Marlborough outlines new mark to protect region

Marlborough winemakers have devised a new certification mark to distinguish quality producers from bulk blends in an effort to better promote the appellation and protect its reputation, as exports of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc continue to grow.

The AMW certification is registered as a trademark

Appellation Marlborough Wine (AMW), now registered as an official trademark, was formally set out at a general meeting on 6 June at the Cloudy Bay estate, presided over by a committee that includes Ivan Sutherland, winemaker at Dog Point Vineyards and AMW chairman, and John Forrest of Forrest wines as vice chairman.

“The primary aim is to protect the integrity, authenticity and brand value of wines produced in Marlborough,” the committee said in a statement. “It is about fostering the good reputation of the region’s wines and establishing standards and criteria to enhance this.”

Currently, the AMW certification relates only to Sauvignon Blanc, but the body could extend the system to other varieties in the future.

The certification criteria for wines bearing the AMW logo is strict. 100% of grapes must be grown in Marlborough and be part of a recognised sustainable viticultural program, with the wine itself bottled in New Zealand.

Currently, 85% of grapes must be from the origin stated in order to satisfy labelling laws, meaning that 15% of grapes can be sourced from elsewhere.

In addition, grapes must be grown at an “appropriate cropping level” with the licensee obliged to notify the AMW of their cropping level in tonnes of grapes per hectare for each parcel to be vinified.

“If grapes used to produce the certified wine do not comply with the [AMW’s] desired cropping level, then the licensee may submit the wine with any necessary supporting evidence to the [AMW’s] wine tasting panel which at its absolute discretion may permit that wine to become certified.”

So far, 36 producers, including Auntsfield, Greywacke, Huia and Mahi, have committed to the AMW brand and its licence agreement, with those signed up subject to random inspections by the certification body in the future.

The certification comes following a decade of significant growth for the New Zealand wine industry, which has seen Sauvignon Blanc become New Zealand’s global calling card, with Marlborough at its heart. Consequently, there are those that have sought to trade off the Marlborough name by blending wines in bulk across regions and at increasingly high copping levels, which the AMW has argued threatens to erode the quality reputation of Marlborough as a wine producing region.

Instead, it wants to highlight quality producers adhering to strict criteria to distinguish their products from larger bulk wine brands, while highlighting the terroir of Marlborough.

The arrival of the AMW chimes with a growing trend toward single vineyard wines across New Zealand, and in Marlborough, which seeks to better highlight the differences in terroir and their influence on a wine from one sub region to another.

This is a changing dynamic that was addressed by winemaker Matt Thomson, of Blank Canvas, in an interview with the drinks business in 2016, when he expressed concern over the increasing blending of wines across Marlborough and the general lack of a defined system to adequately reflect its differing terroirs.

For now, the AMW certification relates only to Sauvignon Blanc produced throughout all of Marlborough, with no designation for specific sub regions, and requires a a NZ$1,000 membership fee and a small portion of sales, equivalent to about 1 cent per bottle, from its members.

Marlborough vineyards

GROWING EXPORTS

New Zealand wine exports are currently valued at $1.71 billion (£890 million), up 3% in the past year.

This year, New Zealand retained its position as the third most valuable wine import in the US, after Italy and France, having achieved a 6% increase in the value of its imports into the country in 2017. Last year the total value of New Zealand wine imported to the US reached US$422 million, up 6% on 2016, ahead of Australia, Spain, Argentina and Chile.

NZ shipments of red wines to the US grew by 23% in 2017, particularly Pinot Noir, however imports are still driven by Sauvignon Blanc, with Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Syrah growing from a smaller base.

In the UK, New Zealand now holds the highest average bottle price, at £7.14, compared with the market average of £5.49, with this figure rising to £9.17 for New Zealand red wines, driven largely by Pinot Noir (Nielsen MAT 5.11.16).

In fact, New Zealand was the only country to see an increase in the volume of its wines sold in the UK’s on-trade, according to Accolade’s 2018 Wine Nation report, with a rise of 7%.

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