NZ wine industry continues to evolve

NZ wine industry continues to evolve
Marlborough is one of New Zealand’s main wine growing areas along with Northland, Auckland, Gisborne, Hawke’s Bay, Wairarapa, Nelson, North Canterbury, Waitaki Valley and Central Otago.

Interesting names on wine labels such as The Last Shepherd, Pick & Shovel, Russian Jack and Fickle Mistress invoke colourful visions of New Zealand’s bold and rich pioneering heritage in which viticulture’s ripe evolution is deeply rooted.
At the start of that rich journey was Reverend Samuel Marsden who on the illustrious day of the 25th of September 1819 planted the very first grape vine in the soils of Kerikeri’s Stone Store.
Making this historic planting so significant to New Zealand’s present day winegrowers are the profoundly prophetic words in the good Reverend’s diary: “New Zealand promises to be very favourable to the vine as far as I can judge at present of the soil and climate. Should the vine succeed it will prove of vast importance in this part of the globe.”
Never a truer word said—New Zealand’s wine industry has evolved and developed to become a $1.86 billion dollar export earner making it New Zealand’s 6th most valuable goods export for the year ended December 2019.
Putting that deeper in context, New Zealand has a much larger share of global wine trade than it does share of global vineyards.New Zealand produces 1% of the world’s wine from 0.5% of the world’s total vineyard area, generating 3% of global wine trade value.
And it has achieved that success by producing premium quality wine—not just to survive but thrive.Last September, members of the wine industry gathered at the Stone Store, fittingly New Zealand’s oldest building, and celebrated two centuries of winegrowing in New Zealand with a ceremonial replanting.
“The first recorded winemaking in New Zealand came a couple of decades later, but Samuel Mars-den’s vines are when the industry got its roots,” explains Jeffrey Clarke, General Manager Advocacy and General Counsel for New Zealand Winegrowers, the umbrella body representing all of the grape growers and wine makers in New Zealand.
“There obviously wasn’t a wine industry in New Zealand as such for quite some time and any vines planted by the early settlers were really for personal use.
“They had a history of growing grapes and making wine for themselves. “It wasn’t until the 1900s that there was more commerce in wine and much later in the century when exports began and there was scope for it to be a profitable product.”
While much of the early wine was fortified wine using grape varieties brought predominantly from Europe, the first truly commercial vineyards were planted in Marlborough when Montana bought up vast quantities of land.
But it wasn’t until the mid ‘80s when things really began to evolve on a positive trajectory when New Zealand entered into Closer Economic Relations (CER) with Australia, the economy opened up and the industry faced a ‘do or die’ moment.“Australian wines were better quality and cheaper and New Zealand had been tightly controlled,” says Jeffrey.
“The vines that had been planted were not what New Zealanders wanted to drink and there were different wines coming into the country that people actually did want to drink.“ At the same time the phylloxera grape disease was spreading throughout New Zealand and that required pulling up vines because it attacks the root of the plant.”
The industry responded by planting new varieties people wanted to drink like sauvignon blanc, chardonnay and pinotnoir—and producing quality wine that could be exported.
“In the 1980s Hunter’s Sauvignon Blanc won the ‘Open White’ in a very well known London wine competition three years in a row and around the same time Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc got a great reputation as being unlike anything ever tasted before.
“Particularly in the United Kingdom, people were seeing something completely new—a new wine flavour coming out of New Zealand and considered a premium wine of interest. “The sauvignon blanc that New Zealand introduced to the world was crisp, distinctive, had a lot of zing and people found it to be very approach-able.”
With New Zealand wines on the world stage, international wine sales have increased year-on-year.Since 1995, there has not been a year when the value of New Zealand wine exports has been lower that it was the year before.
New Zealand’s main wine growing areas are Northland, Auckland, Gisborne, Hawke’s Bay, Wairarapa, Nelson, Marlborough, North Canterbury, Waitaki Valley and Central Otago—all growing a diverse range of varieties, supporting a range of wines and styles.
“Our top six wines would be sauvignon blanc, pinotnoir, chardonnay, pinotgris, merlot and riesling. But there are so many varieties and styles,” says Jeffrey. “Take something like sauvignon blanc—there is such diversity of styles within that variety—it is no longer just one New Zealand sauvignon blanc style.”
For decades sustainability has been a corner-stone of New Zealand wine production, being one of the first countries in the world to introduce a sustainability programme.
“Sustainability is much broader than organic and bio-dynamic, but we now have 70 wineries that are producing organic certified wines—so that’s 10% of all wineries. “Globally, rosé is going off as a style and lighter wines have caught consumers’ imagination.
“That’s not necessarily low alcohol, but lower in alcohol, retaining the full flavour and sensory experience of tastes and aromas. “We intend to become the world leader in the production of full flavoured, naturally lighter wine styles.”

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