One of the things I like most about working with the Great Wine Capitals Global Network is to visit other wine regions to hear their story, taste their wines and compare how they take care of visitors – it’s a great reality check and benchmarking exercise against our efforts here in Rioja.
We recently spent a week on New Zealand’s South Island. We were awed by the spectacular scenery, great wines and devoted wineries and returned with lots of ideas and food for thought regarding Rioja.
The first thing that hit us between the eyes was how unencumbered New Zealand wineries are by tradition and how they use technology to get things right the first time. For example, although vines began to be planted in Marlborough in the 1970s and the first pinot noir vines were planted in Central Otago in 1981, both Marlborough sauvignon blanc and Central Otago pinot noir are already well-known to wine lovers around the world. We were amazed to hear that there are only 1.600 hectares planted to grapevines in Central Otago.
A second fact is that wineries are focused on what they do best. Big brands such as Montana, Cloudy Bay and Oyster Bay created demand for New Zealand wines but I was surprised to learn that most wineries are small and focused on maintaining a premium image for their brands and their region.
This is a lesson Rioja could benefit from. At a wine industry seminar, speakers from both large and small wineries made the following interesting points:
- Overdeliver at a specific price point
- Don’t assume growth – boom and bust cycles are caused when people see an upward trend and everyone wants to buy into it (that is, plant heavily and increase production)
- Emphasize premiumization-drive value, not volume
- Tell your story passionately, emphasizing place, vineyard, and person
- Refocus on core markets, but spend some time on a few emerging ones.
We were also impressed with the quality of the ‘cellar-door’ (New World winespeak for winery tourism) experience. Every winery we visited was focused on good service and making the visitor come away with a meaningful experience. Sure, the wineries sold wine, t-shirts and other merchandise, but we learned a lot and came away as real fans of these wines.
If you get the chance to visit New Zealand, go as soon as you can. It took us over 30 hours to get there from Rioja but the trip was worth every penny. We’re already planning to go back!