Observations with a Kiwi twist

Monday, 19 January, 2004
Kim Maxwell
2003 statistics on New Zealand varieties
By Kim Maxwell

While most South African producers view Australia as their major export competitor, the New Zealand wine industry shouldn’t be overlooked for its success in exporting predominantly boutique wines, at high prices. The New Zealand Grape and Wine Industry’s smart Statistical Annual for 2003 presents survey data collected from New Zealand Winegrowers and combines them with official industry stats. The report makes current and future production assessments about varieties until 2006.

SAWIS 2003 statistics haven’t been released, but in October 2003 they listed Australia and South Africa’s total vineyard hectarage for 2002 at 158,594 and 107,998 ha respectively. New Zealand Winegrowers say their country’s 2002 vineyards totalled 13,422 ha, increasing by 15% to 15,405 ha in 2003. They predict that vine production will cover 20,355 ha by 2006, an increase on 2003 of 32%. They reckon 60% of that increase will be in Marlborough, currently holding 44% of the national producing area. They predict increases in Hawkes Bay and Gisborne too, but at lower rates. The three largest regions (Marlborough, Hawkes Bay and Central Otago) accounted for 80% of the national producing area in 2003.

Some facts: The average vineyard size in New Zealand is 11.7ha. I have no idea about the national average hectarage for Australia and South Africa, but assume both countries’ vineyards are bigger. Grafted vines may be a relatively new phenomenon in New Zealand, but the trend is sticking. In 2003, grafted vines constituted 87% of production, and by 2006 they predict that only 10% of the country’s production will be ungrafted vines. Marlborough shows the biggest grafted vine growth, increasing from 33% grafted in 1995 to 95% in 2003.

Like South Africa, white varieties dominate total vineyards in New Zealand, accounting for 66% of total producing area in 2003, with a similar figure predicted for 2006. Interestingly, a reduction in minor ‘bulk’ varieties is continuing, which indicates a clever trend towards boutique. In 2006, top white Sauvignon Blanc is expected to account for over half all whites, and 35% of New Zealand’s total production. The country’s 2003 grape prices reflect that, with Sauvignon Blanc averaging at NZ$2436 per tonne, as opposed to NZ$1676 for Chardonnay (second largest white), a short trail behind top-planted red Pinot Noir at NZ$2838. Sauvignon and Chardonnay are the main white varieties, accounting for 52% of New Zealand’s total in 2003.

In reds, Pinot Noir dominates with 50% of total red plantings in 2003, followed by Merlot (24%) and Cabernet Sauvignon (14%). Pinot is expected to increase 43% to represent 18% of total production by 2006, Merlot (averaging at NZ$1931 per tonne in 2003) should increase by 27%, while Cab should decline by 1% over that time. That tells us Kiwis are planting vine varieties suited to their sites and climate.

Interestingly in reds, strongest growth is expected by Syrah (68%) in 2006, with Malbec, Pinotage and Cabernet Franc pegged to increase in area by 25%, 23% and 17% respectively. Currently Pinotage represents only 1% of plantings with a 588 tonne contribution to 2003’s harvest, but South African should watch out. The variety fetched an average of NZ$1291 per tonne in 2003. A quick scan reveals that Pinotage plantings are most prolific in Auckland, Gisborne, Marlborough and Hawkes Bay (highest at 26.6 ha in 2003), and the only region where it doesn’t feature is Wairarapa/Wellington.