Where does NZ fit in the Wine World?

Updated: Jun 28, 2021

New Zealand wine has a branding issue. Sure, we are famous for rugby, famous for the scenery, famous for a particular series of movies, but what about wine? Where does kiwi* wine sit in the global scheme of things?

France has a special place in the mind of Japanese consumers as being the best, which could be possible at the very high end, but really at that point it’s 100% about personal preference – remember PPiP (Personal Preference is Paramount). Italy , Germany, and Spain are great, too, but with the USA as an exception, many guests think of New World countries as being cheap and cheerful. New Zealand is New World, so it must be at the cheaper end of the price spectrum, right?

Actually, on average, New Zealand bottles are the most expensive in the world.

How can that be?

Well, there are a number of reasons. For starters, New Zealand has a fairly small amount of land set aside for grapes. Not even including the rest of France, Bordeaux alone has roughly three times the total area under vine. Much of the best places are farmland, and due to the scarcity of available land the prices can be high due to demand.

(On a side note, It is hugely exciting to think that the best areas of wine producing might not even been discovered yet.)

Sustainability is another reason. 96% of the country’s vineyard area is certified Sustainable, while the cultivation under organic certification is steadily growing. This type of farming costs more than if the motivation was purely commercial, and these costs are obviously included in the price of the bottle.

I haven’t talked about family, but that is a huge influence on the quality of wines that Aotearoa produces. And it is big one. In many cases the names of the makers are on the labels. Not just their salaries, but their family’s reputation, history, and tradition are at stake. They are just representing not only their brand when they work, they are representing their ancestors and feel this pressure to work with love and heartfelt care. Many are tiny family operations, but even Villa Maria, one of New Zealand’s largest and most iconic producers, is still family owned.

There are other reasons that I might go into in the future, but in my opinion the fundamental factor is that producers in Aotearoa have overwhelmingly chosen to aim for quality over quantity. New Zealand doesn’t try and compete at the bottom end of the market. Considering how kiwi wines consistently perform in blind tastings against significantly more expensive wines from around the world, results speak for themselves.

What is funny about all of this is that New Zealanders don’t know how lucky we are. We’ve been spoilt into believing that really good wine is just normal, because it is truly hard to find a bad wine in New Zealand.

All of this comes back to the original question: where does New Zealand sit in the global wine scheme of things?

Personally, I don’t think we should be placed in the same category as France, Italy, or Spain. Perhaps, if you were to remove the gigalitres of mass-produced wine that has been made without love and left just their deliciously crafted wines.

New Zealand sits in the New Zealand category.

High quality low production.

* A kiwi is specifically a bird. It is also a casual name for a person from Aotearoa It can also mean something that comes from New Zealand (example – kiwi ice cream, kiwi wine, kiwi cheese). A kiwi is NOT an exotic fruit - that is a kiwifruit. So kiwi wine is a wine made in New Zealand, not a wine made from kiwifruit (that would be kiwifruit wine).

**Aotearoa is the Maori way of saying New Zealand, and is used interchangeably by many kiwis.

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