THE NEW ZEALAND WINE INDUSTRY IS SMALL BUT ALMOST PERFECTLY FORMED. With 35,000ha of vines, it is just over one-third the size of that of South Africa, and around a quarter the size of that of Australia. But New Zealand has built a reputation for consistency and it doesn’t really do cheap wines. Its average price per litre for bottled wine of NZ$8.32 and for bulk white of NZ$4 are the envy of many wine-producing countries (all statistics New Zealand Winegrowers).
This is a young industry, though. Its largest region, Marlborough, was first planted in the 1970s, and its most famous red wine region, Central Otago, only began making wine in the 1980s. The statistics over the past decade show a story of steady growth in plantings, production and export sales.
But now that Marlborough is almost full up with vines, this sort of growth is unlikely to continue. As production plateaus (moving only with the vagaries of vintage conditions), there will be a period of fine-tuning of varietal mix, and the focus will have to be on adding value by shifting production more into a super-premium segment, making more wines that command higher prices. As for export markets, these will jiggle around as New Zealand courts those willing to pay more for their limited production of wine.
Just as Marlborough is the dominant wine region in New Zealand by far, with 23,000ha out of the overall total of 35,000, it’s hard to look past Sauvignon Blanc for commercial significance. This is not a one-variety producing country, but it is close to it, and this has helped create a powerful marketing message.
Although Sauvignon occupies just over half the planted vineyard area (with 20,000ha), it makes up 70% of the harvest in tonnage and accounts for 85% of exports. It is vitally important to New Zealand and has in large part been the driving force behind the success of New Zealand wine.
So it is Marlborough, and its Sauvignon Blanc, that is driving sales. “Marlborough wines are continuing to grow in popularity across the world,” says Patrick Materman, chief wine- maker at Brancott Estate. “We are see- ing strong performances in developed markets such as the UK and Australia, as well as in markets such as the US and Canada, in which we expect to deliver much of our future growth – not to mention at home in New Zealand.”
Materman is upbeat about the way Marlborough is diversifying as a region. “Even more exciting is the growing awareness of the diversity of Marlborough wines and the increasing desire among wine drinkers to try new styles from the region,” he says. “This includes new expressions of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc – sub- regional and single vineyard, oak- aged, wild-fermented and age-worthy wines – as well as new varieties such as our favourite, Sauvignon Gris.”
After Sauvignon Blanc, the next most important variety is Pinot Noir, representing 8.5% of the country’s production in volume. Pinot Noir is interesting because the wines sell for good prices and a strong regional story is emerging. The different characteristics of Pinot Noirs from Central Otago, North Canterbury/Waipara, Martinborough/ Wairarapa and Marlborough are helping to achieve higher prestige for the wines, and thus higher prices.