Marlborough on a mission

Another benefit is that, unlike other regions, Marlborough can produce decent Pinot Noir cheaply, even though cheap Pinot isn’t always good. So decent, affordable Pinot can help introduce consumers to the variety, as a sort of gateway to better examples from the region.

“I think that when someone is buying a $15 bottle of Pinot Noir from the supermarket they expect something that is fruit-forward and easy drinking,” says Christensen. “A lot of the inexpensive Pinots over-deliver for their price point so, if anything they provide exposure to Marlborough Pinot. As a result of this consumers may have the confidence in the product to seek out higher price point wines to try.”

Kalberer is in agreement. “To me the strength of Marlborough Pinot is in the entry-level wines, the consistency of quality and ripeness in most years,” he says. “There is a generosity and drinkability in so many wines at a price point that offers a great introduction to Pinot Noir for a wide audience. These wines offer far better value compared with many underperforming wines from other regions that simply benefit from the reputation fine producers in those areas have achieved.”

Judd thinks variation in quality at the bottom end is inevitable. “Marlborough is, of course, the home of most of the larger players in the Kiwi wine industry,” he says. “So as well as the more quality-focused smaller players a large proportion of Marlborough production is aimed at hitting lower price points.”

The result is a variation in quality from the top end down to the entry level. “Clearly for the more inexperienced and less informed consumer whose first experience of Marlborough Pinot is at the lower end the first impression may be tarnished by wines of less than ideal quality,” adds Jud. “But this is a fact of life in any larger wine region anywhere in the world. I used to think it was impossible to make cheap Pinot. I still think it is impossible to make really cheap Pinot, but in good years experienced makers can often do a damned good job in the middle ground.”

This is something Kalberer agrees with, but he’s concerned about some of the private-label wines and soft brands that crop up at lower prices in large retailers and supermarkets. “Can Pinot be made cheaply?” he asks. “No, but Marlborough can produce very respectable Pinot Noirs at an affordable price. If they are in supermarkets with an identity (eg a winery or a known winemaker), then I don’t see any problem. What damages the reputation of any good wine brand are poor quality wines sold under a good region’s name with random labels and no identity.”

With consistent over-delivery of quality at all levels in the market, the hope is that Marlborough Pinot will gradually begin to be taken more seriously.

“Marlborough producers do get frustrated by the fact that most of the focus on Kiwi Pinot has been in other regions,” says Judd. “Firstly Wairarapa, and, these days, Central Otago. We were slow off the blocks and other regions had more focus on Pinot. But any glance at the international media commentary on Kiwi Pinot these days will reveal that Marlborough Pinot holds a very firm place at the top end and is often ranked alongside (or above) the best NZ has to offer.” It will take time. “We need to be patient,” he concludes.