03 Mar

Change for the better or for the sake of change?

An interesting thought and one that I’ve been pondering of late. When you consider that there are many different reasons we choose one wine over another, it seems that many producers are perhaps missing a trick. There’s been quite a shift in the last 12-18 months in the style of many New Zealand wines, particularly Chardonnay. Reviewing the sales of many favourites that have changed their main labels, it does seem that many consumers are no longer continuing to call the wines they have consistently followed, year in year, out their favourites.

Whilst in Marlborough for the Sauvignon Blanc Celebration there was indeed much conversation about style. Where do you sit on the use of oak, new oak, old oak, different sized barrels, for fermentation, for ageing? The use of sulphides for complexity, the balance, the amount and how they are formed. There’s then lees stirring, blending of Sauvignon and Semillon, hand harvesting, machine harvesting, canopy management and that’s all before we get to the strains of yeast used and clones.

This led me to think, is consistency of style so important that it challenges change and holds back innovation? Or is it that consistency is important at different levels of the market? It was suggested by many of the international speakers that Sauvignon Blanc consumers are not in fact brand loyal and, particularly with the Millennials, they like to experiment and try new labels.

I think that it’s true that innovation and experimentation is required, without it, we’d not be where we are today. Particularly given how young the New Zealand Wine Industry is, we do need to continue to change and test the waters. There’s no room to think that those around us on a global market are not doing the same thing; a recent blind tasting of a clean, fresh, fruit driven Pinotage that looked nothing like a South African wine and a Chilean Sauvignon that I could have sworn was an Awatere Sauvignon assured me of that. So if change is good, what is it that we are missing?


I recently asked some of the team, who were bemoaning style changes of their ‘go to’ wines, what a producer was to do if they wanted to innovate, improve, change? The answer: sure, go for it, just do it under another label. Thinking through the practicality of this and the potential for the range of wines on offer to extend exponentially, if every time a winemaker thought of a new style it meant a new label, it came to me; it’s not about that at all, it is quite simply about communication. Tell the story about the change to the distributor, retailer and consumer; put it on the back label, open bottles in store, just don’t make it a surprise to all.