of Sir George along with a panel of leading on-trade buyers, suppliers and independent merchants.

The panel included:

  • Simon Jerrome, head of wine buying for Conviviality Trading, which includes Matthew Clark, one of Villa Maria’s key routes to the on-trade.
  • Thor Gudmundsson, co-founder of the Wine Rooms, with three outlets in Brackenbury, Kensington and Fulham.
  • Melanie Brown, founder of The New Zealand Cellar in Brixton
  • Ben Van der Meutter, wine buyer and head sommelier at Shepherd Market Wine House.
  • Chris Stroud, European marketing manager for New Zealand Winegrowers
  • Sir George Fistonich, founder of Villa Maria
  • Paul Raper, Villa Maria’s UK, Ireland and Middle market manager
  • Patrick McGrath MW, managing director, Villa Maria
  • Fiona Mottershaw, Villa Maria brand manager at Hatch Mansfield

Facing up to new challenges

Together they were able to share their experiences of New Zealand wine in their own areas, and what they saw as the big successes, the opportunities and the challenges facing the country in the years ahead.

Plotting a road map for any country is very difficult, but Sir George Fistonich is arguably better placed than anyone to look in the future for New Zealand wine.

He was quite clear. Its big challenge now was to build on the enormous success it has had with Sauvignon Blanc, in particular, and Pinot Noir, and now look to widen the scope of both varieties by introducing different, more nuanced styles from different regions.

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.

He is particularly confident about the UK as there is so much more of its SauvignonBlanc and Pinot Noir offer that the UK has not seen yet. 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, he stressed.

Site specific wines

The Wine Rooms’ Thor Gudmonndson would like to see more site specific wines

That would be an area of great interest to premium on-trade buyers, said Thor Gudmondssen, co-founder of The Wine Rooms. He 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.

Patrick McGrath MW, managing director of Hatch Mansfield was particularly excited about the potential still with Pinot Noir. It New Zealand, he argued can get it “right” with Pinot Noir then the “opportunity is massive”.

Melanie Brown’s experience of running a New Zealand only wine merchants business, makes her believe the country can risk being as adventurous as it wants. She said she has a strong loyal consumer base that is quite willing to pay far higher than average prices for more left field Kiwi wines. She has seen particularly strong interest in aromatic wines from New Zealand her Riesling sales are strong.

Melanie Brown sets out her case for New Zealand wine with Villa Maria’s Sir George Fistonich

You can read the full comments from the buyers in our main report.

But the key findings from the debate were:

* the role of Sauvignon Blanc. How does the New Zealand look after and grow its biggest asset.

• the strong opportunity that now exists for Spanish white grape varieties, most notably Albariño

• the growing interest in and demand for Pinot Gris

• how the UK on-trade now needs a more focused channel specific strategy to tell a different New Zealand story that is currently being heard

• the opportunity for more New Zealand icon wines to gain a stronger foothold

• the role of Pinot Noir and the opportunity for producers to highlight the diversity and regionality that is now playing its part in New Zealand

• the emergence of more regions with strong winemaking credentials like Nelson

• how on-trade buyers are increasingly looking for more site specific, terroir-driven wines from New Zealand

how sustainability and organic winemaking could be more of a calling card for the country in the future.