The future of NZ wine and a salute to Ross Lawson
People in New Zealand may think of the wine industry as being one big family with similar hopes and ambitions.
Well, it isn’t like that.
As a winery which crushes 180 tonnes I wouldn’t have a clue what is feels like to crush two thousand tonnes of grapes and I wouldn’t have the ability to sell the wine.
Thank goodness for New Zealand there are enough savvy (get it ?) businesspeople who know how to move large volumes of wine. Because the amount of wine Neudorf Vineyards produces isn’t going to produce foreign earnings to make Alan Bollard’s grin.
The easiest comparison to make is the food industry…restaurants like Logan Brown in Wellington and Hopgoods in Nelson may well be considered to be in the same industry as Pizza Hut and the local fish and chip shop.
However their budgets, their marketing plan and their staff training would be worlds apart.
But when a tsunami like the world financial crisis starts rising off shore then no matter how small the rockpool you are hiding in, you will feel the effect. Any smart winery in New Zealand will be tearing their budgets apart and finding ways of becoming leaner and meaner as a way of surviving what some say will be one of the toughest years since the war.
The wine industry’s problems started well before we were aware of sub-prime mortgages. Many new players carry intolerable debt loads and have no ability to ride out minor storms, let alone tsunamis.
From my perspective (which is that a small quality-focused producer) too many people have been too gungho about their ability to “grow the market.” The United States has proved to be a disappointment. One larger company CEO told me “never in the field of wine marketing has so much been spent by so many for such a poor return.” It has been a salutary lesson after the success in the United Kingdom and Australia.
Right now people are revelling in being able to buy pretty good wine at bargain basement prices, prices which in many cases barely cover the costs of production.
How did this happen ? How did people get their sale projections so wrong and then have to move so much stock to keep the cash flowing through their accounts?
In the end these sort of crisis bring out the best in an industry. Some wineries will not survive, but those that do will be smarter and more cautious . The major concern in the interim is that people don’t drop their standards. Poor wine reflects on everyone and any damage to New Zealand’s reputation as a quality producer is unforgivable..
What we will see will be better ways of selling wines… opening a cellar door with a bit of a splash and flicking an email to a few mates in the legal fraternity isn’t going to cut it any more. And exporting is not that easy.
It can be difficult to find an agent-many of the best importers already have more wineries than they can handle-and it is the same within New Zealand.
I am involved in one venture which has the potential to develop new ways of selling.
Neudorf Vineyards is part of The Family of 12 – a cooperative export marketing group set up by a group of friends who share the same ideals and enjoy each other’s company. We have travelled together many times and the concept of selling each other’s wine is a talking point at wine events. In Chicago last year three of us poured wines for Neudorf, Ata Rangi, Felton Road and Pegasus Bay, Nautilus, Palliser, Lawson’s Dry Hills and Craggy Range ,Villa Maria, Kumeu, Millton and Fromm. The Americans were fascinated by this approach and we had excellent feedback. On a personal level, these trips can be tedious and lonely and travelling with friends makes it a whole lot more enjoyable. In a roundabout way this talk of families brings me to a sad note.
One of our family died recently… Ross Lawson from Lawson’s Dry Hills. He was a memorable character- funny, stroppy and bright. He started as a contract shearer then built swimming pools and ended up owning a great winery and being one of the our industry’s leaders. Ross was one of the super heroes behind the Screwcap revolution. An avid supporter of the Labour Party, his coffin came into the funeral painted bright red. We will miss him.
And that brings me a whimsical finish. Life is short. Enjoy it. Probably with a bottle of excellent New Zealand wine at your elbow – might I suggest a Lawson’s Dry Hills Gewürztraminer – and let’s toast both Ross and Barbara Lawson.
Tags: Ross Lawson