The sharing of an unexpectedly rare trait has led a group of New Zealand’s ultra-premium wine producers to establish a distinctive new marketing group under the banner of The Specialist Winegrowers of New Zealand (TSWNZ).
The trait which the founding members share in common is that they each specialise in a single grape variety or style.
“We are,” says Nick Nobilo of Vinoptima, “true specialists intent on making the very best wine from our one chosen variety or style, a choice which has led each of us to a level of dedication that borders on the obsessive.”
For the early members, who found each other through a shared admiration for each other’s wines, the rarity of such specialisation in New Zealand winemaking has come as the greatest surprise.
“We had each come to the conclusion that focus and commitment to a single variety or style would lead us to our goals of making the finest possible wine. What we didn’t realise was how few of us had chosen that path,” explains Nick, who after the sale of Nobilo Wines to BRL Hardy 10 years ago, threw himself into the making of “the world’s best Gewurtztraminer”, a goal which he readily admits is not for the faint-hearted.
Chris Canning, whose 30 year search for the right variety in the right place, led to him planting Syrah on Waiheke Island, recalls an early meeting of the group. “When we got together and started talking we recognised that we shared a common fanaticism which, to outsiders, might be seen as a mild form of insanity. Focusing on making the very best in a single variety or style is a risky and lonely proposition, yet it is hard to imagine how the very highest standards can be achieved without that focus. Our wines are expensive to make and people who buy them understand and respect that.”
Adele and Daniel Le Brun, owners of No1 Family Estate, couldn’t agree more. “We are obsessed with making the very best Methode Traditionelle we can. It is our life,” explains champagnemaker Daniel who, as a native of Champagne, has been recognised as the pre-eminent exponent of the art in New Zealand since the 1980s.
Other founding members include the Bordeaux blend specialists Destiny Bay (New Zealand’s most expensive wine), and Central Otago’s much acclaimed Pinot Noir, Wooing Tree. Expansion of the membership to other varieties is planned, but not in a rush. “Chardonnay and Riesling are high on our list,” says Mike Spratt of Destiny Bay, “but our criteria limit the list of potential candidates. Not only must they be single variety or style specialists, but they must have achieved critical recognition and a premium price point.
The TSWNZ group is primarily a marketing alliance. Its objective is to expand distribution of members’ wines to those niche markets where the distinctive attributes of specialisation in quality at all cost are rewarded. “This is a challenge that we have each recognised as being far more achievable together than alone,” states Mike Spratt. “Together we represent the best of New Zealand’s wine styles, yet each with its own unique story and personalities attached. The world’s fine wine markets are looking for precisely these attributes in their wines, but the cost of reaching them and telling our stories to them individually is daunting, if not prohibitive. Now we can provide a single point of access.”
Steve Farquharson, co-founder of Wooing Tree, a rising star among the growing list of Pinot Noir producers in New Zealand, is passionate about his wines and about the prospect of standing alongside his new partners. “New Zealand has achieved recognition for producing drinkable white wines at affordable prices but has limited standing in the fine wine market which is where, as one of the world’s smallest producers, we should be aiming.”
The Specialist Winegrowers of New Zealand will be launched in New Zealand to the wine trade and media at a series of private functions in coming months and at selected overseas events in key markets. Because these wines are produced in small quantities they are often subject to allocation prior to release (en primeur).