For Marcus Wright, head winemaker at the boutique producer Lawson’s Dry Hills, it’s been fascinating to watch New Zealanders mature in their understanding and appreciation of wine.
“Go back 20 years and I’d rock around to a BBQ and they’d offer my partner a wine – ‘do you want red or white?’ – and me a beer.
“Now they offer me a wine, and it’s, ‘Do you prefer a pinot or a cabernet, or a sauvignon or a viognier?’
“We are so much more sophisticated. People who are 30 or so have grown up with wine. They know what they like and they understand it.”
Sometimes, he says, “we in the industry can get a bit too serious about wine.”
He points to a couple of trends that underscore his point. “The rise of pinot gris. It wasn’t around six or seven years ago.
Now it’s seen how it should be, as a nice wine at a moderate price. Marlborough produces a good dry white with real character.”
And then there’s rose. “It’s huge in Australia and Europe, and it’s only just kicking off here.
“Whenever you can drink a white wine you can drink rose. It’s like a white but with strong berryfruit flavours. It’s perfect on a summer’s day. It’s not a super-serious wine.
“It’s supposed to be a delicious and delightful drink, which it is. It suits the climate and the lifestyle in Australia and here.”
So much for the present. What about Marlborough’s short to medium-term future? “Over the next five to 10 years, as the region matures, we will continue to tell our story through our core varietals – sauvignon blanc, pinot gris, pinot noir.
“There is such diversity in our sauvignon blanc. We have only just started to scratch the surface of what we can produce. Demand has been so strong for sauvignon blanc that we haven’t had to tell other stories.”
Chief among those, he insists, is Marlborough pinot noir. “We are able to grow pinot noir on the plains, so we can produce a bigger crop.
“Unfortunately we have been tarred with a low-end brush. We can make $20 pinot noir but we can also make it at the other end of the market.
“Our pinot noirs are the equal of Martinborough, Waipara and Central Otago, which means they are the equal of the best in the world.
“It’s just a question of telling that story, and so far Central [Otago] has got the jump on us.”
One of the smaller producers in Marlborough, Lawson’s exports 85% of its wines, higher than the regional average of 80%, to 16 countries.
While the biggest markets remain the UK, Ireland and Australia, with strong support from Holland, Canada and Scandinavia, the company has targeted the US in recent years.