New Zealand Fizz: What Future?
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.