Graham Norton giving Invivo Wines celebrity factor video

Kiwi winemaker, Invivo could recruit more famous ambassadors for expansion, reports John Anthony.

Invivo has honoured its brand representative Irish comedian Graham Norton by spray painting his face on one of their wine tanks.

Young, fun and with a touch of class - just like Jennifer Lawrence.

That's how Graham Norton describes a New Zealand wine he personally blended.

The Irish comedian has been a brand ambassador for Waikato winery Invivo Wines since 2011 and last year was given the opportunity to choose the final blend for his own vintage - Graham Norton's Own Sauvignon Blanc by Invivo 2015.

Graham Norton with Invivo Wines founders Rob Cameron (centre) and Tim Lightbourne at a sauvignon blanc blending session ...
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Graham Norton with Invivo Wines founders Rob Cameron (centre) and Tim Lightbourne at a sauvignon blanc blending session last year.

The pairing originally came about when Invivo founders Tim Lightbourne​ and Rob Cameron sent Norton a case of Invivo wine after noticing the host of the Graham Norton Show always had a glass of white wine on hand as he interviewed the world's hottest celebrities.

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It turned out Norton was a big fan of the wine and Invivo has been sending a case to the Graham Norton Show every week since then - securing itself as the official wine supplier to the show.

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Invivo wine founders Rob Cameron and Tim Lightbourne flew to the UK so Graham Norton could blend his own Marlborough sauvignon blanc.

They even managed to get Norton to stomp some Marlborough sauvignon blanc grapes on stage in 2014 as part of a marketing stunt for the first ever Graham Norton's Own Sauvignon Blanc 2014.

The 53-year-old not only liked the wine but also the company and bought a 1 per cent share in 2014 and another 1 per cent a year later.

Norton says he has really enjoyed New Zealand sauvignon blanc for a long time.

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In 2014 Graham Norton stomped Marlborough sauvignon blanc grapes on stage with Invivo wines co-founder Tim Lightbourne.

"The boys from Invivo heard about that and were smart enough to think, wine plus celebrities equals some press coverage," Norton told Fairfax.

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"I admired them for for their marketing know how but also the quality of the wine."

For Graham Norton's Own Sauvignon Blanc 2015 Lightbourne and Cameron flew to the UK and gave Norton the opportunity to decide on the final blend.

Actress Jennifer Lawrence is the personification of New Zealand wine says chat show host Graham Norton
MARIO ANZUONI

Actress Jennifer Lawrence is the personification of New Zealand wine says chat show host Graham Norton

Lightbourne says the plan is to do a "fun blend" each year with Norton, who he describes as having a very discerning palate.

"He was picking some very very subtle flavour differences which takes quite a palate to chose," Lightbourne says.

Asked to compare his sauvignon blanc to a guest from the show Norton likened it to Academy Award winning actress Jennifer Lawrence - young, fun and a bit classy.

Norton says it is an easy drinking wine.

"It's got all the grassiness and zest you expect from a new world sauvignon blanc but I like to think it has a bit of an old world finish."

Having such a big name backing the brand has no doubt helped Invivo's success and Lightbourne is already thinking about what other celebrities the winery can align with as it looks to expand into new markets.

Last year the company raised $2 million in less than two weeks through crowdfunding - becoming the first New Zealand company to raise the maximum amount allowed.

Since then it has moved into an historic 114-year-old Waikato winery in Te Kauwhata about one hour south of Auckland.

Lightbourne says visitors to the winery are always asking which tank contains Norton's wine - so they commissioned artists to paint the talk show host's face on it.

Started in 2008 Invivo is a winery with no vineyards.

Instead of growing its own grapes it sources them from up to 20 growers in Marlborough, Central Otago and Gisbourne, some of which supply exclusively to Invivo.

Invivo produces wine under two distinct brands - Invivo and Graham Norton.

About 85 per cent of all the wine it produces is sauvignon blanc and up to 40 per cent of sauvignon blanc sales are Norton's wine.

It also produces rose, pinot gris, riesling, chardonnay and pinot noir.

The winery currently pumps out 100,000 cases a year - or about 1.2 million bottles.

Lightbourne says the goal is to keep growing at 40 or 50 per cent each year.

"Obviously it's got to be profitable growth while keeping our prices at a premium."

"It's easy to go sell at low prices, it's tougher to keep growing and be profitable at the same time and that's where we want to be."

Graham's wine retails for $18 a bottle and is selling well in New Zealand, Australia, the UK and Ireland.

"The brand is flying in Ireland. Stores are selling out," Lightbourne says.

Invivo recently won a contract with large Australian alcohol store chain BWS to sell Graham's wine in 1008 stores nationwide from the end of the month.

Invivo is looking to add to the 17 countries it already sells to but there are some markets where the Graham Norton brand would not work such as North America and Asia, Lightbourne says.

That is where the possibility of recruiting more celebrities as brand ambassadors comes in.

Lightbourne is a marketer by trade having previously worked for L'Oreal - a company which puts an emphasis on associating well known faces to its brands.

"We probably would connect with someone who's known in the market.

"I always like ambassadors or people known to be attached to the brand."

But wine is about more than just a brand - what's in a bottle is more important than what's on a label.

"All that marketing stuff wouldn't work unless the wine stacked up as well."

And Norton's wine does stack up, having been awarded a range of medals at international wine competitions.

The next Graham Norton vintage is expected to be released in August with both a sauvignon blanc and a red wine.

"People come to it because it's Graham's wine but hopefully return to it because they like the quality."

 - Stuff

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