In the world of New Zealand wine there is always something to celebrate and picking a favourite wine or winery can feel as daunting as picking a favourite child. One thing that is true is that Kiwi wine innovation is ongoing. Being a new- world upstart means being unencumbered by rules and regulations set in years gone by that can shackle and restrict our old-world European counterparts. More than one of the innovators below have read the wine rule book but subsequently thrown it out in order to follow their dreams. The following is a mere taste of the pioneers of New Zealand’s wine industry and those proud to boast a first, sometimes not just in New Zealand but in the world.

In 2013, after a career of making great wines for and with other people, Tony Bish created Tony Bish Wines. Nothing new for a winemaker to create their own label, but this one would create chardonnay exclusively. While the only New Zealand label to solely produce chardonnay, it’s by no means this innovator’s last first. Tony was the first to introduce concrete eggs to New Zealand in 2015 after importing one from overseas. The ‘eggs’ are large, ovum-shaped concrete fermenters, ideal for the creation of sublimely textured wines. Realising that at 2.2 tonnes it would be easier and cheaper to create than to import, Tony sought a local concrete producer and they created New Zealand’s first wine eggs which are now sold throughout Australasia. Tony was also the first in the southern hemisphere to own a Taransaud Ovum, an egg made entirely from French oak which houses the brand’s top-tier chardonnay, ‘Zen’. As much art as egg, the ovum is an impressive sight on display at Bish’s microwinery, cellar door and venue in Ahuriri, Naper.

Based in Marlborough, The Coterie is a winemaking collective for like-minded winemakers who dare to be different. Founded by winemakers Ben Glover and Rhyan Wardman, The Coterie is BioGrow organic certified and seeks to positively disrupt the New Zealand wine scene by providing a welcome space in which to create small-batch, premium wines. These innovative winemakers are supported by a community that promotes diversity in thinking, matched with a passion for wine excellence. Some of the wines created at The Coterie are for brands such as Zephyr, Seresin and Bladen – labels synonymous with paving their own path to make great wines.

Forty years ago, 12th-generation champagne maker Daniel Le Brun took the ultimate leap of faith when he sold his vineyards in Champagne, France, to relocate to New Zealand, leaving behind valuable land and a family Champagne- making legacy that stretched back to the  1600s to plant vines in Marlborough. In 1980 the now-renowned wine region was in its infancy with only a handful of wineries. Despite being nicknamed ‘The Crazy Frenchman’, Le Brun worked tirelessly creating award-winning Marlborough méthode traditionelle with his label Daniel Le Brun – which he went on to sell – before founding his beloved No.1 Family Estate. Making exclusively méthode traditionelle, No.1 Family Estate boasts New Zealand’s most prestigious méthode – Cuvée Adèle, named for Daniel’s wife. The stunning bottle is encrusted with Swarovski crystals and costs $135.

While Invivo & Co has only been around for just over a decade it has succeeded in putting Kiwi wine on the map and in the mouths of the world. The brand strives to create wine free from pretension and has had huge successes with clever collaborations with Irish comedian and presenter Graham Norton and US star of film and television Sarah Jessica Parker. While celebrity wines are seemingly a dime a dozen these days, the team at Invivo has created true partnerships with each personality. Each year they visit either Europe or the US to sit and blend with Graham or Sarah Jessica to ensure that the wine is a perfect reflection of what each of them would drink. These tasting sessions are recorded and produced into snappy, humorous videos which are widely marketed, cementing the relationship between the celebrity, the wine and the consumer, to great success. The Graham Norton’s Own range now boasts four wines and two gins and there are two wines in the newer Invivo X SJP.

This year Loveblock widely released their formerly experimental ‘TEE’ Sauvignon Blanc 2019. Believed to be a world first, this organic Marlborough sauvignon blanc is stabilised and preserved using green tea, making it 100% natural. Green tea has powerful antioxidant properties that have been known for centuries in China and Japan, but which are only now being recognised in the wider world. While this preservation method has been tried before with limited success, Loveblock co-founders Erica and Kim Crawford have nailed it. Erica admits that the only way it was possible to achieve was to read the rule book from cover to cover before promptly throwing it away.

It’s fair to say the selection above is akin to an amuse-bouche in the banquet that is Kiwi ingenuity in the field of winemaking. It’s extraordinarily exciting to see new developments and ‘firsts’ emerge year after year. We have a passionate and ambitious industry that is keen to achieve in one or two generations what in the old world has taken centuries – iconic wine, but made by our own rules. The most important thing, I think, is to continue to recognise and celebrate our incredible industry which, although young by international standards, is becoming quite adept at punching well above its weight.