ROBERT ELIOTT, director of Winetopia and Lemongrass Productions.


A friend recently told me that they had stopped drinking wine. They insisted that the choice they are now presented with in the spirit and RTD sector is so strong and convenient that they don’t need to brave the unknown of the wine aisle. I wasn’t mad, I explained, more disappointed. What terrible infliction had destroyed their sense of adventure?

There has been an explosion in drink choice in recent years from adult RTDs to craft distillers and brewers, not to mention the growing lineup of interesting non-alc options. Many of the new alternatives are pretty good. But they aren’t wine and that’s the problem.

A glistening bottle delicately poured into stemmed glassware on a pristine white tablecloth speaks little to the raw agricultural process of nurturing vines in whatever weather is thrown at the gumboot-clad viticulturist (and lord knows we’ve had plenty of that lately). It hints at the mystique of taking big bunches of grapes and pressing them, aiding their fermentation in just the right way, the anticipation of watching and waiting until the optimum time for bottling. Add ageing time on lees or in oak… the reality is that making good wine takes a long time.

Many an enthusiast will tell you that it is the subtle differences between each wine that make it enthralling.

Adding to the agricultural alchemy of its origins, wine is, of course, one of food’s great complements, which is where aroma, texture and flavour really come into play. These nuances are, I find, sorely lacking in a box of ethanol-based RTDs.

We can top off such experience with the idyllic notion of ending a day on a vineyard, sun setting on the horizon. The romantic dream of owning a winery is at least partly to blame for most small producers ever getting started in the first place.

With approximately 744 wineries now in New Zealand, up from just 130 in the 1990s, wine has changed our landscape, our palates and our pastimes. The majority of these wineries are small and specialise in the high end. The resulting quality overall has been well appreciated by tourists at our cellar doors, which in turn enhances our international reputation.

But right now our wine needs us.

Making and selling wine is a delicate business. With an estimated 65,000 wineries around the world, wine is nothing if not competitive. While New Zealand wine exports now reach $2bn, fluctuations are rife. From sunshine hours and rainfall to sales, marketing, climate change and national trade negotiations, a winery’s fortunes can spin on a dial.

Nobody was prepared for a catastrophe like Cyclone Gabrielle. It hitting the upper North Island just before harvest was cruel and has sent the wine community, particularly in Hawke’s Bay, into a spin with impacted staff, decimated facilities, cashflows and yields for the upcoming 2023 vintage.

Tony Bish has been making wine in Hawke’s Bay for more than 40 years and I asked him to sum it up.

“Cyclone Gabrielle is the most destructive force anyone in Hawke’s Bay has ever witnessed. Our most premium vineyard had water over the top of the posts, and now has pumpkins, corn, logs and silt throughout the canopy.

“The mental health of the family is very fragile. This is a disaster that will take years to rebuild from. Dreams are shattered.

“We will be very lucky if we can make any of our important super-premium brands this year, which means next year we will have very little wine to sell. Cashflow will be a very tricky problem for all of us in the Bay.

“Good wines will be made, albeit in very small quantities. Many producers will be unable to process any grapes at all. So support Hawke’s Bay winegrowers please; we need you more than ever this year and next. Kia kaha.”

New Zealand wine is one of our great success stories and there are many of us who reap enjoyment from it. But let’s not take it for granted.

Our New Zealand wineries need us now. Not to tend the vines all spring, or run out the nets in summer, or even to pick the grapes. They simply need us to buy and enjoy the finished product, with all of the regional differences and subtleties that make it special.

There is plenty to choose from. Join me, explore New Zealand wine like you never have before and let’s do all we can to keep a great thing going.