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The New Zealand second international Sauvignon Conference delivers mixed messages

Sauvignon Blanc leaders converged on New Zealand last week to discuss everything Sauv B. With many speakers giving different visions of the future for the mainstay of the New Zealand export markets.

Some speakers such as wine consultant Justin Howard-Sneyd MW advised to push upmarket and not allow New Zealand wines in bulk, such as supermarket's own label. Given Justin used to be the head wine buyer for Waitrose, his warning of stepping back from bulk sets a precedent. He claimed More New Zealand wine is being sold in bulk to the UK, which is worrying, as there are concerns over the quality of the wine being sold. Own-label supermarket brands are on the rise, which is leading to a loss of ownership and control for NZ wineries.

Kiwi winemaker and Loire expert, Sam Harrop compared Sauvignon Blanc to a cross-bred puppy – cute but lacking in class and complexity. He doesn't agree with this and says most people who think that are locked in a complex and dysfunctional relationship with Burgundy! He went on to discuss the importance of style versus site, where Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc has an easily identifiable style but the lack of specific site variation means it can be almost impossible to identify different sub-regions and vineyards. We need to look to the Loire sub-regions of Sancerre, Touraine and Pouilly-Fumé for inspiration. The village model in Sancerre is the way to go and will add a halo effect to the commodity level that is so important for many growers. He added “More work is needed to further understand the sense of place of Marlborough’s different sub-regions, which will be an investment in the future of Sauvignon Blanc. We’re hot on sustainability and now need to invest in diversity.”

American wine critic Matt Kramer claimed there is no culture of Sauvignon Blanc anywhere in the world, this lack of culture means it is difficult to achieve premium prices. He countered the claims of Sancerre by pointing out there is no culture of Sauvignon in Sancerre, nor in Bordeaux or Friuli. They didn’t grow Sauvignon Blanc in Sancerre until after Phylloxera – before that it was Pinot Noir, Gamay and Chasselas in the ground. His claim that varieties such as Pinot Noir, Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon and Sangiovese have a historical culture that provides an opportunity to achieve a premium price.