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The Big Picture – Marlborough wines in the UK

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Despite all the challenges, the UK is still a very important market for New Zealand and especially Marlborough wines. It holds a reputation as one of the most sophisticated and attractive wine markets in the world and is a hub where many wine trends are pioneered and where both small and large producers can be commercially successful. Despite export market share dropping from first to third place (after Australia and USA), the UK is still worth NZ$318.6 million so it is important not to lose sight of this market.

On one hand, New Zealand proudly shares the premium category with France with average price per bottle growing by 11% in the past year to £7.26. However, the record 2014 harvest (even higher than the oversupplied 2008 vintage) will undoubtedly bring many challenges in order to remain this quality driven growth. The biggest challenge being the enormous volume of low end bulk Sauvignon Blanc flooding the UK market, labelled under mysterious own labels and potentially devaluing the brand Marlborough SB.

The good news is that there is currently a real interest and enthusiasm in wine (and food) in the UK concentrated particularly in London. The explosion of wine bars such as Vinoteca, 28-50, The Remedy, Sager & Wilde is visible proof. On-trade offers customers an opportunity to indulge in a better choice of fine wines while creating a deeper bond with consumers and building their loyalty, lacking in other sectors.   The New Zealand Cellar set up by Melanie Brown encourages wine and food enthusiasts to experience the wide varieties and styles that New Zealand offers by promoting focussed wine talks and dinners.

The wine scene has evolved a lot since my first taste of wine in 2006 while working as an Assistant Manager at Oddbins’ fine wine branch in London. Shops like The Sampler, Bottle Apostle, Vagabond Wines and Hedonism Wines created shopping spaces where people want to be. Using Enomatic machines people can now sample wines before their purchase. By creating relaxing areas with beautiful displays, customers can socialise and be inspired to drink better wines. The most successful retailers don’t just sell wine but offer an experience.

E-commerce has now also become a profitable new route to market. The UK online wine market is worth £800 million and accounts for 11% of total sales with 25% of UK wine drinkers now shopping online. Swig Wines, Naked Wines, Virgin Wines and Direct Wines are just some of the most successful online businesses that offer convenience, personal customer service and an extensive and exciting wine choice.

However, selling wine profitably in the UK is still very much a challenge. Fluctuating exchange rates and the rise of wine duty have pushed prices up and put a strain on consumers’ spending. More than 70% of all wines are sold through supermarkets thanks to on-going promotional activities. Shelves are filled with low priced wine driven by vast competitions amongst the key brands offering miniscule margins for producers and agents and dire selection and no service to consumers.

Directly engaging with consumers through social media has become a fantastic marketing tool especially for wineries that are based many miles from their target market. Being a keen blogger, Facebook and Twitter user myself, I have appreciated the ease with which I can interact instantly with producers from around the world. New World producers such as those from New Zealand and Australia have proved to be natural communicators reflecting their understanding of social media and its value in engaging with consumers and wine trade.

New Zealand wines have successfully penetrated all sectors of the UK market making it accessible to a wide audience, with Marlborough’s Sauvignon Blanc reputation leading the way. Despite its small yet still growing production (producing less than 1% of the world’s crop) it has grown in importance by focusing on value rather than volume. The World Atlas of Wine dedicated just one page to New Zealand in 1985 for its third edition, but by the time of its latest edition, eight full pages were devoted to the country.

Despite its relatively short history in winegrowing and winemaking, and possibly as a result, many producers are in touch with today’s consumer and offer easy to understand wines with great potential. Most recently, Pernod Ricard has cleverly tapped into the latest UK trend in low alcohol wines. Based on their consumer research they launched Brancott Estate Flight style, premium low alcohol wine (RRP £10.49).

Observing UK supermarket shelves, one may jump to the conclusion that the pungent Sauvignon Blanc is Marlborough’s one trick pony. Pony that may be sniffed at by some but the fact that its demand is growing shows its continued importance. Tesco offers 50 New Zealand wines, out of which 40 are from Marlborough and 37 are Sauvignon Blancs. But look further and you will discover pockets of diversity. From rising potential of Marlborough Pinot Noir to aromatic Pinot Gris and Riesling from Awatere Valley. UK consumers can now choose from a number of single vineyard SBs (Ara, Villa Maria), premium oak aged SBs (Cloudy Bay, Dog Point, Jackson Estate), sparkling SBs and organic/biodynamic wines (Seresin Estate, Walnut Block).

All in all, the future for New Zealand wines in the UK is bright. Marlborough, in particular, offers distinctively bright fruit flavours and trademark zestiness which is sought after by the modern UK consumer. But it also manages to attract more discerning wine enthusiasts with its diversity, innovation and premium lead exports and its producers’ willingness to listen to their consumers.

 
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Posted by on November 4, 2014 in New Zealand

 

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There is more to New Zealand than good employment opportunities and green lush scenery!

Bear Despite producing less than 1% of total world wine production, New Zealand wines attract a lot of admiration from wine drinkers. Talking to Clive Donaldson, wine sourcing manager for Morrison’s, he confirms that New Zealand wines are amongst the most appreciated by their customers, offering exciting flavours and inspiring consumer confidence. It is true that the success is driven primarily by the eternal Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc – as it claims 85% of all NZ wine sold in the UK. But as Jancis Robinson says there is more to New Zealand than just Sauvignon Blanc.

New Zealand Winegrowers released their 2012 and 2013 vintages and several lucky Londoners had the chance to try over 150 wines from all regions yesterday. There was much ‘mmm’ and ‘ahhh’ around the Rieslings and Pinot Noirs and my guess would be that these two grape varieties have a particularly promising future.

About 2012 and 2013

The 2012 vintage was a very small crop year, 28% less than 2013, thanks to a very cool spring and summer which was only saved by warm dry days in April delivering the weather the grapes needed to ripen fully.

The 2013 vintage is described as “a vintage to remember” by Philip Gregan, CEO of New Zealand Winegrowers, “with an outstanding summer providing near perfect conditions for growing grapes”. Sir George of Villa Maria agrees “15 years of advancement in winemaking technology paired with perfect growing conditions means this year is set to exceed all previous vintages”. However, Duncan McTavish, winemaker of Man ‘O War, admits that as it was a very hot and dry year, particularly in the North Island, it will affect yields and quality.

Ones to remember:

Felton Road Riesling Bannockburn, Central Otago 2013 (9.5% abv / RS 55 g/l / RRP £15)

Felton Road Block 1 Riesling Bannockburn, Central Otago 2013 (9% abv / RS 65 g/l / RRP £18)

Don’t get put off by the level of residual sugar.  Riesling’s vibrant acidity tricks your palate to hardly noticing its sweetness. These wines are bursting with fresh, juicy peach and tropical fruits and are very enjoyable and comforting with that delicate structure and gracefulness of Mosel Riesling.

Pegasus Bay Riesling Canterbury 2010 (12.5% abv / RS 26 g/l / RRP £16.50)

Priceless racy acidity matched with vibrant citrus orchard fruits. Reminded me of zesty orange marmalade margarita, minus tequila of course.

Brancott Estate Flight Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 2013 (9% abv / RS 13 g/l / RRP £10.50)

This wine is due to be launched in the UK very soon and I have a feeling it will do very well. Low & lower alcohol wines, despite their healthy credentials, tend to be boring. But not this one! Naturally low in alcohol (no reverse osmosis), it has bags of typical green grass and gooseberry fruit. Off-dry (to be technical) but I dare say the majority of casual drinker will not pick up on that and will just enjoy the fruity flavours of this crisp clean Sauvignon Blanc.

Staete Landt Viognier Rapaura, Marlborough 2012 (14% abv / RS 4.5 g/l /RRP £ 18)

Very fresh and crisp aromatic Viognier, Very enjoyable.

Seresin Rachel Pinot Noir Marlborough 2010 (14% abv / RRP £ 25)

Cherry cherub flavours with distinctive reduced balsamic notes and earthy spicy finish. Rather seductive and a real crowd pleaser.

 
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Posted by on November 6, 2013 in New Zealand

 

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Could these be the most expensive wines from New Zealand?

Sherwyn Veldhuizen & Marcel Giesen

Sherwyn Veldhuizen & Marcel Giesen

BELL HILL VINEYARD TASTING AT POLLEN STREET SOCIAL

LONDON – 17th SEPTEMBER 2013

It is always a great pleasure to taste exclusive wines of older vintages. It gives you a foresight into how the current releases may develop and age. But it’s also heart-breaking to know that none of us will be able to buy and enjoy these wines again. Aged wines from New Zealand are just not available. Bell Hill wines from North Canterbury are no different. The industry is relatively young, producers sell out of any age-worthy wines upon release due to the minimal production, holding back stock for producers is financially unreasonable and for consumers very rare.

Marcel Giesen (one of the famous three Giesen brothers) and Sherwyn Veldhuizen are the owners of Bell Hill vineyard. They were thought to be crazy when they bought 2.5 hectares of old lime quarry in the Weka Pass in North Canterbury back in 1997 with the aim of planting vines there. However, no-one is laughing now. Their wines have become some of the best and the most exclusive in New Zealand. The price tag follows the success. A bottle of current release Chardonnay 2010 will set you back round £80 and Pinot Noir 2010 close to £100 (retail price).

Production is minimal and I really mean minimal. Only 1,400 bottles were made in total of the 2010 vintage which will be snapped up before you can sneeze. If you want to get hold of any for your wine stash, you had better talk to Armit – the UK agent. There are one or two bottles of Bell Hill Chardonnay 2009 left on Providores wine list, so I am told, but Tim Atkin MW has his beady eyes on them so hurry!

So what is so special about these wines? Growing vines on limestone soil is no walk in the park. The high pH & high risk of chlorosis demands a specific French rootstock 161-49 which is tolerant to active limestone. However, Marcel and Sherwyn have chosen this vineyard particularly because of this. The high pH helps to preserve a vital acidity and freshness that makes these wines unrecognisable from Cote d’Or. What is amazing is that the focussed and long acidity is consistent across all the wines we tasted from 2003 to 2011.

Another challenge is the annual frost. This is not uncommon in the South Island and temperature programmed wind machines seem to take care of the worst. However, Marcel and Sherwyn told us that it is actually getting the right staff with commitment and passion that is the hardest job for them. They manage their vineyard with great attention to detail, hard work and just a hint of unorthodox thinking. No use of irrigation once the young vines are established, high density planting 11,363 vines per hectare to reduce yield, and limiting soil access forcing the roots to grow deeper.

But their work is not done yet. They are only just starting to realise the fruits of their hard labour and as they are working towards biodynamic certification, there is still much they have to learn about their babies, as they call their vines.

 
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Posted by on September 19, 2013 in New Zealand, Uncategorized

 

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Travelling the wineries of the New Zealand South Island in 2010

Marlborough WineTrailmap Earlier this year, I spent 2 weeks travelling the South Island in New Zealand with my husband Ben. Mixing wine tasting with walking we experienced the amazing variety of wines that the South Island has to offer, served up by the warm, open and above all generous Kiwis.

The first stop was at Waipara Valley close to Christchurch, less well known but an area with both boutique and “mass market” wineries. We started at the Mud House winery and cafe. It was buzzing in preparation for a Ronan Keating concert that evening – no doubt a great marketing boost for this large scale producer. We tried the signature crispy Sauvignon Blanc along with the premium Waipara Hills range which apparently has secured some impressive awards. Reasonably well made wines, but just a tad dull I’m afraid. Things improved however at the next stop, Pegasus Bay. The pink spikey mansion with a beautifully refurbished restaurant and nurtured garden provided the perfect surroundings for wine tasting. We loved the Late Harvest Riesling, which was a wonderfully complex mix of honeyed pineapple and peach flavours. The wines here certainly don’t come cheap but they really were a cut above our last stop – perhaps why Oz Clark had chosen to stop off here the week before.

The next day we woke up in our B&B in Blenheim smelling fresh coffee and homemade blueberry muffins from our very friendly host, David. What a welcome! It set the tone for the day where it was the people, as much as the wines, that made the visit. We were picked up by Jo, the ebullient Aussie marketing manager for Tohu who whisked us down to their vineyard in the Awatere Valley. Mondo, the vineyard manager, together with his trusted Collie took us round the pristinely cut and weeded rows of Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir. The scorching sun started to become fierce and Jo saw we were beginning to wilt. She treated us to a lovely lunch at the Wither Hills winery and cafe – I recommend the chilled Gewurztraminer with antipasti and a local gourmet cheese! All the while Jo bubbled with enthusiasm for her recent work rebranding Tohu, her life in Marlborough and her excitement at having tickets for AC/DC the following day!

Before continuing with the Tohu tour, I had to visit one of my favourite wineries, Dog Point. This was set up by a group of ex-Cloudy Bay staff. We were shown around by Graham, the Finance Manager. He was slightly reserved, but he certainly knew his stuff. The wines were to die for – particularly the Sauvignon Blanc Section 94, unusually barrel aged for 18 months. As we sipped away in the tasting room, Kevin Judd, one the Marlborough pioneers popped in and we got the chance to try his new Greywacke Sauvignon Blanc and a rare and still experimental sweet Riesling.

The day was finished off at a lodge in the beautiful Queen Charlotte Sound, where the Tohu team organised a tasting of their range. In such lovely surroundings and with such hospitable people it is hard not to enjoy wine!

The next day showed the incredible variety of the Marlborough wineries. We kicked off at Huia with their delicious Champagne-like sparkling wine. We sidestepped Cloudy Bay (too many coaches) and headed to Clos Henri, French owned and run where we experienced some good old fashioned French surliness. That said, their wines were highly original with the strongly asparagus flavoured Sauvignon Blanc the stand out. At Seresin we shared the tasting room with a German couple who were determined to give us history of German Riesling. Undaunted, we focused on the lovely reds including the Rachel Pinot Noir with its rich fruit concentration of dark cherries, ripe strawberries and refreshing minty finish.

There was just one last stop at Winegrowers of Ara where we met up with Damian Martin, the General Manager who took us on a tour of this huge 1600 hectare vineyard. This viticultural terrace is a unique geological site. Damian was clearly proud of what they had achieved in developing the vineyard. The wines – Resolute, Composite & Pathway – weren’t bad either!
Leaving Marlborough, we headed to Nelson 2 hours drive away. There are 23 small scale family run wineries located round Moutere Hills and Waimea Plains. We had never tasted Nelson wines as they have much smaller distribution in the UK so this region was a journey into the unknown.

We started at Woollaston Estate which is said to be the most scenic winery in Nelson. It is true, sitting on a hilltop surrounded by well cared for rows of vine. We enjoyed the view from the stony terrace with a golden fountain in the middle where preparations for a wedding reception were underway. Unfortunately, the wines did not match the location; perhaps our expectations were too high.

Next we visited the Neudorf winery. The quality here was higher – fresh and aromatic whites and rich and earthy Pinot – but the reception was as chilly as the Franz Josef glacier and instead of being a memorable experience, it became just another tasting note in my book.
It was Beth Eggers Himmelsfeld wines and story that really showed what Nelson is all about. She owns around 26 acres, where she used to grow apples and raise sheep. When apple prices plummeted she decided to pull up the orchard and plant a small vineyard in its place. Beth talked through her story and how she learned about wine making in such a frank and enthusiastic way, we were truly inspired. Beth makes complex, serious and individual wines which she only releases after ageing a considerable time in oak barrels. Perhaps her unique background explains why her wines were so distinctive.

We had discovered some cracking wines in the South Island, but it really was the people and their stories that made the trip so special.

 
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Posted by on August 31, 2011 in New Zealand, Wine Tours

 
 
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