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New Zealand Winemakers Come to San Francisco

by Kerana Todorov
September 20, 2019
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About 30 producers took part Wednesday at New Zealand Naturally at San Francisco's Fort Mason. Photos by Kerana Todorov/Wine Business Monthly
 
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Kim Crawford and his wife, Erica, founded and own Loveblock. They farm about 250 acres in Marlborough and another 20 acres in Central Otago

There was plenty of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc to taste Wednesday during the walk-around of New Zealand wines at Fort Mason in San Francisco. At the same time, there were also Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Pinot Gris wines.

US distributors may think having one Sauvignon Blanc and think they have the entire country covered, said David Strada, US marketing manager for New Zealand Winegrowers, which organized the event. “That’s crazy.”

“One of the challenges for New Zealanders is they do so much so well,” Strada said.

Still, Sauvignon Blanc remains the South Pacific nation’s most dominant wine variety. Its growth is a reaction to the market, said Strada said. “People demand it.”

That does not bother Strada. “If it were a fad, I would be concerned. But I don’t see it that way. I think it’s established,” Strada said.

New Zealand has been a leader in sustainability over the past two decades, a fact that speakers brought up during a tasting of biodynamic, sustainable and organic wines from the North and South islands. More than 98 percent of the vineyards are certified sustainable.

The entire country, except from one growing region, has a maritime climate, said wine writer Elaine Chukan Brown said as she led the tasting with Loveblock winemaker Kim Crawford. “What that means is that you have profound humidity,” she said.

“The fact that a country with island viticulture, which is very challenging to pull off, is so hugely focused on sustainability, is really remarkable,” Chukan Brown said.

“At the core, sustainability is really that mutual interest. ‘What can we do to improve quality now in a way that will benefit generations later,” she said.

Wine is also a business, she added. “The romance (of wine) will not last if the business cannot afford to last,” Chukan Brown said. “For sustainability to work, you have to have a viable business,” she said, adding that means investing in people.

She mentioned watching growers and winemakers in New Zealand eat from their cover crop while walking through vineyards. “You’re not going to do that if you don’t believe in what you’re farming,” she said.

Crawford and his wife, Erica, farm 250 acres in Marlborough and another 20 acres Central Otago, where one of the main pest are rabbits. About 50 acres are farmed organically in Marlborough.

Kim Crawford, the winery’s winemaker, is optimistic about the future of the wine industry in his home country.

“The industry is very good at the moment, very bullish,” he said after Wednesday’s masterclass where nearly half of the attendees had traveled to New Zealand.

“The real reason, I think, New Zealand has become so popular is Lord of the Rings,” said Crawford, referring to the fantasy adventure movie.

The 30 producers present at Fort Mason included Archer McRae Beverages Ltd. which sells wine in cans – still and sparkling wines - as well as spritzer wines. The brand “Joiy” include Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay from Hawke’s Bay and Pinot Noir from Central Otago.

The cans are 100 percent recyclable, produce zero waste and much lighter to ship than glass, said Cath Archer, founder/managing director at Archer McRae Beverages Ltd. “They’re much more environmentally friendly,” Archer said. “We are achieving carbon neutrality.”

The cans are also convenient and encourages people to drink smaller amounts, Archer said, as she poured wine from 250 milliliter cans.

The company started producing wines in a can three years ago. It now produces between 34,000 and 35,000 cases a year, Archer said. The main markets are Canada, Australia and New Zealand. The company hopes to sign a distributor on this trip.

Arabella Waghorn, apprentice winemaker at her family’s wine company, Astrolabe, was also among the exhibitors. She trains under the guidance of her father, winemaker Simon Waghorn, who released the first Astrolabe wine in 1997. Simon Waghorn trained as a winemaker in South Australia before returning to New Zealand.

Astrolabe, which owns one vineyard, produces 50,000 cases a year, said Arabella Waghorn. Most of the wine is exported to the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia and South East Asia.

The company sources wines from 10 vineyards in Marlborough, including the family’s vineyard in Grovetown. “We get a huge range of diversity of sub-regions,” Arabella Waghorn said, as she pointed to the vineyards location on a map of Marlborough.

Astrolabe started producing Sauvignon Blanc in 2003 – 2004. The company sources 60 percent of its Sauvignon Blanc from Awatere Valley, a narrow, windier and drier valley than the other in the region, where the soils are predominantly clay. Thirty percent of the fruit comes from Wairau Valley, Marlborough’s biggest valley. The other 10 percent of the fruit is sourced from vineyards along the rugged Kekerengu region along the coast. The company grows most of its Pinot Noir from the Wairau Valley, the biggest valley.

Waghorn, who studied fine arts in college, has been an apprentice for a year under her father’s guidance.

“We’re very similar with our taste,” said Waghorn, 28. “We have the same palate,” she said. “And Marlborough is such a lovely place to live, I think,” she said. “And the wine industry has basically everything. It’s hospitality. It’s nature. It’s creativity.”

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Arabella Waghorn, apprentice winemaker at Astrolabe, Waghorn's family wine business, presents one of their wines at Fort Mason in San Francisco during the New Zealand Naturally tasting. Photo by Kerana Todorov/Wine Business Monthly.
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