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Trade talk: What’s next for New Zealand?

 Sauvignon Blanc might be the darling of New Zealand, but this rugged winemaking region is far from a one trick pony.

Pinot plantings in Central Otago

True, the aromatic variety accounted for 72.2% of the country’s total harvest in 2014 and 85.5% of its exports, (New Zealand Winegrowers 2014 annual report), but this southern hemisphere outpost has far more to offer than Marlborough Sauvignon.

Having established a stellar reputation for the variety on the world stage, its premium heartland of Marlborough is now almost completely planted – which begs the question of which regions and varieties will producers now choose to invest in? While Hawke’s Bay has been touted as being on the verge of an export boom, Chardonnay, Merlot and Pinot Gris are all showing promise, each increasing its production by 7%, 7% and 8% respectively in 2014 on the back of strong demand. New Zealand Pinot Noir meanwhile is building an enviable reputation at a high price point. But do these varieties really have the potential to make a dent in the export market?

We asked some of the region’s key players which styles or regions beyond Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc are best placed to drive the future growth of New Zealand’s wine industry.

Click through for their responses…

Philip Gregan, CEO, New Zealand Winegrowers

Philip Gregan, CEO of New Zealand Winegrowers

“Ultimately the decision about which wine style or region builds best on the market success of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc is a matter that will be decided by consumers and the market. The role of producers is to innovate, produce high quality distinctively NZ wines and test market response to see what is successful.

“NZ already has a very strong international reputation with Pinot Noir which is clearly our number two style at the current time. Pinot Gris/Grigio sales are growing strongly in export markets, while fuller-bodied reds such as Merlot, Syrah and Cabernet from Hawkes Bay and northern areas such as Waiheke Island are grabbing increasing market place attention. Then, of course, there is Chardonnay which NZ produces in a very modern, food friendly style. In short, NZ produces an array of world-class wines. As to which will build best on the success of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, only time and the market have the real answer to that question.”

Jeff Hart, managing director at Jackson Estate, Gonzalez Byass

“Internationally speaking, the New Zealand wine industry is young and has experienced significant growth over the past 10 years. Marlborough in particular is close to being fully planted, meaning growth in other varieties will be from a small base and likely to come from replanting of existing land.

“Sauvignon Blanc has been predominant in Marlborough due to climate and the ability to produce a wine that is distinctly different, and growth has continued while new markets continue to be established. Growth in other varieties is happening and is led by Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and aromatic wines, but given these are off a small base you will not see significant volumes of these wines. The industry is well aware of the necessity to present New Zealand as a multifaceted wine producer, so average volumes will continue to increase, albeit at a lower rate.”

Matt Stafford, chief winemaker at Craggy Range Vineyards

“New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc has been a classic pathfinder for our industry and it is important at a producer level to embrace the variety’s success in that regard. However, in the context of winemaking, the story is really only beginning. The high-end cellar-worthy Sauvignon Blanc story is slowly evolving with many producers focusing on this and also showcasing Sauvignon Blanc as just one of many aromatic white varieties that New Zealand does exceptionally well – Pinot Gris, Riesling and Gewurztraminer.

“With regard to reds, as warm growing regions such as Australia and California try to explore cooler sites or earlier harvesting, the Hawke’s Bay region is continuing to produce elegant ripe medium bodied red wines at moderate alcohol levels. The Syrahs from Hawke’s Bay have wowed many wine influencers and time will tell if consumer pull-through can occur, although I have no doubt that it will.”

Jane Cooper, winemaker, Matahiwi

“There is no doubt that Marlborough will remain the driving force of the NZ Wine Industry from a regional perspective. With approximately 80% of New Zealand’s production being Sauvignon Blanc, we need to continue to innovate around the style of Sauvignon Blanc, so that it remains at the forefront of international focus. This means continuing to ensure quality is maintained through clean grapes at perfect maturity with moderate yields.

“At the top end of Sauvignon Blanc production (as in reserve wines of small volume), I believe we should be aiming for wines that show both complexity and the potential for longevity. At Matahiwi Estate, our Holly Sauvignon Blanc is all barrel fermented in older oak with about 80% wild ferment. We are continually striving to make a Sauvignon Blanc that will age and drink beautifully for 10+ years and show the best of Sauvignon Blanc complexity. Many other top producers are pursuing this style with great success in their Reserve ranges and this will ensure New Zealand’s dominance and profile at the top end. Past Sauvignon Blanc, it should all be about Pinot Noir – wines made from older vines, with elegance, finesse and charm!”

Patrick Materman, chief winemaker, Brancott Estate

“Single vineyard and sub-regional expressions, such as our Terroir Series from Awatere, continue to gain interest, as do more complex, age-worthy styles such as our Chosen Rows release. We are also seeing significant interest in our lower alcohol offering, Brancott Estate Flight – which comes in at just 9% alcohol but still exhibits the full flavour and aroma profile that is expected from a Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. We certainly think the variety has some great potential that hasn’t yet been fully investigated, and it will continue – in one form or another – to drive the future growth of the industry.

“Marlborough is far from a one-tricky pony, however. We continue to explore how the region’s unique terroir is reflected in other varietals – from Pinot Noir to Pinot Gris, and our latest love, Sauvignon Gris: an ancient Bordeaux variety pioneered by Brancott Estate, and one which we believe has the potential to be the next big thing for Marlborough wine.”

Alan McCorkindale, senior wine consultant, Lismore Wines

“I think that will be consumer driven, and producers who can respond to consumer demand will benefit. Obviously Pinot Noir is second cab off the rank after Sauvignon Blanc in terms of value and volume, but Pinot Noir is a smaller volume market segment. Pinot Noir drinkers probably crave authenticity and scarcity more than Sauvignon Blanc drinkers.

“I don’t have a crystal ball, to predict the “next big thing” from New Zealand, but there are niches in the market that some New Zealand regions and producers can produce world-class wines with authenticity. For example, aromatics, Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer, and Gruner Veltliner from New Zealand’s South Island regions (there are some absolutely exciting field blend aromatics), traditional method sparkling wines from several regions including the Waipara Valley where I am based with it’s limestone soils, and Syrah from the North Island. New Zealand is blessed with great soils and climate, and enthusiastic, skilful young people with integrity and vision that are passionate about wine.”


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