Gold for organic winery
Lars Jensen is quietly chuffed. Richmond Plains, the vineyard he owns with wife Sam, has just won the first gold medals specifically awarded by the Hong Kong International Wine Challenge for organic and biodynamic wines.
The small vineyard won gold for its sauvignon blanc 2010 and chardonnay 2009 at its first time entering the show. Its two other entries also did well, with its Nelson pinot noir 2010 and Nelson blanc de noir – a white wine made from pinot noir grapes – winning silver medals.
"It's pretty pleasing to get an award for every entry. It's an endorsement for what we are doing and our wine quality," Mr Jensen said, adding that what made it special was that the wines were up against strong international competition in what was the world's fastest-growing market.
It showed that New Zealand wines were winning acceptance in Asia and compared well with other wines, such as French, that were traditionally drunk in those markets, he said.
It also reinforced Richmond Plains' philosophy that it was possible to produce delicious wines without resorting to chemicals, which was better for consumers and gentle on the environment, he said. "By carefully growing and nurturing our vines using natural, organic and biodynamic methods and harnessing all that nature has to offer, we can truly express the vineyard's character or terroir in our wines."
Established in 1991, Richmond Plains was the first winery to achieve both organic and biodynamic certifications.
Mr Jensen said the medal success would help lift the profile of the winery – which produces 5000 to 7000 cases a year – in Asian markets, which currently took about 25 per cent of what it sold but had the potential to be much higher.
Rather than export directly into China, which was a difficult process involving a lot of paperwork and personal contact, the winery found it easier to sell into Hong Kong.
"Hong Kong is a very good market in its own right, but also acts as a base for importers and distributors to export to other markets, particularly China."
While Asian markets were dominated by red wines, there was a growing demand for white wines among expatriates and locals in Hong Kong, and as a small winery, Richmond Plains needed only a tiny slice of a big market to do well, Mr Jensen said.
With the international market so competitive, "you don't get 500 to 1000 types of peanut butter when you go shopping, but that's the reality of the wine world".
Developing a brand and promoting it was crucial, which was why medal wins were so prized, he said.
But the winery had no grand plans to expand, particularly in the current tough economic climate. "We want to keep it small, family owned and manageable."