Wine Guide
New Zealand fine wine
It is unsurprising that New Zealand’s Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay have created a stir in international markets. When wine guru Robert Parker - a vociferous critic of New Zealand's wine industry - decreed a 1997 Felton Road as one of the top three wines of the year in a blind tasting of Burgundy reds, the fine wine industry took note. It was 2002. With Parker benediction, New Zealand, it seemed, had finally joined the big league with gusto.

Others were quick to jump on the New Zealand wine wagon; the following year, Wine Spectator rated central Otago as one of the top five most exciting new world wine regions and US drinks magnate Constellation Brands invested in terroir. Ten years later and what could have been a fleeting trend has endured; Greystone Wines 2014 Pinot Noir won the Decanter Magazine's International Trophy as well as the Air New Zealand’s Wine Trophy, while Craggy Range’s “beautifully layered and complex” 2013 Pinot Noir is a Decanter Magazine gold medal winner and a 95 pointer according to (New Zealand wine specialist) Bob Campbell.

So what had happened to the Kiwis? Why had the new world region suddenly shot from zero to hero in a few short years?

First of all, we have the NZ government to thank. In the mid-1980s, fearing overproduction, the government advised all wine growers to pull up a quarter of their vines. The knock on effect was, of course, low yields and startlingly good wines. However, despite the wine being of award-winning standard, the low yields and low prices made little economic sense, and many producers were left out of pocket. Spurred into action by heavy losses of the domestic market share, the winemakers launched a sustained export drive, which ultimately resulted in the removal of barriers on both export and import. Then came the mass plantings of the early 1990s, a bumper crop, coupled with a wave of creative winemakers. These guys had nothing to lose - the wine industry as it stood was of little interest so what harm was a little artistry among friends? They took viticultural risks, planted in previously unconsidered areas with imported grapes that had thus far been overlooked.

Investors such as Craggy Range’s Steve Smith and Trinity Hill’s Charles Banks then provided much-needed cash injections to the region, which in turn allowed the wineries to update their equipment. So all in all, the end of the 20th century was pretty much a golden era for New Zealand fine wines.

But before we dismiss New Zealand as a new world phenomenon, we would be good to look at the nation’s wine-producing history. Because what occidental Europe considers as new, in fact has a history that dates back over 200 years.

The Anglican missionary Samual Marsden first recorded seeing grapevines (that had undoubtedly been there for many years previous to his arrival) in 1819. When French explorer Dumont d’Urville, visited Busby at Waitangi in 1840, he recalls being given “a light white wine, very sparkling and delicious to taste...” He also wrote that “New Zealand promises to be very favourable to the vine”. With vineyards such as Bell Hill and Pyramid Valley producing above excellent wine today, we think his prediction has been brilliantly fulfilled.

With many of New Zealand regions (Hawke’s Bay being the prime example) being colonised by European missionaries who needed to cultivate the land for communion wine, savoir-faire was rich in the 19th century. However, zealots, government legislation and prohibition had a negative impact on the industry and by 1960 little was left. Interestingly, the industry boomed during the second world war as all taxes on wine were lifted.

Today the country is defined by its Sauvignon Blanc, particularly those produced North Canterbury (on the northeast of the South Island).

From an investment point of view, predicting the longevity of New Zealand as an influential fine wine country seems positive. As climate change continues, experts expect that traditionally vine friendly region such as Napa in California or Stellebosch in South Africa will become too hot for wine production. Producers will ultimately start to look for cooler climates in which to work, and New Zealand’s extreme temperatures (blisteringly hot summers and chilling winters) will no doubt have their part to play. In monetray terms, the value of New Zealand’s wine exports has skyrocketed from $NZ18 million or €10.4 million in 1990, to a forecasted rise to $2 billion by 202. That’s well over €1.1 billion. It seems that the future, for now at least, is Kiwi.