New Zealand Fizz: What Future?
Tuesday 12 November
New Zealand sparkling wine has great potential: vintage Pelorus, No. 1 Family Estate and older vintages of both Deutz and Daniel Le Brun show that when it’s good, it’s very, very good.
But if New Zealand is such a perfect place to make sparkling wine, why have the major Champagne wine houses not arrived? Admittedly, Moet Hennessy-owned Cloudy Bay produces Pelorus but beyond that, where are Taittinger, Roederer, Mumm and friends? They’re all in California - as are the major Cava producers.
Is it a question of our climate, soils or know-how? It’s probably the fact that New Zealand’s at the end of the earth. Next stop, penguins and polar bears. Plus, there are little more than 4 million people here, making the domestic market not half as attractive as the United States.
Nevertheless, there’s a tendency to compare New Zealand sparkling wine to Champagne. Benchmarking is only natural but let’s look at the figures: there are just over 35,000 hectares of vines across the whole of New Zealand: nearly 60% of plantings are dedicated to Sauvignon Blanc, followed by Pinot Noir mainly destined for red table wine, Chardonnay – mostly for still white wine, and pinot gris. The Champagne region has 35,000 hectares dedicated almost exclusively to producing sparkling varieties.
What’s more, there are just four producers dedicated solely to methode traditionelle sparkling wine in New Zealand. In Champagne, there are thousands of growers and hundreds of houses. Champagne is apples and New Zealand is pears – or kiwis.
If the country wants to be known for its high-quality sparkling wine, it’s going to need more than a small handful of producers focusing solely on the pursuit of beautiful bubbles. But that needs time and money, which many producers don’t have in abundance.
Nevertheless, a small group of producers in Marlborough have set up an association in a bid to take this category more seriously. Established in August, 2013, there are 11 founding members. Members of Methode Marlborough must make sparkling wine from the three Champagne varieties – Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier – and the wines must spend 18 months on lees before disgorgement. It’s well intentioned and a good starting point although I would like to see the group grow to encompass other methode makers around New Zealand.
What’s more, there’s no minimum quality level. Surely, there should be an independent tasting panel of some sort to ensure that this group has the goods it needs to be taken seriously? But it’s still early days and these suggestions might already be on the cards. I wish them luck and hope that more New Zealand wine producers will fulfil the potential a small handful of Kiwi methode makers have shown.
Why The Kiwis Can Still Make ‘Prosecco’
Tuesday 9 July
In 2013, New Zealand wine producers are still permitted to use terms like Chablis and Port to describe their wine styles. One Marlborough producer even makes “prosecco” from riesling, muller thurgau and pinot gris and it’s all perfectly legal.
The murky issue reared its head when the wine association Napa Valley Vintners recently crossed the Pacific to register the Napa Valley name as a trademark with the Intellectual Property Office in New Zealand to prevent any “potential for misuse of the Napa Valley name.” I can’t think of anyone who uses the term Napa - or would want to use it - to describe a Kiwi wine but I hope they enjoyed their visit.
However, Napa can only register as a trademark in New Zealand and not a Geographical Indication because New Zealand doesn’t have a Geographical Indication registration system – yet.
While the rest of the world has been given the cease and desist warning from Europe over its prized wine regions, New Zealand has been enjoying a rather long holiday from these legal constraints. A Geographical Indications Wine and Spirits Act was passed in 2006 but seven years later, it still hasn’t been brought into effect. The Prime Minister, John Key, has been too busy commentating on televised cricket matches and attending other equally important events!
But the national wine association, New Zealand Winegrowers, has petitioned the government to remove the digit and finally implement this GI registration system.
The industry body hopes that it will come into force in 2014, as it would provide a higher level of protection for the country’s wines overseas and force regions to define their regional identity formally. Moving into China and other less well-established markets means Kiwis are rightfully keen to register regions including Marlborough and Hawke’s Bay as GIs
John Barker, general manager of advocacy and trade for the country’s wine association, New Zealand Winegrowers, says: “It’s about being able to tell your story. The opportunity with the GI is to really work with the regions and coordinate those stories. You have to generate quite a lot of information to apply for a GI: climate, geography, history, social structure, there’s an opportunity for us to pull all that together. When you have everybody with their regional stories built on the same basis it gives us a lot more depth to what we are doing.”
However, the implications are enough to cause a migraine: when the act comes into force every GI across the wine world can be registered if they wish. Any region from Anjou to Zakynthos could turn up in New Zealand with their registration form. The paperwork could be enormous.
A consultation paper is expected from the New Zealand government in the next few months and perhaps that will lead to greater legal protection for Kiwi wines overseas and imported wines over here. Or, perhaps we’ll be waiting another seven years.
Waitaki Waves Goodbye To Key Producer
Thursday 18 April
The Waitaki Valley aims to make its name as New Zealand’s 11th wine producing region.
Wine growers have been attracted here by its cool climate and outcrops of limestone.
At this early stage in its development, the region has already managed to impress with elegant, finely structured aromatic whites and pinot noir. And, it seems an ideal location to make traditional method sparkling wines in the future.
The Pasquale family was one of the first to take the plunge. Leaving northern Italy for New Zealand in 1997, academic Antonio Pasquale saw the potential of the Waitaki, and its offshoot - the almost unpronounceable Hakataramea Valley. “The cool climactic edge here, along with the limestone soils, is ideal for wines of crispness, concentration and lasting minerality,” predicted Pasquale. “Great wines can be made here.”
But it hasn’t been plain sailing. The climate is marginal, making grape growing a risky pursuit. Spring frosts are common; cool weather and winds can ruin flowering, slashing potential yields. In 2007, some producers didn’t set a berry while Central Otago, just 180km away had a small but high quality crop. In addition, Waitaki’s harvest period is the latest in the country: most regions have finished picking by the end of April but it can be as late as mid-May here. While that’s a big risk for growers, it also means that the wines can have incredible aromatics, firm acidity and moderate alcohol levels.
American-owned Craggy Range released some impressive crisp whites in 2008 and 2009 but soon called it a day in the Valley. It simply didn’t make economic sense to produce wine in the region.
And that’s one of the major reasons why one of the region’s pioneers, Antonio Pasquale, has also decided to throw in the towel after 14 years.
Pasquale has planted over 100,000 vines in the Valley and, in 2009, built and equipped the area’s first and only winery.
The winery’s aromatic whites were particularly exciting and its Marcel Deiss-esque blend of Riesling, Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer - Alma Mater - stood out as interesting and unique.
However, it’s not just the challenging climatic conditions that make life difficult for local wine producers to make money.
Kurow Winery’s general manager Renzo Miño says its location (in the village of Kurow a.k.a. Nowheresville) was also a factor. “Small wineries rely on having a good proportion of direct sales, and our location really is the middle of nowhere with limited passing traffic, despite the development of an attractive cellar door and café. The cost of growing and hand-harvesting our low-yielding vines is reflected in the high quality and cost of the wine in bottle. Our pinot noir vines, for example, have only 20 percent of the yield found in Marlborough, and hand-harvesting is dramatically more expensive than using machines. The third factor is the risk, mostly from weather, that can wipe out a harvest every four or five years.”
What happens to the region’s only winery is undecided. It may see the region revert from wine production back to a purely grape-growing area with its wines made elsewhere, admits Pasquale. Alternatively, local growers may take ownership of the winery themselves.
It’s a sad reality that this potentially exciting region may not get to fully realize its potential. Let’s hope those remaining - Ostler, Valli, Forrest and friends stick it out.
New Zealand Vanishes - EU Blamed
Tuesday 5 March
Date: 4 March 2025
New Zealand was yesterday hit by the world’s rising waters, submerging the country’s 4 million people and 31m sheep. What a baaaastard.
The world must bid a fond farewell to New Zealand lamb, the All Blacks and Marlborough sauvignon blanc.
It is a sad loss. But let’s face it, New Zealand was a nation at the end of the world. Next stop, penguins on the South Pole. And will we really miss Kiwi savvy? The Chileans will be pleased to see their major competition literally sink – or how about Argentine Torrontes, which has been really making headway in the Russian market since Putin banned vodka production in 2020.
While global warming experts are proclaiming this is the start of the end of the world as we know it, conspiracy theorists are claiming that is all part of the European Union’s grand plan to finally win market share back from new world producers and reduce the wine lake once and for all.
It has been reported that Frenchman Philippe Fillop, agricultural commissioner for the European Union, is envious of the success of New Zealand’s pinots and sauvignon blanc in his native country. The federation of militant wine producers have recently been throwing Kiwi lamb chops at their local mairies in disgust at soaring sales of Marlborough sauvignon blanc in Carrefour.
Reducing the world’s wine oversupply has been top of Fillop’s list since he took charge in 2015. At that time, he was certain that China, India and Brazil were going to come to the wine world’s rescue, by drinking more and more wine. Instead, the BRICs continue to sup beer and spirits, sticking two fingers up at wine.
So, thinking that no one would really notice if New Zealand fell off the bottom of the earth - it was almost dropping off anyway - did the EU call in the heavies?
If so, it’s a sign of things to come. The Kiwis produced just 1 percent of the world’s wine. Yesterday’s submersion has not made one iota of difference to the world’s oversupply - particularly since New Zealand recently sent its entire 2024 vintage to the U.K. in bulk for Tesco’s own label Saver Sav, keeping the shelves piled high.
It would have been more effective to get rid of the Austrians or Moldovans, which produce more wine than New Zealand ever did but landlocked countries are a tricky proposition to obliterate.
$168,000 wine gets snapped up
Tuesday 21 August
Going to show that people do have more money than sense, Australian wine firm Penfolds has announced it has sold all but one of the dozen A$168,000 glass ampoules it unveiled in June.
Containing 750ml of the 2004 Kalimna Black 42 cabernet sauvignon, which normally retails at $600-700, the wine comes packaged in a hand-blown glass ampoule which is suspended within a fancy Australian-wood cabinet.
The luxury product was launched in Moscow in June and raised a few eyebrows. Daylight robbery may also have been uttered sometime after receiving the press release. But Penfolds is having the last laugh, as people clearly do have money to burn. David Dearie, the chief executive of Treasury Wine Estates revealed that all but one of the ampoules had been sold at its annual results, Australia’s Herald Sun reported.
“If anyone is after one of these limited ampoules, you’ll have to move fast, because although launched only a month ago, we’ve sold all but one of these fantastic Penfolds sculptures,” said Dearie.
So, I’ve decided that I should probably source some wine, claim that it’s made in limited quantities and call it Moneyfolds. I’ll put it in a plywood cupboard and stick it up on ebay and see if I get any bids.