Hobbit's tipple

HERE'S TO HOBBITS: Rob Grey, left, and Ryan O’Connell of Middle-Earth Wines  at the Nelson Wineart event.
HERE'S TO HOBBITS: Rob Grey, left, and Ryan O’Connell of Middle-Earth Wines at the Nelson Wineart event.

Anyone can make wine if they put their mind to it, but selling it at a profit is a whole other ball game and, in this day and age of huge choice for the consumer, wine producers have to be smart to get their product on the shelf of your favourite liquor outlet.

Premium producers who want their wines on the high-priced shelf of specialty wine shops need to deliver wines of great quality, not just easy drinking. At the high-turnover end, producers need to deliver quality wine consistently to find space on the supermarket shelf.

Producers such as Yealand's are masters of marketing: some would say marketing gimmicks; others would say being a step ahead of the pack. Their latest releases include a sauvignon blanc in a plastic bottle (fantastic for the beach or party) and a sauvignon blanc that plays tricks with your senses: it is red. Sauvignoir is a blend of sauvignon blanc and a Chilean red variety, teinturier. It has classic Marlborough sauvignon blanc with a subtle rose-style flavour twist.

Another producer closer to home was prepared to ask a simple question - can we brand our wines Middle-earth? The links to Peter Jackson, Weta Workshops and Warner Brothers are obvious but who has secured the rights to use Middle-earth in relation to wines? It turns out no-one had asked the question before the Grey family received a positive response from Saul Zaentz who controls the rights to everything Tolkien.

The term Middle-earth sits well in the Nelson region; being the middle of the country, it has a sense of place that is immediately identifiable in New Zealand and the work of Peter Jackson means Middle-earth is associated around the world with New Zealand.

It took many meetings, a visit from representatives of Saul Zaentz to talk about how the brand would be used, discussions with Warners and Peter Jackson but they were finally granted the worldwide rights to use the term Middle-earth in relation to wine.

When I met Ryan O'Connell, the marketing director for Middle-earth Wine and associated companies Greys Wines and The Gravels wines, he explained the huge support the new label has had from Nelson Tasman Tourism and Tourism New Zealand because having exclusive rights to this name adds a vast amount of value to not only the company but to Brand NZ and Brand Nelson.

The real challenge now is to make sure they deliver wines that are of fantastic quality to maintain the expectations set by Jackson and co and also reflect the purity New Zealand wines have an international reputation for.

One of the first Middle-earth wines I tried was the 2012 Pinot Meunier Rose. Pinot meunier is a clone of pinot noir normally used in the production of champagne-style wines, so seeing it in this form is unusual. The wine is dry in style, packed with juicy red berry fruit flavours and reflects some of the intrigue associated with Tolkien.

Just like the book and movies this label delivers quality now and will get better with each vintage.