How to lead the NZ wine industry? Drink cheap wine

August 3rd 2015

There was justifiably a bit of a social media to-do within the New Zealand wine industry following wine journalist John Saker’s article that the head of the national wine body had said “he scolded his wife if she spent more than $15 on a bottle of wine. Even $8 will buy you something good,” at a recent conference.

I was astounded. These are not the words that the 700-odd wine producers want to hear from its leading man, whose wage they pay.

Angry wine producers voiced their discontent on Facebook and the twittersphere but Gregan remained quiet with no response or explanation offered. Perhaps he was hoping we’d all go away?

So I called him.

Was he aware of the kerfuffle? “Look, I don’t follow social media too much,” he replied. Er, okay.

But was he aware that a number of wine producers – his members – are a little angry about the comments? He had seen the article and confessed: “It would appear that I was not as articulate as I would have liked. What I was trying to say was that at different times, on different occasions, people have different perceptions of what constitutes value, whether wine is sold at $10, $20 or $50.”

However, this lack of clarity revealed that the head of New Zealand Winegrowers believes he is spending over the odds if he forks out $15 for a bottle of wine.

So, I thought I had better double check if that’s what he really meant: Does he only drink sub $15 wine at home, as he was quoted? “What do you think?” he asked me.

“Well, I wouldn’t be asking if I knew?” I reply.

Awkward silence ensues.

“I would rather not go there,” is how it is left.

Well, that’s great reassurance for your wine-producing members. If I were a New Zealand wine producer, I would be wanting answers not evasion.

I’m not here to dig dirt nor make enemies but selling wine for $15 is not financially sustainable for most Kiwi producers. New Zealand wine has had great success at generating a premium image and premium price positioning in its key markets. That’s just as well – the industry is small and New Zealand is a cool climate wine region at the end of the earth – it can’t survive making $10 wine.

Premium wine is “the only future for the industry” Gregan later added, but, as the industry’s spokesman, he needs to practise what he is preaching; otherwise, he risks undermining the industry’s credibility.

Posted in - Blog Posts & New Zealand & wine on August 3rd 2015 3 Comments

As of now (3) people have had something to say...

  • Don 1 - Reply

    3 August, 2015 at 3:30 am

    Have spoken to four winemakers who all used exactly the same line about PG: “He’s been there too long…” Not exactly a ringing endorsement.

  • Sarah Szegota - Reply

    4 August, 2015 at 4:36 am

    New Zealand Winegrowers has issued a statement in response to John Saker’s article. You can read this here:

  • Misha Wilkinson - Reply

    5 August, 2015 at 2:21 am

    After being invited to speak at an event, where many of New Zealand wine industry’s top producers were gathered to celebrate and discuss organic and biodynamics, it’s inexcusable for the national body’s CEO, Philip Gregan, to have delivered comments that were a slap-in-face for all the wineries attending the conference. Those wineries aren’t selling wines at $8 nor even at $15 because they’re not in the business of producing bulk industrial beverages, they’re producing some of New Zealand’s finest and most acclaimed wines and the last time I looked, the vision statement of New Zealand Winegrowers was “Around the world, New Zealand is renowned for its exceptional wines.” But that aside, Gregan’s first failure in this tragic episode was that he insulted those who had invited him to attend the event and undermined their work – and that’s not acceptable under any circumstance.

    Unfortunately Gregan has subsequently failed in so many other respects. He has failed to show respect for the industry that has provided him an income for so many years. The number of comments received from my posting of Saker’s piece, have shown that the industry is angry – and not just the wineries and media that attended the event. Some have suggested it was perhaps a momentary lapse of consciousness or bout of foot-in-mouth disease that caused the comments. If that was the case Gregan has had plenty of opportunities to fall on his sword and apologize. He could have done so right after the event – he didn’t. He could have made a statement after Saker’s article appeared – he didn’t. And then Rebecca, you gave him the perfect opportunity to set the record straight – he didn’t! He flippantly answered her question with a question – not the best way to respond to a journalist – and his responses show both a lack of remorse and an inability to accept that he has failed in his role as the representative of our industry.

    And let’s not even go there with respect to his comments about his lack of ‘media awareness’ with his own admission that he doesn’t follow social media too much. Suffice it to say that it’s another failure on his part if he hasn’t established an organisation structure that can inform him of what’s going on in the media – something one would have thought important if your organisation’s marketing mission is to promote the New Zealand wine brand.

    Most of the comments I’ve received believe Gregan is no longer the right advocate for New Zealand wine and that it’s time he steps down. Wine journalist Keith Stewart said “The only thing certain is change, which is how we got to where we are today, thanks to the efforts of precisely those small, creative, quality winemakers the Institute does not represent. Industrial producers are the very public failure of NZ wine to deliver its potential.”

    Of course the finale of failures is that New Zealand Winegrowers chairman, Steve Green, has had to issue a statement after the negative reaction to Gregan’s comments saying that the organisation “acknowledges that the comments were poorly chosen and could have been framed better”.

    Perhaps the Board of New Zealand Winegrowers needs to take a long hard look at things and make some changes to ensure they keep their assets not their liabilities.

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