The latitudinal extent of New Zealand (NZ), at about 13.5 degrees, or about 800 miles or 1300 km, from the sub-tropical north to cool climate south, means that there are few wine styles that cannot be attempted; fine terroirs and the absence of European style regulation mean that experimentation and innovation can flourish. But, can NZ compete at the pinnacle of sparkling wine? Production of traditional method wine is in decline, and fresh zingy carbonated sparkling in the ascent, have they missed the boat, are the barriers to competition insurmountable?
Viticulture takes place in the drier eastern regions of both islands, though Otago is a little more central.
Sparkling production is centred in the Marlborough region, at the north end of the South Island, at a latitude of about 42S. But there are outposts in Central Otago at 45S, and Hawkes Bay and Gisborne at 39S, in the North Island. With the absence of European style regulation, wine from North and South Islands is often blended to achieve richness (from the North) and structure (from the South).
- Marlborough is protected from wet westerly winds by the Richmond and other mountain ranges. It has, with its hills, valleys and plains, a range of microclimates – but in general terms it has a maritime climate, so warm summers and mild winters, and in the fruiting season the days are dry and sunny, and nights are cool. It is also pretty reliable – so vintage wine can be produced almost every year.
- Central Otago – protected by encircling mountain ranges, it has a semi-continental climate – very cold winters, hot summers, cool night-time temperatures and very low rainfall.
- Gisborne and Hawkes Bay – a maritime climate.
- Marlborough, including Blenheim – considerable diversity in soil type, commonly free draining stony soils, and alluvial loam with clay and gravel.
- Central Otago – well-drained glacial soils, well suited to pinot noir.
- Gisborne and Hawkes Bay – the former has fertile loamy soils, the latter more alluvial. Both areas produce chardonnay destined for sparkling wine production.
There are more questions than ready answers to the state of premium traditional method production in NZ. There are very few top quality producers eg Deutz, Marlborough (Pernod Ricard); Cloudy Bay, Marlborough (LVMH); No1 Family Estate, Blenheim (Daniel Le Brun), and Quartz Reef, Centra Otago. Otherwise, many still wine producers tend to simply tack on a sparkler to complete their offering. With commercial pressures and the ease of making still wines with a short lead time to market, why would producers invest in an expensive traditional method programme with an uncertain market?
In any event the competition is winning acclaim and market share – from England, the north-west Pacific states, South Africa and Tasmania – they are becoming better known in the important European market, as consumers experiment away from Champagne.
The major export markets in 2012 for NZ sparkling wine, were Australia (0.8m litres) and UK (0.5m litres), with all others an order of magnitude or two, less. In 2015 wine became the 6th largest export sector, with the US becoming the most valuable market, ahead of Australia . Asia and China are also seen as premium sarkling export opportunities .
Premium NZ traditional method wines in the UK market include: Cloudy Bay’s (owned by LVMH) Pelorus at about £20, this is the benchmark for NZ wines.
The price premium of carbonated over still sauvignon blanc in the UK, is about £2, so about £12 for a carbonated wine.
NZ sparkling wine exports fell by 40% from 2.3m litres in 2006 to 1.4 m litres in 2012, that is <1% of total wine exports in 2012; with total sales of 0.2m litres of carbonated sparkling sauvignon blanc in 2012. In 2014 sparkling represented ~1% of exports .
Vintage wine-wise, the climate is pretty reliable, so there is no need to tie up capital in reserve wines to blend away defects or blend in complexity – but without that philosophy, quality will not compare with decent Champagne. 2012 was one of the coolest growing seasons in NZs recent wine history, with low yields but top quality; 2013 is reported as a normal growing year
Aside from the 4 traditional method producers above, there are major firms at work, these 2 use both traditional and carbonation methods in their ranges:
- Brancott Estate (Montana, owned by Pernod Ricard – traditional method examples with 15 months lees ageing; sauvignon blanc and pinot gris by carbonation.
- Lindauer sources grapes from Gisborne and Hawkes Bay; traditional method examples with 24 months lees ageing; sauvignon blanc and pinot gris by carbonation.
- Oyster Bay (owned by the family owned business Delegat’s Wine Estate New Zealand) – a Hawkes Bay producer of a popular mid-priced chardonnay based brut and a chardonnay-pinot noir rose blend.
Other interesting producers:
Varieties – pinot noir and chardonnay; sauvignon blanc and others for carbonated wines.
Vertical shoot positioning (VSP), that is head trained cane pruned is the most common method in Marlborough; and both VSP and cordon trained spur pruned are used in Otago; double guyot seems popular in Hawkes Bay, VSP and cordon/spur in Gisborne.
Daniel Le Brun, from a Champenois family, is the sole producer planting at high density and hand harvesting, for traditional method vinification. His work influenced Cloudy Bay’s move into premium traditional method sparkling wine. In general, NZ is set up for machinery in the vineyard.
Irrigation is in use in the Marlborough region.
Methods include traditional, transfer, charmat – gives a better CO2 persistence than carbonation (suits aromatic varieties – retains fruit flavours) and carbonation (retains fruit flavours).
Riddling by gyropallette appears to be the norm.
Vintage, brut, rose, sec – all the usual styles.
Some age traditional method wines on their lees, 1.5 to 3 years appears normal practice.
- Mount Bluff Sauvignon blanc – carbonated.
- No1 Family Estate – traditional method.
- Oyster Bay Sparkling Cuvee brut – tank method.
- Quartz Reef brut – traditional method.
- Easton, S. New Zealand sparkling wine. [online] accessed 12/12/18.
- New Zealand Wine Report – 2017. [online] accessed 12/12/18.
- New Zealand wine exports hit $1.5 billion as US becomes largest market. [online] accessed 12/12/18.
- How important are NZ wine exports to China and Asia? [online] accessed 12/12/18.