Maori wine adds to GDP

It's still a busy time for most grape growers and we're no exception. So while I was getting bird nets organised and finishing some mowing, Peter took over the writing reins.

Mention the word Maori and almost immediately the tone of the conversation will drift into a less-than-appealing diatribe about "grievance mode", "separate development" and "special treatment". This negative reaction is not only a sad reflection on those involved; it also denies the reality of the growing power and expertise of Maori-owned businesses and the concomitant re-structuring of the social order in New Zealand.

From trade presentations, world expo events, sporting festivals and local and international business ventures, the influence of Maori cultural icons and ways of doing business is obvious.

What may not be so obvious are the results emanating from this renaissance. From being seen as a politically correct addition to the gamut of social/political initiatives and weighing down New Zealand's economic growth, the value of the Maori economy has grown from an estimated $9 billion in 2001 to $39b today. Business sectors enjoying this surge of activity include Maori-owned tourism, fisheries, forestry and agriculture.

The financial indicators are impressive. For example in 2012 Ngai Tahu holdings group increased the value of assets to $747.87 million, achieving a net profit of $95.66m. Similarly, Tainui Group holdings reported total assets of $694m and a return of $39.9m.

All this from the $170m settlements each tribe received in the mid-90s. Yes, there have been failures, but these are not confined to Maori-led enterprises.

New Zealand's wine industry has also benefited from Maori business initiatives, led by Tohu Wines Ltd in 1998. It is owned by Ngati Rarua and Whakatu Incorporation from the top of the south and Gisborne-based Wi Pere trust.

From small beginnings, Tohu is now in the top 30 of wine companies by production.

Locally, the Te Pa brand has recently been launched by Haysley MacDonald, whose whanau links back to the earliest settlement at the Wairau Bar. Also making their way in the industry is Royce and Sue Kean's establishment of the Tiki and Maui brands.

Over the years this column has reviewed many Maori wine company products and each time they have never failed to impress. But what always comes up in our conversations at the time is the labelling imagery that has been used to differentiate their brands.

Deciding and finalising label design is one of the most fraught and important tasks when establishing a new wine brand. After several years in wine retail, I lost count of the number of brands that underwent numerous label changes in the quest for that elusive point of difference. I'm not talking about minor tweaks but complete makeovers, which instantly destroyed brand recognition and had a deleterious effect on brand value.

Maori wine brands have no such difficulty. Every one we've seen is distinctive, different and above all evocative. Is it any wonder that Maori in general are fiercely protective of cultural imagery and icons?

Meanwhile, Brancott Estate is launching its limited-edition Marlborough sauvignon blanc at 7pm on March 7 at the Brancott Estate Heritage Centre. The highlight (other than the wine) will be an exclusive performance by Haley Westenra, who will serenade guests while they enjoy a three-course dinner. Tickets are $200 per person and limited, so be in quick. Phone 03 520 6975.

Crossroads Winemakers Collection Hawke's Bay Chardonnay 2011 ($35.99)

Pale in the glass with lifted perfumed notes of jasmine and honeysuckle and stone fruit characters.

Fruit and spice blend seamlessly on the palate. This is a pleasantly understated wine, dry in style with toffee apple and subtle malo notes. The robust toffee apple finish leaves you wanting more but this wine is still a baby and if cellared, time will do it justice.

Villa Maria Taylors Pass Marlborough Chardonnay 2007 ($38)

From the outset we were impressed with the subtle excellence of this wine. It has gentle oak, citrus, apple and nectarine aromas.

On the palate, the sophistication continues with old-world flinty minerality combining with toffee, ripe apple and citrus flavours. Elegant with a long and delicious finish. Excellent stuff.

Riverby Single Vineyard Pinot Gris 2011 ($20)

Spicy, perfumed, guava and delicate tropical aromas point to a subtly aromatic wine.

On the silky palate, ginger spice dominates, yet there is plenty of perfumed fruit weight.

Satisfyingly lean and elegant with pleasing guava and pear mid-palate punch. Soft and gentle on the finish. Another well-made wine from this increasingly sophisticated range.

The Marlborough Express