John Clarke, chair of the New Zealand Winegrowers Inc., said in the 2018 Annual Report, that “We’ve steadily built a reputation for consistent quality; for wine that is approachable, distinctive and noteworthy; and for a comprehensive commitment to sustainability.” While this is true for New Zealand’s prosperous wine industry, the results from a Price Waterhouse Cooper study which estimates that Marlborough will reach the limit of its viable grape-growing land, the final 5000 hectares, by 2025, are perhaps concerning. Should New Zealand’s wine industry worry about the dwindling vineyard real estate? For New Zealand to maintain its high standing in the global wine market, Kiwis must deliver consistently high-quality products, with an increasing emphasis on environmental sustainability. Restaurant and Café Magazine asked a few of New Zealand’s leading wineries about the future of the industry.
Across the board, it is clear that for New Zealand’s wine industry to continue to grow successfully, it must continue to produce high-quality wines. Neal Ibbotson, managing director of Saint Clair Family Estate, said, “Quality wines float to the top; and without quality, there is no future in the wine industry.” As it stands, New Zealand is generally seen as a sustainable producer of high-quality wines. As Ibbotson described, “The New Zealand wine industry is extremely fortunate to be based on a maritime climate, not too hot, and not too cold, with warm days and cool nights creating a slow ripening period. This allows New Zealand wines to be clean, fruit-driven in flavour, with good acidity, which allows the flavours to last long in the mouth and the back palate.” According to Plant and Food Research, New Zealand produces around 1 percent of the world’s wine. Although New Zealand is held in good stead in the winemaking world, we still only produce a minuscule share of wine in the grand scheme of things. Is our current image enough to keep New Zealand wines on foreign shelves?
Ed Donaldson, marketing manager at Pegasus Bay, believes that wine quality will improve globally—something that New Zealand wine needs to keep up with. “Wine quality will continue to rise across the board as vine age and experience grows.” For New Zealand to maintain our standing, Donaldson believes that diversification is key; he said that while Sauvignon blanc is an important pillar of New Zealand wine, other varieties are equally as charming, and we should not fail to promote them. “The more we have,” said Donaldson, “The more wine relevance and interest New Zealand will generate. Pinot Noir, for example, is doing a good job of this.”
However, in light of the research predicting the limited space left for growing in Marlborough, Sauvignon blanc may not be the only wine New Zealand can afford to promote. In 2016, Sauvignon blanc accounted for 72 percent of the New Zealand wine production, and 86 percent of the proportion of New Zealand wine exported, according to New Zealand Wine. Since 2007, the amount of Sauvignon blanc planted has more than doubled, with around 10,500 hectares planted in 2007, to over 21,500 in 2016—just under two-thirds of New Zealand’s plantable real estate. Although New Zealand is known for its Sauvignon blanc, is a focus on just one variety viable moving forward? Some believe that our Sauvignon blanc ‘bubble’ will soon burst and that we will have to increasingly move towards varietal wines and new blends, as opposed to what we have already been known to produce well. Although our Sauvignon blanc is unquestionably strong for the time being, many wonder what the future may look like for the average New Zealand winemaker.
Te Mata Estate chief executive Nick Buck said that the company is responding to future trends and predictions through “Continued improvements in vine age, viticulture, and winemaking. We continue to improve our wines—we’re making more of them where we can, and we are allocating them across our restaurant and retail partners in order to best support our customers with their offerings.”
Moving forward, however, Ibbotson believes that this may be trickier than predicted. “There are many factors that will affect the future for New Zealand wines, including many things that we have no control over. Some of these include an amalgamation of wineries, as the larger wineries will continue to get bigger, the price squeeze will make it harder for smaller wineries to remain profitable. On top of that, higher quality wines will become more sought after, and it will become increasingly difficult for producers of lower quality wine.”
Concerning the remaining space, the issue lies perhaps not with the wine being produced, or even the amount of variety of wine being produced, but in the sustainability and growth of the industry. Does running out of land mean maximum capacity has been reached for winemakers in New Zealand? It is already apparent that the hospitality industry is short of workers, and with the growth in many of New Zealand’s economic sectors, tourism, construction and hospitality often compete for the same workforce. Clarke said, “The Ministry for Primary Industries has predicted New Zealand’s primary industries will collectively require an additional 50,000 workers by 2030 to support forecast growth. This presents a multifaceted challenge for our industry, for which there is no silver bullet.” While wine tourism is undoubtedly popular in New Zealand, with 27 percent of all holiday visitors to New Zealand visiting a winery, not to mention the cool $3.8 billion they bring in for our economy, is this enough to rope in the additional workers needed for our vineyards? Is this enough to support and maintain the current winemaking culture in New Zealand and prepare it for the required growth moving towards the future?
New Zealand’s winemaking industry is by no means struggling, but the coming years may test our ability to adapt and improvise. Our Sauvignon blanc is a heavy-hitter, even on the world stage, but is it sufficient if trends develop and move on to other flavourings? While the question of viable land has been brought into concern as of late, it does not seem that a lack of land will slow down New Zealand’s industry. It will, however, mean that growers will have to look for ways to create and innovate their practices to match the trends and tastes that are trending at the time. Sustainability is etched into the New Zealand winemaking industry, but there are always improvements and developments that can occur across the board. New Zealand is recognised for its clean and green approach to winemaking, something we must cherish and promote moving forward. Lastly, while challenges are facing smaller winemaking companies, there are exciting collaboration opportunities that present themselves to an industry that benefits from working collectively. As Clarke said in relation to the New Zealand winemaking industry, in the 2018 Winegrowers Annual Report, “The story we have to tell as winegrowers is overwhelmingly positive: we use water sustainably; we fertilise sparingly; the quality of water under our vines typically exceeds drinking standards, and we constantly strive to improve the quality and sustainability of our practices.” Coupled with our already high-quality product, the trajectory for New Zealand’s wine industry is ever upwards.