The “elephant in the room” of the New Zealand wine industry is the fact that its star grape, Sauvignon Blanc, “suffers from an image problem”, according to wine writer and consultant Emma Jenkins MW.
Speaking at the second international Sauvignon Blanc Celebration in Marlborough last week, Jenkins told attendees: “Marlborough Sauvignon is coming of age. We’re four decades into this wild experiment and both our vines and our winemakers have matured.
“There is more experience and understanding of our land and as a result, our wines have more nuance. The elephant in the room however, is the fact that Sauvignon suffers from an image problem, as it’s viewed as being too simple.”
New Zealand born and based, Jenkins urged the crowd to “reconsider” their opinion of Sauvignon. “Didier Dagueneau’s Loire Sauvignons are remarkable, complex, profound vehicles for the expression of terroir and I believe Marlborough Sauvignon is absolutely able to achieve that too.
“It’s the engine room of the New Zealand wine industry that we need to turn into a cultural treasure rather than a cash cow by making it more valuable,” she said.
Patrick Materman, chief winemaker at Brancott Estate, echoed Jenkins’ sentiments. “Sauvignon Blanc can be seen as predictable and samey, but nothing could be further from the truth, as there is so much depth and diversity from our offering.
“We’re getting over our midlife crisis and it’s time to take Sauvignon Blanc to the next level, but first we need to overcome headwinds like Brexit.
“Exports of New Zealand wine reached NZ$1.75 billion last year. The industry has grown at an exceptional rate and change will continue to be fast paced as we adapt to climate change and engage with new markets. It’s an exciting new phase but not without its challenges,” he said.
Touching on American wine critic Matt Kramer’s assertion that “there is no culture of Sauvignon Blanc anywhere in the world”, Materman said developing a Sauvignon culture was the “biggest challenge” produces “need to deliver on”.
As to whether a Burgundian style terroir focus or a Champagne blending model was the best way forward for the country, Materman believes “there is scope for both”.
“New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc shows a great sense of place. The country runs a large length of latitude, which helps contribute to the diversity of styles. We need to invest more in research in order to work out which Sauvignon Blanc is desired by which consumers,” he said.