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Kiwi wine producers branch out
Published:  15 December, 2016

NZ is big in Sauvignon Blanc and growing in Pinot Noir, but it has plenty more up its sleeve, says Sonya Hook

Pinot Noir is the wine on everybody’s lips when we talk about New Zealand. That’s not to say old favourite Sauvignon Blanc is

being poured away – it’s more that the industry as a whole is keen to show it can be a big player in red wine as well. It’s a similar story for its increased focus on aromatic whites.

As a country NZ is performing well in the UK off-trade. It remains one of the four nations in growth, plus it still commands the highest average prices at £7.14 a bottle. It is also the second-fastest growing wine region behind Argentina, up 13.2% year on year (Nielsen to 05/11/16).

Simon Kelly, export director at Yealands Wine Group, says: “It seems the UK consumer is still very much charmed with what New Zealand can offer, and we need to make sure this remains for the future.”

Sauvignon Blanc

So is Sauvignon Blanc reaching saturation point in the UK? Toni Ingram, head of marketing for wine & Champagne at Pernod Ricard, thinks not. But she says for Pernod Ricard’s Brancott Estates brand, the growth has predominantly been at the super-premium end. Its Terroir Series Sauvignon Blanc grew more than 40% last year.

Chris Stroud, marketing manager for Europe at New Zealand Winegrowers, notes that Sauvignon Blanc continues to be the most popular variety in the UK with New Zealand still the category leader.

“There is a wide diversity of styles for New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. There is an increasing use of wild yeast, barrels and lees contact, thereby bringing a wider group of people to the category and keeping New Zealand relevant.”

A greater interest in premium is definitely one of the trends in Sauvignon Blanc. Emma Wright, brand manager for Saint Clair Family Estate at Hallgarten, says: “We have seen an increase in sales of our higher-end Sauvignon Blanc, including organic and our single vineyard and reserve ranges from Saint Clair.”

Stephanie Hill, brand manager at Gonzalez Byass UK, says its Jackson Estate has always had a loyal following. “We have seen a real interest in different styles. We have had an extraordinary year with Grey Ghost barrel-fermented Sauvignon Blanc.”

Andrew Steel, director of UK agent for Maori-owned Tohu, Connoisseur Estates, tells OLN: “We are making strides with our single vineyard Sauvignon Blanc. We have secured listings with some independents and Ocado and it is making quite a statement at £14.99. Distribution at that price point has delighted me.”

Pinot Noir

But the “real buzz” is around New Zealand Pinot Noir, according to Yealands’ Kelly. “It’s more than ever, which is a testament to the quality of the wines, which are really developing their own styles from a regional perspective.”

He adds the producer’s reserve Pinot Noirs, from Awatere Valley and Gibbston (Central Otago), which are exclusive for independents and the on-trade, have been “extremely well received” in the UK.

Ingram at Pernod says growth for Brancott Estates Classic Pinot Noir (up 35.4% in volume) is evidence that UK consumers are exploring more from New Zealand.

Wright says Hallgarten has noticed consumers are seeking out more premium Pinot Noirs. “These are just sub-£20 retail, such as our Rockburn Devil’s Staircase from Central Otago.”

Importers are increasingly adding Pinot Noirs to their ranges.

Hill at Gonzalez Byass UK, says: “Just over a year ago we introduced The Settler Pinot Noir to partner Green Lip Sauvignon Blanc as exclusives to the indie and on-trade channels.” Plus its Vintage Widow Pinot Noir is in double-digit growth.

Looking ahead, Hill says 2017 will be the year of Pinot. “Jackson Estate will be opening a winery dedicated to making finely crafted Pinot Noir. And 2017 will see the first Pinot Noir rosé added to the portfolio.”

Stroud notes that in September NZ Winegrowers ran a Pinot Noir promotion for independent retailers. “We had a great response with more than 110 outlets signing up. The feedback from retailers was that it was great to focus on one variety and showcase different regional expressions. Certainly they

reported a strong increase in sales.”

Other varieties

In addition to Pinot Noir, Stroud points to “some fantastic aromatic varieties” emerging, including Albariño, Sauvignon Gris and Grüner Veltliner.

Steel says Connoisseur recently added an Albariño to its Tohu portfolio. “It’s in very short supply but it gives a nice boost at £15 a bottle. We will also bring over a Grüner Veltliner at some point.”

Wright says Hallgarten introduced a Viognier, Pinot Gris and Grüner Veltliner from Saint Clair about a year ago, due to increasing demand.

Yealands paints a similar picture. “It is really great to see the increasing focus from independents on aromatics such as Riesling, Pinot Gris and Grüner Veltliner.”

Giles James, market manager UK & Europe at Elephant Hill winery in Hawke’s Bay, says its focus is on Chardonnay and Syrah. “A big part of the work we have done this year is to develop the New Zealand story beyond Sauvignon and Pinot and bring focus to the wines we produce through our region.”

The future

The uncertainty following Brexit is expected to be challenging but, as Kelly notes: “This is not the first time and I’m sure it won’t be the last time we will be challenged by FX issues”.

Meanwhile Philip Gregan, chief executive of NZ Winegrowers, has reassured the trade that the wine loss from the recent earthquake amounts to around 2% of Marlborough’s total production, which is “frustrating but not a major concern”, as vintage 2016 was a near record one.

To counteract exchange rate challenges, Hill at Gonzalez Byass says it is important New Zealand is seen as a multifaceted wine producer and “not a one-trick pony”.

“It is also imperative that New Zealand maintains its premium position in the market,” she adds