Friday, March 18, 2005

New Zealand: Growing attitude as well as grapes

The following is excerpts from the National Business Review (New Zealand):

"Our task is to persuade the greater public, not just wine enthusiasts, to celebrate diversity and authenticity rather than a slick brand and to understand that the artisan, not the marketer, makes the most interesting wines." says Richard Riddiford, of Martinborough's Palliser Estate, chairman of "The Twelve -- New Zealand's Wine Family”.

Asked whether his charges applied to big corporates owning New Zealand wine operations ­ Allied Domecq and Lion Nathan ­ he responded with an emphatic "yes."

"It's the dumbing down of wine, and you could argue they're not making wine. Rather they're making alcoholic beverages at a particular price point. People will charge us with elitism. But we'll let our wines speak for us on that front."

Where is it written that a larger company can’t also be using artisan techniques? And who has decided what case count per year should be allowed to call itself ‘artisan’? Without any such accepted guidelines, then the only true way to prove the point is to let the marketplace decide whose product is superior. If their wines are so great they wouldn’t have to form some association to pretentiously appoint themselves as superior would they? It would go without saying.
You can still be an elitist, even if you produce good wines. And good wines are no absolution for an odious attitude…
No. It doesn’t ring true in my opinion – more likely this move resulted out of fear of market share loss (or of being unable to market successfully against a larger company) than some righteous crusade to defeat some wine Goliath.
Now more from the

But the suggestion that all big wine companies are the same -- simply pumping out a slick branded commodity -- has outraged one of the family's larger neighbours.

Lion Nathan bought Marlborough's Wither Hills in 2001 for $52 million, and its former owner, Brent Marris, was gobsmacked by the "family's" attitude, saying his big corporate owners took a "totally opposite approach" to what they were being accused of.

"I mean the whole Lion Nathan federation of wineries is totally the opposite to that. In fact, the Lion family of wineries is making a similar statement by keeping individual personalities of the wineries intact and approaching the whole international market as a group.

"What they're saying I don't buy into at all."

Mr Marris said he had been asked early on about being a member of the "family" but soon got the impression "they felt with Lion being what Lion is, it wasn't appropriate."

But he said the subsequent inclusion of relatively large companies like Villa Maria, Nautilus and Palliser Estate meant the concept was "a joke," and meant grounds for his and other New Zealand companies' exclusion were baseless.

"That's a whole contradiction in terms. Nautilus is owned by one of Australia's biggest wine companies, Yalumba, for God's sake, it's a huge company." "It's a joke, I'm sorry, for them to be isolating themselves like this is an absolute joke."

I’ve got to side with Mr. Marris’ viewpoint. I’d stated in the past (and will say here again) that the enemy is not the size of the company, but crappy overpriced wines. The quality a company delivers and how it chooses to price it is the true gauge of their success.

Any company which sacrifices its quality to increase the revenue it receives is a sham. But if they can grow the company while keeping their quality – or even improving it - then by god, they should do so, and not become a pariah for it. Let the people decide.

And their hypocrisy by including (by proxy) some very large wine companies in the Southern Hemisphere is both obvious and ridiculous.


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