Air New Zealand's wine awards sponsorship questioned

Winemakers are divided on Air New Zealand's involvement in the national wine awards following the airline's decision to appoint a single wine supplier for Koru lounges and economy cabins.

Air New Zealand has held the naming rights for the country's premier wine awards for 28 years, but its exclusive deal with Villa Maria wines has raised hackles in the industry.

Misha Wilkinson, director of Central Otago winery Misha's Vineyard, said it was "totally inappropriate" for Air New Zealand to continue sponsoring the awards.

The Air New Zealand Wine Awards were designed to showcase the diversity of New Zealand wines and Air New Zealand's decision to continue sponsoring the awards after selecting a single supplier for its lounges and economy and premium economy cabins was contradictory, she said.

"The industry is seriously disappointed in Air New Zealand," Wilkinson said.

Misha's Vineyard has competed in the wine awards only once with wines from the vineyard's first vintage entered eight years ago, she said.

Wilkinson said she no longer enters the wine awards because it was not part of the winery's sales strategy.

The winery also did not compete for contracts to supply Air New Zealand. 

Wilkinson said she was prepared to comment on the issue because she felt "one step removed" from it.

Trinity Hill chief executive Michael Henley said he was undecided whether wines from the Hawke's Bay winery would be entered in this year's wine awards.

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If Trinity Hill wines were entered, it would be reluctantly, he said.

Up until this point Air New Zealand had been supportive of the wine industry, he said.

"Only time will tell whether or not they should be sponsoring the awards."

While it was disappointing Air New Zealand had moved to one main supplier, the airline was entitled to make commercial decisions, he said.

Trinity Hill is a past category winner at the wine awards and sold nearly 1000 cases to Air New Zealand for business and economy classes in the past year, he said.

"That type of business has been great for us."

The owner of Marlborough winery Saint Clair Family Estate, Neal Ibbotson, said Air New Zealand was entitled to make whatever commercial decisions it wanted.

"We don't have a problem with it," Ibbotson said.

Ibbotson, whose sauvignon blanc received top honours at last year's awards, said there were a number of winemakers who were upset by Air New Zealand's single supplier decision for the bulk of its wine.

Winemakers Fairfax spoke to said it was their understanding that in order for wines to be selected for business class, they had to be entered into the awards.

An Air New Zealand spokeswoman said when selecting business class wines it would give preference to those which had been entered in the awards, but the airline may approach wineries which did not enter.

The Air New Zealand Wine Awards is organised in partnership with New Zealand Winegrowers and is scheduled for November 21. 

New Zealand Winegrowers chairman Steve Green said the association was happy for Air New Zealand's continued involvement and sponsorship of the awards.

New Zealand Winegrowers would not say when Air New Zealand's naming rights contract expires.

 - Stuff

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