John Saker: Bulk wine sold overseas threatens our reputation
I'm wondering if New Zealand wine has lost its mojo. Not the wine itself, rather the spirit and vision of those who make it.
In particular, I'm looking at you Marlborough. How much longer are you going to put up with the degradation of your region's name?
The millions of litres of bulk wine (almost all of it Marlborough sauvignon blanc) that leaves these shores is more than troubling. It's a disgrace. Bulk wine, for those not in the know, is wine exported in immense plastic bags. It is then bottled and badged in different parts of the world, which is why you see so many "New Zealand" brands you've never heard of when you travel.
In such cases, how pure is the "Marlborough wine" that ends up in a consumer's glass? Who would know? No demands are placed on the buyers of this bulk wine in terms of authenticity assurance.
Because it's sold at the lower end of the market, the incentives are there for corners to be cut and for quality to be compromised. Until now, there's been no major scandal in this area, but it's waiting to happen. Stories of unscrupulous practices trickle back regularly from people who have worked at offshore bulk wine buying operations.
There's a reason many French producers have 'Mis en bouteille à la propriete' proudly printed on their corks. It means the wine was bottled at the estate itself, ie, the producer retained strict control of the wine all the way. Marlborough has lost that kind of control for a huge amount of the wine it produces.
Linked to the bulk wine horror is the issue of yields. Excessively over-cropped vines (ie, high yields) are the enemy of quality wine. When middlemen demand quantity and consumers expect low prices, growers think only of high yields. Heavy crops over recent times have led to a serious debasement of the quality of Marlborough sauvignon blanc, the style that brought New Zealand wine world renown
What's the answer? A few rules wouldn't go amiss. As the French "appellation d'origine" system has shown us, rules can protect a region's brand from the abuses of capitalism and greed. Those rules should come from within Marlborough. They need to champion regional authenticity. Ideally, they also need to reach into production methods and put yield caps in place.
Years ago, Marlborough wine producers acted together with bravery and chutzpah to introduce screw caps. That's the kind of attitude we need to see again from those who care in our largest wine region.
Mahi Chardonnay 2015 $29: A three vineyard blend, this is a very lovable chardonnay. Its quiet intensity, elegance and creamy texture all make it memorable. It leaves you feeling refreshed and looking forward to another glass.
Ngatarawa Glazebrook Regional Reserve Chardonnay 2016 $20: This chardonnay has on old school, Hawke's Bay swagger. Hazelnut and tarte au citron notes shine boldly. Yet its rich flavours do not come at the expense of lift and freshness. An excellent buy.