How the wine industry went from ‘preparing for the worst’ to recording record-high earnings

James Fyfe | 28/11/2020

Related video: Many winemakers say 2020 was the best vintage in decades. Credits: Video – Newshub; Image – Getty

When the nationwide lockdown was announced at very the same time as the wine harvest earlier this year, panic rippled across the viticulture sector.

And though it was later deemed an essential service and allowed to continue operating during alert level 4, the industry faced a number of challenges in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Strict conditions meant wineries and vineyards had to change their way of working, adapting to tough new health and safety regulations all the while maintaining productivity.

But not only did the industry survive those trying times, it’s also now been revealed that it actually flourished, with the latest figures showing exports for the 12 months to October hit a record high of $2 billion.

Clive Jones, chair of New Zealand Winegrowers, says reaching the milestone this year came as a surprise for the industry.

“We made a bold prediction 10 years ago that we thought we could double sales from $1 billion to $2 billion by the year 2020,” Jones told Newshub.

“I guess we always thought we’d get there but at the beginning of the year we really didn’t think it would be this year.”

He said although sales had been gradually improving over the past year, there was a “big surge” in the last four or five months.

Rabobank’s latest Wine Quarterly report, published last month, noted an increase in export sales was related to more people drinking at home during lockdowns around the world, leading to an uptick in retail trade.

Jones said that was good news for New Zealand wine producers, although he acknowledged wine businesses that sell predominantly through on-premise and tourism have been harder hit.

According to the Rabobank report, sauvignon blanc makes up the lion’s share of Kiwi wine exports, with year-on-year sales to August up 131 per cent. But Jones says there is an increasing appetite for pinot noir, the second most popular export, as well as rosé and pinot gris.

The US, the UK and Australia continue to be our largest markets, and  Jones says he believes New Zealand’s reputation as being largely virus-free has helped push our brand.

“I’m also sure that New Zealand has internationally been seen in a pretty good light in recent times, so there’s a positive feeling about New Zealand.

Photo: Getty“Perhaps when people pick a bottle of New Zealand wine off the shelf and they take it home to drink they’re thinking ‘I wish I was there’.”

Jones said the industry was “preparing for the worse” when the level 4 lockdown was announced but said the sector had really rallied together to face the challenges thrown at it.

“Everyone responded positively and took the issue seriously and the safety of our people and communities was paramount,” he said.

“We were determined as an industry not to be the source of a community outbreak so thankfully we got through that ok.”

The sector is not out of the woods yet, however, with the country’s closed borders meaning there remains a labour shortage for the upcoming harvest.

Border exemptions announced on Friday allowing 2000 recognised seasonal employers (RSE) workers from Pacific countries to come to New Zealand early next year will go some way to relieving that pressure, says Jones, but it won’t be a magic fix.

He said although workers were needed for the harvest – which, depending on where in the country a vineyard is, usually takes place around March and April and lasts for six weeks – a more critical time was winter when vines need to be pruned.

The other concern is the weather.

“There’s a bit of risk of ex-tropical cyclones, which is something we want to avoid, so hopefully that doesn’t happen – we don’t want rain during harvest.”

“It was a very kind harvest in terms of weather,” Jones said.

“It was one of the best seasons we’ve had so that was the one thing we didn’t have to worry about.”

When the savvy bubble bursts: Ending NZ’s love affair with sauvignon blanc

Jules van Costello, The Spinoff | November 26, 2020

New Zealand’s wine industry built its name on sav, but we’ve been putting all our eggs in one basket for too long, writes Jules van Costello.

Savvy represents 63% of New Zealand’s area under vine, 74% of our wine production and a whopping 88% of our exports by volume, meaning for every dozen bottles of wine we export, over 10 of those are sauvignon blanc. Photo: Getty Images
Savvy represents 63% of New Zealand’s area under vine, 74% of our wine production and a whopping 88% of our exports by volume, meaning for every dozen bottles of wine we export, over 10 of those are sauvignon blanc. Photo: Getty Images

I like to think of sauvignon blanc as the IPA of wine. It’s brash, bombastic and a little bit basic (in a good way). Like IPA, its tropical aromas of guava, passionfruit, lemongrass and a little bit of sweat jump forth from the glass. In the words of wine educator Oz Clark: “There had never before been a wine that crackled and spat its flavours at you from the glass”. It should not be surprising that some of the flavours in savvies and IPAs are the same – New Zealand’s most acclaimed hop variety, Nelson Sauvin, is named for its olfactory similarity to Marlborough sauvignon blanc.

Savvy is easy to understand and even easier to like. In the world of wine, which has a tendency to disempower consumers by letting so-called “experts” hoard knowledge, this is unequivocally a good thing.

Sauvignon blanc put New Zealand on the map. It is the foundation on which the entire export side of our wine industry has been built. But sadly, there can be too much of a good thing. While writing my new book, Beyond the Vines: The Changing Landscape of New Zealand Wine, I’ve had to wrestle with the fact that while sauvignon blanc is amazing, the New Zealand wine industry has too many eggs in one basket. It represents 63% of New Zealand’s area under vine, 74% of our wine production and a whopping 88% of our exports by volume, meaning for every dozen bottles of wine we export, over 10 of those are sauvignon blanc.

In August 2020, New Zealand Winegrowers released their annual report which stated that, despite six months of Covid-19 affecting sales, we’d actually exported more wine than ever before. Big grocery brands have done incredibly well but many smaller producers are feeling the pinch. The smaller the producer, the more likely they are to be selling wine in restaurants, which is hard when restaurants are shut or diners are too scared to go out. Secondary lockdowns in Melbourne, London and even in Auckland,  as well as the huge mishandling of Covid in our biggest markets – the USA and UK – have had profoundly negative effects for many Kiwi producers.

New Zealand, the forward-thinking upstart that it is, committed to free trade in the mid-1980s. We are an export economy and from my position, this has generally helped us do business. However, one of the consequences of this is that no industry is too big to fail. Our producers, unlike those in Europe, for instance, cannot rely on government intervention to keep them afloat if the arse drops out of the market.

Ripening white grapes at a vineyard in Marlborough Region, country's largest winegrowing region with distinctive soils and climatic conditions, South Island of New Zealand. Photo: Getty Images
Ripening white grapes at a vineyard in Marlborough Region, country’s largest winegrowing region with distinctive soils and climatic conditions, South Island of New Zealand. Photo: Getty Images

Sauvignon blanc is popular now across the globe, but what happens when the bubble bursts? We could face a quick trend shift à la Sideways that saw merlot’s demise, or even a sudden global event change how the wine world works overnight. Most of the players who are making big bucks on industrial sauvignon blanc will not care. They will move onto something else. The growers and the wineries will be hurting. The wine world is a slow-moving beast, but it is also a fickle one. At this stage, New Zealand does not have an exit strategy.

Savvy is important – we can make relatively high-quality juice relatively cheaply. This is what got us into this problem in the first place. But we can also make world-class wine all over New Zealand. We need to champion more serious styles of sauvignon blanc, which we excel at.

We also need to diversify, and quickly. Despite having over 55 commercial varieties being grown, land devoted to most varieties has been dwindling (all but sauvignon blanc, of course, pinot noir, pinot gris and syrah).

I myself am heavily invested in the natural and lo-fi wine game with my businesses Cult Wine and Te Aro Wine but, strangely enough, I do not think this is the saviour of the industry, nor is making more and more serious wine. We need to find something we can make relatively cheaply, well, and for which there is an international demand.

I believe light red wines are part of the answer to the problem of the sav bubble – Montepulciano from Italy, St Lauren from Austria and Gamay are all contenders. In Australia, these light reds have taken off domestically and are making waves internationally. Like sav, we can make affordable pinot relatively well so there is no reason why we cannot apply these skills to grape varieties that are a little easier to grow. I happen to like drinking light reds but this is one solution that should also suit consumers in Australia, USA and the growing Chinese market.

We also need to experiment, throw grapes at the wall to see what sticks. The bubble will pop. We need to be ready.

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Vintage 2020 New Zealand statistics

After each vintage season, New Zealand Winegrowers surveys members and compiles vintage data snapshots for the industry.

NZ Wine Vintage Indicators by Region 2020

The total volume of grapes harvested and tonnage by wine region in 2020

NZ Wine Vintage Indicators by Variety 2020

The total volume of grapes harvested and percentage change on last year by key wine varieties.

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Celebrating 200 Years of New Zealand Wine

September 25, 2019, marks 200 years since the first planting of grapevines in New Zealand. From the humble beginnings of a vine planted in Northland, the New Zealand wine industry has grown to become a $1.83 billion export earner, with an international reputation for premium, diverse and sustainable wines.

Reverend Samuel Marsden, Chaplain to New South Wales (1765-1838), records September 25, 1819, as
the day he planted a vine in the rich grounds of the Stone Store, Kerikeri in the Bay of Islands. These
pioneering vines were the very first to be planted into New Zealand soils, with New Zealand being one
of very few countries in the world where the exact date of the planting of the first vines is known,
making our story unique on the world stage.

Throughout the 19th and early 20th century, a significant number of European immigrants came to New
Zealand and set up vineyards in different regions. They each contributed to the early establishment of
the diverse wine regions of New Zealand. The New Zealand wine industry today consists of over 700
wineries and more than 600 grape growers, with the growing success of this industry depending
strongly on the commitment and passion of the people behind it.

Since the 1990s, there has been an evolution in the grape varieties that we see planted throughout our
regions. Sauvignon Blanc is now the most widely planted variety, accounting for 76% of total production,
followed by Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

As we raise a toast to the past, we also look ahead to the future. The New Zealand wine industry is
dedicated to ensuring that we celebrate another 200 years, through a commitment to sustainability and
innovation that will protect the places that make our famous wines. Over 98% of New Zealand’s
vineyard producing area is now Sustainable Winegrowing New Zealand (SWNZ) certified – and this is
unmatched by any voluntary scheme around the world.

New Zealand Winegrowers will be marking the 200 year anniversary with an industry event in
Northland, including a ceremonial re-planting at the historic Stone Store, followed by a regional wine
tasting and dinner on the Waitangi Treaty Grounds.

In his diary, Marsden prophesied, “New Zealand promises to be very favourable to the vine, as far as I
can judge at present of the nature of the soil and climate. Should the vine succeed, it will prove of vast
importance in this part of the globe.” His prediction has been brilliantly fulfilled.

For further information contact:
Amber Silvester
Communications Manager, New Zealand Winegrowers
021 794 381

Editors notes:

  • The first recorded wine was from James Busby in 1830s. Busby, the Crown’s Resident in New
    Zealand lived in what is now called the Treaty House at the Treaty Grounds in Waitangi. James
    Busby was the architect of the Treaty of Waitangi and is regarded as the first winemaker in New
    Zealand.
  • In 1840, naval officer and explorer Jules Dumont D’Urville visited and was disappointed to find
    Busby not in residence, but tasted a wine made by Busby. Onboard his ship, Astrolabe, Dumont
    D’Urville wrote the first New Zealand wine review in his journal, “with great pleasure I agreed to
    taste the product of the vineyard that I had just seen. I was given a light white wine, very
    sparkling, and delicious to taste, which I enjoyed very much”.

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Vintage 2019: NZ Winegrowers

Small but stunning. A wonderfully warm summer has contributed to a superb vintage for New Zealand’s wine regions, with 413,000 tonnes of grapes harvested during Vintage 2019. Although smaller than anticipated, the quality of the harvest is being touted as exceptional from top of the North to bottom of the South Island.

Photo by Alissa Miller, Market Development Manager, Greystone Wines

New Zealand Winegrowers CEO Philip Gregan says a high-quality harvest is good news for the industry as export growth continues, with an increase of 4% to $1.78 billion over the last year. “We have an international reputation for premium quality and innovation. Every vintage is different, but winemakers are excited about the calibre of wine that will be delivered to the bottle and we are confident 2019 vintage wines will be enjoyed by consumers around the world.” However Vintage 2019 is the third smaller-than-expected harvest in a row, so volume growth is expected to be constrained. “Smaller vintages in 2017 and 2018 meant wineries had to work to manage product shortages, and many of our members hoped for a larger harvest this year.

Another smaller-than-expected vintage will mean more supply and demand tension overall.” says Mr Gregan. Wine is New Zealand’s sixth-largest export good, and New Zealand wine is exported to more than 100 countries.

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NZ wine to be showcased in new podcast series

thedrinksbusiness.com | 18 February 2019

Industry body New Zealand Winegrowers has teamed up with podcast creator Lawrence Francis of Interpreting Wine in order to provide in-depth coverage of its annual tasting.

The podcast series will take the form of seven episodes, featuring interviews with four winemakers and three regional masterclasses.

The first episode will be unveiled today (18 February) with all seven due to be released by 24 February.

The podcasts are available free of charge on major platforms including Spotify and iTunes. They will also be made available on the New Zealand Winegrowers website at a later date.

The episode schedule is as follows: episode one, Jamie Marfell, group winemaker at Pernod Ricard; episode two, Warren Gibson, winemaker at Trinity Hill; episode three, Sam Bennett, winemaker at Te Pa Wines; episode four, Kevin Judd, winemaker and owner at Greywacke; episode five, Rebecca Gibb MW, a masterclass on Central Otago, episode six, Ronan Sayburn MS and Kevin Judd, a masterclass on Marlborough; and episode seven, Rebecca Gibb MW, a masterclass on Hawke’s Bay

Europe marketing manager at New Zealand Winegrowers, Chris Stroud, commented: “We were delighted when Lawrence approached us to cover our annual tasting on his podcast. This series allows people who were not able to attend our tasting the opportunity to hear directly from the winemakers and learn from the regional masterclasses. We hope it brings a flavour of New Zealand to them.”

Lawrence Francis, content director at Interpreting Wine added: “Podcasting is a versatile and effective tool for wine communication. I know farmers who listen to the show on their tractors and others who play it while driving or working off their wine calories in the gym. In September 2018 Ofcom found that half of UK podcast listeners are under 35 so I think it’s an excellent way to connect with young wine drinkers.”

New Zealand Winegrowers’ annual London tasting took place on 16 January this year. You can listen to the podcast series here.

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Fellows Honoured in NZ Wine Awards NZ Winegrowers

The New Zealand wine industry has recognised the service and dedication of industry icons Mark Nobilo, Jane Hunter and Ivan Sutherland by inducting them as Fellows of New Zealand Winegrowers at the New Zealand Wine Awards dinner held in Wellington last month. The Fellows award recognises individuals who have made an outstanding contribution to the industry.

Mark Nobilo

Mark has been a tireless advocate for grape and wine industry for over 50 years from his time as viticulturist with the family firm through to his recent years as a consultant, particularly in the Northland wine industry. In his role with Nobilo Vintners Mark spent enormous amounts of time helping the Gisborne and Hawke’s Bay growers in their endeavours to produce quality grapes. In more recent years Mark has been a consultant particularly in Northland where he has shared his knowledge, without charge, with all Northland winegrowers.

Mark served on a number of industry Committees over the years but perhaps most notably on the New Zealand Grapevine Improvement Group which played a key role in sharing knowledge about and distributing improved planting material to the industry. “Mark has always given freely of his time to assist the growth of the industry,” said John Clarke, Chair of New Zealand Winegrowers.

Jane Hunter

Jane joined the New Zealand wine industry in 1983, taking up the role of National viticulturist with Montana Wines. Jane has contributed to the wider industry in many ways and served on the Wine Institute Board and various Committees for several years. Importantly she was a foundation Director of the New Zealand Wine Guild which charted the path forward for New Zealand wine in the UK in the early 1990’s and established the model of cooperation in export which has served the industry well to this day.

Jane has received a number of awards over the years honouring her contribution to our industry including in 1993 an OBE in 2009 when she was made a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit and in 2013 became the first woman inducted into the New Zealand Wine Hall of Fame. “Jane never intended to stay in the industry long but has since become a New Zealand wine icon. One of Jane’s greatest assets has been the time and energy she has devoted to serving the wider community,” said Mr Clarke.

Ivan Sutherland, Proprietor, Dog Point Wines

Ivan, originally from Marlborough, studied Valuation and Farm Management at Lincoln University graduating in 1972. He has been involved for nearly 40 years in the New Zealand wine industry, commencing as one of the first contract growers in Marlborough in 1979 before becoming involved in viticulture consultancy. Today he is a proprietor of well know premium winery Dog Point Wines. Ivan has served the industry in a number of capacities over many years. He was a founding member of the Marlborough Grape Growers Association and served as Chair on more than one occasion.

As a strong advocate of grower issues, Ivan has always had a keen interest in research serving as Chair of the original Marlborough Wine Research Centre Board. More latterly Ivan became a Trustee of The Marlborough Research Centre and still enjoys this involvement. As an ardent advocate for all things Marlborough, Ivan was a Board member of the first International Sauvignon Blanc Celebration held in Marlborough in 2016 playing a major role in the success of the event.

Media Release – 6/11/18

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Vintage 2018 benefits from warm summer

New Zealand Winegrowers | 25 June 2018

A warm summer benefited New Zealand’s winegrowing regions, with 419,000 tonnes of grapes harvested during Vintage 2018.

This is up 6% on the 2017 tonnage but is still lower than initially anticipated in a season marked by a very early start to harvesting.

New Zealand Winegrowers CEO Philip Gregan says many wineries had been hoping for an even larger vintage, given 2017’s small harvest.

“However, we now expect export growth in the year ahead will be modest. It will be up to wineries to manage any product shortages from the vintage.”

In addition to prompting an early harvest, the warm summer produced fruit with good ripeness levels.

A highlight from Vintage 2018 is the increased production of red wines.
“Production of both Pinot Noir and Merlot has lifted more than 20% on last year, which will be welcomed by both wineries and consumers. These varieties were down sharply in 2017 and it is very positive to see a return to more normal production levels this year,” Mr Gregan says.

New Zealand Winegrowers is confident Vintage 2018 wines will add to New Zealand’s reputation as a premium producer of cool climate wines.

“Every vintage is different and ultimately the final test is the quality delivered in the bottle to consumers. We are certain that consumers will enjoy the benefits of the warm summer when they get to taste the wines from Vintage 2018,” Mr Gregan says.

New Zealand wine exports are currently valued at $1.71 billion, up 3% in the past year. Wine is New Zealand’s fifth largest export good.

For further information contact:

Philip Gregan
Chief Executive Officer
New Zealand Winegrowers
021 964564

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Hawke’s Bay Wine – Autumn/Winter edition

Click cover image to view the autumn & winter issue. Opens in a new tab
Click cover image to view the autumn & winter issue. Opens in a new tab.

Hawke’s Bay Winegrowers presents your digital issue of Hawke’s Bay Wine – Autumn/Winter edition

  • Studying Syrah berry size
  • Turning vision into reality – a business strategy for Hawke’s Bay Wine
  • Ngaruroro WCO – cautious optimism

In every issue we profile Hawke’s Bay Wine companies and personalities, wine from our region and associated sectors. We offer up a number of informed viewpoints, cover the news and present a range of wine-related feature stories.

Do you have news relating to Hawke’s Bay Wine Sector?
Email: hawkesbaywinemag@xtra.co.nz.

Advertising enquiries can be directed to Kite Communications

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Hawke’s Bay Wine – Summer Issue

Click cover image to view the summer issue. Opens in a new tab
Click cover image to view the summer issue. Opens in a new tab

Hawke’s Bay Winegrowers presents your digital issue of Hawke’s Bay Wine – Summer Issue.

  • Chairman’s Report 2017
  • Under-vine reflector panels
  • The cirtical powdery mildew window

In every issue we profile Hawke’s Bay Wine companies and personalities, wine from our region and associated sectors. We offer up a number of informed viewpoints, cover the news and present a range of wine-related feature stories.

Do you have news relating to Hawke’s Bay Wine Sector?
Email: hawkesbaywinemag@xtra.co.nz.

Advertising enquiries can be directed to Kite Communications

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Women in Wine NZ launch

(New Zealand Winegrowers  Media Release – 28 August 2017)

The inaugural Women in Wine NZ launch event sold out.   The first New Zealand Winegrowers’ Women in Wine NZ event, sponsored by Plant and Food Research, drew a capacity crowd with all 165 tickets snapped up. The event took place last week at the ASB Theatre in Blenheim, and marks the official launch of the Women in Wine NZ initiative.

New Zealand Winegrowers is keen to support women in the industry and encourage more to take up roles of leadership and governance, said Jeffrey Clarke, Acting CEO of New Zealand Winegrowers. “This first event is a great way to kick-start Women in Wine NZ. Having such a strong turnout for the first event just goes to show how much our members value the initiative. ”

New Zealand Winegrowers teamed up with three speakers who shared personal accounts of their professional journeys to date:

  • Sandra Taylor, CEO, corporate sustainability expert and writer (US)
  • Jeni Port, Journalist (Australia)
  • Nadia Lim, NZ MasterChef Winner 2011, co-founder of My Food Bag (NZ)

The speakers discussed the challenges they have encountered along their careers and offered insights into how they overcame them. Women in Wine NZ is not just about networking, and is open to anyone involved in the industry – regardless of gender or role, said Mr Clarke.  “We are an innovative industry and it is proven that diversity – gender, experience, perspectives and backgrounds – contributes to the development of new ideas. If we want to continue moving forward, initiatives that foster a more diverse and engaged industry will only drive our success.”

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