OPINION: Call it consolidation, call it whatever you will, but the game of musical chairs that the so-called experts said would reshape the New Zealand wine industry seems finally to be reaching a crescendo.
Over the past few weeks a number of deals have been done, and are still being done, which will either ensure the survival of a number of labels, in some cases rationalise production and in others guarantee a better supply of sought-after wines.
The latter is one of the reasons advanced by Sir George Fistonich for his pending acquisition of Te Awa, on the Gimblett Gravels in Hawke's Bay. He says it will help his company (Villa Maria) meet the increasing demand, particularly for its Hawke's Bay syrah, merlot and malbec from Asian and other markets.
However, it is understood Te Awa will continue as a separately run boutique operation, as is his Esk Valley winery near Napier, rather than being merging into the Villa Maria.
The purchase of 100 hectares of unique red wine country adjoining Villa's existing Gimblett Gravels holdings also consolidates Sir George's position as the dominant producer on this prized piece of real estate.
Te Awa was established in the early 1990s by the Lawson family, but has been owned since 2002 by the New York businessman and philanthropist Julian Robertson, who also owns Dry River Winery in Martinborough.
The Te Awa purchase includes Kidnapper Cliffs winery, which shares its branding with the Robertson-owned luxury lodge and golf course at Cape Kidnappers in Hawke's Bay.
A second major deal also involves an American businessman - Bill Foley, and his family - who as Foley Family Wines recently merged with the NZ Wine Company, taking control of the Grove Mill winery and brand in Marlborough.
Mr Foley, who also owns Vavasour, Clifford Bay Wines, and Te Kairanga brands, and Wharekauhau luxury lodge in the Wairarapa, has big plans for the Grove Mill winery.
They start with a million-dollar upgrade which means 90 per cent of the Foley operation will be based at Grove Mill.
Not so happy the story in Hawke's Bay, where further consolidation by the multi-national Pernod Ricard has seen the Corbans winery at Napier close and production transferred to nearby Church Road. The winery, which has the capacity to crush and ferment 10,000 tonnes of grapes and storage for 8.3 million litres of wine is on the market.
Meanwhile Matariki, another Hawke's Bay winery, has been placed in receivership and also faces an uncertain future.
According to the receiver the company established by John and Rosemary O'Connor in the 1980s to tap into the super- premium red wine market was overwhelmed by production and distribution costs and is in debt to the tune of $10.3 million.
Its position on the Gimblett Gravels, is however, likely to make it an attractive proposition if and when it is offered for sale.
Better news though for a third and very prestigious Hawke's Bay producer.
Craggy Range has just announced a 'strategic partnership' with Benjamin de Rothschild, of one of the world's most famous winemaking families, to produce Marlborough sauvignon blanc and pinot noir.
The wines will wear the Rimapere (five fingers) label, and will be made from grapes grown in a 26-ha vineyard recently purchased by Mr de Rothschild on Rapaura Road, Marlborough's famous Golden Mile.
The first wine, a sauvignon blanc, will be released this month.
While you're waiting, try:
Saint Clair 2011 Omaka Reserve Marlborough Chardonnay, about $33
Those who like a ballsy chardonnay will love this rich, citrus-driven, buttery, toasty model. Barrel- fermented and aged in American oak.
Main Divide 2010 Waipara Valley Chardonnay 2010, about $19
A great buy this fruitier style of chardonnay, still with a hint of meal and nuts from 18 months on wood and lees, but with a fresher, flintier and softer character.
Terrace Edge 2011 Waipara Valley Pinot Gris, $23
This has to be one of the most consistent and smartest pinot gris buys in the country. Particularly if you like them medium-dry, with a bit of grunt but the depth of flavour to match.
- The Southland Times