New Zealand wine: A vintage vintage

The European director sees it as three vintages which have threatened NZ’s premium price proposition. In a tight, supportive industry, apparently NZWG chief executive Philip Gregan had to talk to growers and producers about bringing down their yields, dropping grapes on the ground or leaving them on the vine rather than spilling over the crucial 10 tonnes per hectare. Sounds like something between benignly recounting the facts of commercial life and reading a riot act.

On the vintage, Gregan pronounces: “The 2012 vintage is similar in size to 2010, but given sales growth in the past two years the reduced crop will introduce a new tension to the sectors’ supply/demand balance. As a result it is clear focus in the next year will be on value rather than volume growth.”

Having dwelt on vintages, Graham Nash, wine buyer for British-based global multiple retailer Tesco, points out that if it was not for the 2008 vintage, which saw substantial price cutting on NZ’s flagship variety, Sauvignon Blanc, many consumers who purely buy on price might not have appreciated the delights of zesty, grassy Kiwi Sauvignons. 

Nash’s pragmatic point is that, despite the emergence of other varieties, NZ “cannot get away from Sauvignon Blanc” and if it is expensive and possibly scarce as a result, consumers will not buy it or try it and that does not necessarily bode well for the future.

Yealands says: “The supply/demand ratio has been coming back into balance over the past two years, and demand has been growing fast. The unseasonal weather over this vintage has impacted on production by, on average, about 30%, and more so on the Pinot varieties. This has already pushed prices up to a more realistic and sustainable level, firstly for grapes and now for wine. 

“NZ wineries are already having to allocate wine and, unfortunately, the situation will not get any better going forward as there has been no new vineyard development since 2008 and all the existing vines are now fully producing,” says Yealands.

Cooler conditions

The heartland of NZ wine is Marlborough at the top of South Island and the brand that dominates and accounts for the lion’s share of NZ total exports is Brancott Estate, formerly Montana in many markets, and specifically its Sauvignon Blanc.

Pernod’s Robertson says the cooler, wet conditions during flowering and fruit set have led to a lighter vintage but ripeness and flavour were achieved. Brancott, which claims to be the “original Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc”, started around 1979. The vines are maturing and the winemakers become more knowlegeable and experienced with every vintage. The result is that winemaking and styles are evolving.

Robertson boasts “a full suite of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, from sparkling to late harvest dessert wine”.

He says: “One of the most exciting new varieties coming out of New Zealand is Sauvignon Gris. Its ability to produce a unique new world wine style is exciting. We will see exponential growth for this variety in our export markets in the next couple of years.”

While Central Otago at the far southern end of South Island tends to get the plaudits for its world class – and therefore expensive Pinot Noirs – it is Marlborough that accounts for 52% of NZ’s total Pinot production.