Chardonnay makes a comeback
Sun, 21 Oct 2012 6:28p.m.
By Rachel Tiffen
The wine industry reports there's a discernable change in the taste of New Zealand drinkers back to an old favourite – chardonnay.
It was only three years ago that chardonnay vines were being pulled out, as fickle consumers moved to wine made from such grapes as pinot gris. But that’s changing again.
In the heart of Hawke’s Bay, row upon row of vines are going in.
“We're putting about 5 hectares of chardonnay in,” says Villa Maria winemaker Mark Dixon. “That's about 10,000 plants all up.”
That is 10,000 stalks that in four years' time will produce about 35 tonnes of chardonnay wine.
“The owner of the company is very upbeat about chardonnay resurgence – believes it's a thing that is happening and will happen in the future,” says Mr Dixon.
Villa Maria has a good track record for its chardonnay and just added this year's Hawke’s Bay Wine Awards title to its trophies.
But it's not the only grower riding the chardonnay wave.
“Nurseries, which are a great barometer of what's happening in the industry, like what people are asking to get grafted up to put in the ground next year, they can't get enough plant material,” says Hawke’s Bay Wine Awards chief judge Rod McDonald.
Mr McDonald says big companies are planting chardonnay en masse “in new clones and with new root stock combinations”.
“Some of the smaller boutique producers are also getting into it and really just following the market. The demand's there.”
The latest figures show a 23 percent rise in sales of $20-plus bottles in the last year and a 6 percent rise in exports.
Changing flavours are a big part of its revival. There's a move toward a tighter, mineral chardonnay as well as fuller, oaky chardonnays.
It's about changing perception.
“People come in and say, ‘I don't drink chardonnay’, but once they try the style that we make they really enjoy it because they're expecting those oaky, buttery chardonnays that put them off chardonnay maybe 10, 20 years ago,” says Sileni Estates winemaker Rachel Garnham.
So a sharper flavoured chardonnay is fermenting, but because of a generally poor harvest last season it'll probably be pricier too.
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