On Friday 9th of November, I was lucky enough to attend a debate hosted by New Zealand Wine Growers at New Zealand House, London. Amongst a group of passionate and extremely knowledgeable wine industry folk, we were there to witness a few key members debate New Zealand’s position, perception and challenges faced in the UK market. The panel included Jenny Smith from Oddbins, Andrew Shaw from Bibendum, Roger Jones from Little Bedwyn, Marc Flounders from Vagabond Wines and lastly Philip Gregan, NZ Wine Growers CEO who was also asked to represent on the panel.
Richard Siddle the chair of the debate - immediately referred to New Zealand as the Coldplay of the wine world; by always managing a solid performance. Consistent, readily available and in everyone’s collection - the trouble is, who now gets over-excited when you put on a Coldplay song, not me.
It is no wonder New Zealand retains such a premium offering, the industry is founded on next-level Sauvignon success, and there is plenty more to come. Thanks to a generation of winemakers that are (or should be) now actively encouraging the next generation to move to the limelight, offering one of the most personable and dynamic wine industries in the world. The offering is premium (always has been) and the community vibrant and admirable whilst undeniably always retaining a quality that is consistent coupled with a reputation that is unrivalled.
Obviously as a firm advocate of New Zealand wine, I appreciate the need for multiple retailers and national chains funnelling our bulk industry (regardless of whether I agree with it or not). However, the general consensus of this debate was formed around the premium sector and ensuring New Zealand manages to activate a separate strategy creating further opportunities and enticement. This activation should be lead by the likes of New Zealand Wine Growers and funnily enough Philip Gregan acknowledged we should always be doing something ‘different’ but what have we achieved that is 'different' since our Sauvignon success? Yes, Sauvignon is our biggest success but in equal measure it is also our biggest weakness. We have a hugely dynamic and inspiring industry, except somehow this is lost in translation for the UK.
So the question is; what is New Zealand *now* undertaking as a point of difference?
Controversially, Gregan openly discussed the values of promoting an ‘open minded’ industry with clear direction, however there was no insight provided as to what this was or where their energy would be focussed - difficult to enhance and activate this strategy if we are not lead from above. What is our point of difference, and how can we react as a progressive industry, without fresh ideas, events, and wines in market.
The last thing we want is for New Zealand’s fine reputation to transcend to an old Coldplay record at the bottom of a pile, one that we all liked once upon a time... before something more enticing captivated the world.
I speak to a lot of people, from journalists, to consumers, to trade, and winemakers from New Zealand. The consensus and feedback from the panel highlighted that it is apparent New Zealand needs to step up its game. Competing against the infectious energy of our alternate New World rivals (and friends) South Africa and Australia, leaves our New Zealand followers searching for more.
Another avid NZ advocate Mr Roger Jones from Little Bedwyn recognised "there isn’t enough of us to promote, but the choice is definitely there, we must stick together and continue to showcase New Zealand as best we can" But will it be enough? The leadership of New Zealand’s global strategy feels lost, and in a world where Australia and South Africa are enticing consumers in every which way - what is New Zealand doing to ensure its progressive nature is upheld? The investment in energy, alignment and commitment needs to be a focus, for fear of our consumers losing focus.
The obvious challenges for the UK is distance, and the cost required for travel. The little artisan guys don't receive the resource or support to sustain a presence in the UK market, which is a crying shame. The UK market is one of the oldest and most mature for New Zealand, but it requires nurturing and attention. New Zealand owes a lot to the UK and the conversations that began with journalists back in the early days (thanks Oz Clarke). The New Zealand Cellar & Roger Jones of Little Bedwyn support and offer resource and exposure for New Zealand winemakers when they visit the UK and have great success in both sales and recognition for premium brands in this sector as a result.
The support by New Zealand Wine Growers has been limited, with little presence offered, nor an indication of direction. We are left trying to extend and grow our New Zealand wine conversation alone... The lack of understanding, strategy and energy for New Zealand in the UK market will be to the detriment of the New Zealand industry if they are not careful.
Steve Smith MW, asked the panel if there was position for top tier Sauvignon, and we’re talking Te Koko on steroids. There are people in the world who purchase Dagueneau so why can’t New Zealand claim a similar uber premium position, he asked? This also moved to a discussion of New Zealand not ‘understanding’ its new aromatic varietals and adding a Sauvignon ‘stamp’ to say, Gruner Veltliner - “understanding the potential of a varietal is paramount to retaining it’s reputation”, said Mark from Vagabond.
After recently launching The Australian Cellar we are lucky to be supported massively by Wine Australia in the UK. Understanding their community and values provides phenomenal insight to the direction in which we can formulate our voice for Australia and extend a broader conversation and visibility online. Online tools, education and energy certainly provide a foundation that enables growth and exposure for a market, Wine Australia have certainly managed to nail this.
What is the answer? Direction, passion and focussed energy - enabling us to convey a message instilled with spirit, personality, attitude and quality and communicating this to each sector to ensure its success.
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