New Zealand is ‘the Coldplay of the wine world’
New Zealand is “the Coldplay of the wine world” as the wines are “consistent, popular and in everyone’s collection”, the challenge now is to make them more exciting, according to Richard Siddle, who chaired a panel debate on NZ wine in London last week.
During the debate, held at New Zealand House in Haymarket last Friday, Philip Gregan, CEO of New Zealand Winegrowers, charted how far the NZ wine industry has come in a short space of time.
“In the 1980s New Zealand was known for two things: butter and lamb, as we didn’t export wine at that time. Today wine is an important part of New Zealand’s image on the world stage. We owe a lot of our success to the UK, as that is where the wines were first discovered.
“The challenge now is to broaden the story beyond Sauvignon Blanc. We’re a New World country so we need to be open minded, think differently and come up with fresh ideas in order to keep our wines exciting and relevant,” he said.
“The UK continues to surprise us and continues to grow. We see Brexit as a positive thing for NZ wine in the UK as access to the market will improve. Rosé has been a huge success story for us over that last 18 months. Before it was such a small category we didn’t even track it at export,” he added.
For Sir George Fistonich, founder of Villa Maria, the way forward for New Zealand is to promote the country’s regional diversity.
“We need to look at the bigger picture and think more about getting the regional message across, as I’m not sure it’s coming through at the moment. We have incredibly rich regional diversity but we’re not telling consumers those stories at the moment. We need stronger marketing teams to tell these stories in the UK and around the world,” he said.
Andrew Shaw, buying director of Bibendum PLB, agreed with Siddle that New Zealand needs to sex up its image a bit.
“The challenge is making New Zealand wine exciting in such a competitive marketplace. The wines need to be more hand sold and reflective of quality. Having people over from NZ to support their wines in the market is incredibly important in order to make the wine offering in the UK more relevant and engaging.
“New Zealand does an incredible job at the multiples, but there is a need to engage with buyers in the on-trade and at independent merchants who don’t have the access to top New Zealand wines. There seems to be a lack of energy in promoting the top wines from the country in the UK at the moment. We need more people to fly the flag for New Zealand,” he said.
One such flag-bearer is Melanie Brown, founder of The New Zealand Cellar in Brixton, which promotes top drops from the country.
“New Zealand wine has a premium reputation. People know that they are going to get quality from the country and NZ has done a great job in retaining that reputation. The problem at the moment is that it’s hard for the smaller producers in New Zealand to get into the market. I’m not seeing a lot of exciting new wines coming to the UK, which is a missed opportunity,” she said.
Another person championing New Zealand fine wine in Britain is Roger Jones, chef and owner of The Harrow at Little Bedwyn in Wiltshire.
“Our best-selling New Zealand wine by a long way is Chardonnay, which sells for an average price of £78 a bottle and £12 a glass. People are looking to New Zealand for prestige wines that offer good value for money in relation to their quality,” he said.
In the off-trade, Mark Flounders of London wine merchant Vagabond is taking New Zealand Sauvignon upmarket.
“We’re taking more of a premium approach with our New Zealand wine and recently de-listed a £9.95 Sauvignon, replacing it with one costing £16.95. Barrel fermented Sauvignons are doing really well with us, especially on the Enomatic machines,” he said.
It’s a similar story for Oddbins wine buyer Jenny Smith. “We’ve seen the biggest growth with New Zealand in the £10-15 sector, and NZ Pinot is doing fantastically. Chardonnay across the board has bounced back. Premium New Zealand Chardonnays are selling better than entry-level expressions for us,” she said.