Wine Ambassadors Wanted: Kiwi Vineyards Turn to Tourists for Assistance

One winery is seeking inspiration from the person who is landscaped Hobbiton, at least three are opening new or refurbished savor rooms and another is renovating a eatery. Its all part of a plan to entice visitors to New Zealands premier wine region.

Vignerons in the Marlborough region are on a building spree, adding infrastructure to help them leveraging off record tourist arrivals. The purpose is to turn winery guests into life-long advocates of Kiwi vino. Almost 612,000 foreigners visited New Zealand vineyards in the year through June, 11 percent more than a year earlier, and government figures show that wine buffs typically stay in the country longer and expend more.

Prince William and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, take a stroll in Amisfield winery in Queenstown, New Zealand, in April 2014.
Photographer: Samir Hussein/ WireImage via Getty Images

Whats being offered by the vineyards has get slickerthe whole experience has get better, said Philip Green, proprietor of Appellation Central Wine Tours in Queenstown, a city famous for its adventure athletics thats also a gateway to the nations southernmost wineries. There has been an increasing awareness of New Zealand as a wine and food destination.

While the focus will help wine exportations reach a NZ$ 2 billion ($ 1.5 billion) target by 2020 from NZ $1.57 billion in the year ended June, it may also be another fillip for tourism, which overtake dairy last year as New Zealands biggest export industry.

New Zealand wine is among the most expensive in many overseas marketplaces in terms of median cost per bottle, which suggests those who drink it can also afford to be potential visitors, told Chris Yorke, global marketing director of New Zealand Winegrowers. The industry body announced last week that its compiling a database of wineries catering to tourists, supported by funding from Auckland International Airport Ltd.

Marlborough has 141 wineries, of which at least 35 have wine-tasting rooms, known locally as cellar doorways, that allow a user to sample and buy their produce.

We are seeing a new generation of guests who are looking for a differentiated and unique winery experience, told Mario Dussurget, hospitality administrator at Cloudy Bay, the winery that was bought in 2003 by LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton SE, the worlds biggest luxury-goods manufacturer. They have been to Bordeaux, maybe Napa, the Barossa Valley, and they want something unique from Cloudy Bay and New Zealand.

Sauvignon Blanc

The 31 -year-old winery, whose Sauvignon Blanc is one of New Zealands most iconic wines, offers tastings alongside plates of local cheese and oysters, plus lodge-style accommodation. People come here having tried the wine abroad and want to see where it is built, Dussurget said in an e-mail.

Less than a couple miles out, Jackson Estate has hired Brian Massey, who was greensmaster for the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy and helped to design the Hobbiton set that is now a tourist destination in its own right. Hes advising on landscaping around the winery and cellar doorway its buildingthe eighth new venue to open for Marlborough visitors in two years.

The Hobbiton movie set in Matamata, New Zealand, where The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies were filmed .
Photographer: Alex Livesey via Getty Images

Having a place will give us more of a home we can share with people, Managing Director Jeff Hart said from his office in Wellington, as he overlooks progress via a webcam.

At Wither Hills, owned by the local division of Japanese brewer Kirin Holdings Ltd ., a renovated eatery is expected to be open in November. That follows restaurant upgrades at St Clair and Highfield Estate in 2015.

Chinese Tourists

Near Cromwell, in the South Islands Central Otago region, visitors to Wild Earth Wines can sample local game and fish under trees on the banks of the Kawarau River. The popularity of the venue with Chinese tourists has prompted the owners to offer sweeter-styled red wines and noodle salads, told marketings manager Wesley Quider, whose parent started the vineyard in 1998.

The Wild Earth vineyard in Central Otago, New Zealand .
Source: Wild Earth Wines

Were definitely noticing a big increase in tourism, especially with the Chinese tour groups, Quider said, adding that the restaurant catered for as many as 250 guests a day last summertime, compared with a peak of 150 two years earlier.

China is New Zealands fastest-growing tourism market, with arrivals increasing 27 percent to 397,000 in the year ended June 30. Still, the worlds most-populous nation made up only 1.8 percentage of New Zealands wine exportations by value, compared with the U.S.s 30 percentage share.

Given the growing popularity of wine among the middle class in China, there is an opportunity to attract Chinese consumers to visit New Zealand vineyards, told Tim Foulds, head of Australasian research with Euromonitor International.

Not all wineries see the value in targeting tourists. Constellation Brands Inc. shut its Marlborough tasting room earlier this year, preferring to use the space as part of a NZ $50 million expansion of its production facilities, told New Zealand managing director Simon Towns. The focus will instead be to host tastings for distribution partners and key wine writers at its Kim Crawford vineyard.

It seems more authentic rather than being back at the winery, so theres a greater connection to the brand, he said, adding that Constellations strategy shouldnt detract from the added benefit of wine tourism, and he wouldnt rule out reopening a tasting room in the future.

At Two Paddocks, the Central Otago winery owned by performer Sam Neill, starring of Jurassic Park and The Hunt for Red October, the cellar doorway is open for tastings by appointment merely. The business wants to grow membership of its wine club and reward those advocates with the opportunity to visit the winery and the attached farm where they can saunter among Neills collection of outdoor statues, said director Jacqui Murphy.

Wed love to be open to all the public seven days a week, but from a business viability perspective weve had to keep it quite reined in, she said. We wont survive if we have rivers of people coming in but they only buy a bottle of entry level Pinot Noir and say thanks very much.

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