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Five Things Worth Knowing About Sauvignon Blanc

The #SauvBlanc Day celebrates all things Sauvignon Blanc and takes place on May 16th.  So in honour of this event, here are five factoids worth knowing about this white grape cultivar.

1. Interest in Sauvignon Blanc is Growing

Sauvignon-SearchesGoogle Trends provides a useful measure of gauging interest in a particular term since it can track the volume of searches for that term relative to all searches.  In the case of Sauvignon Blanc, searches show a markedly upward trend since 2007 with peak interest occurring just before Christmas each year.  Interestingly, Sancerre – arguably one of the most famous Sauvignon Blanc-based wines – shows an almost static search trend over the same period.

2. Increased Interest is Driving More Planting

California-SauvBlanc-AreaBetween 2000 and 2010, Sauvignon Blanc was second only to Chardonnay as the white cultivar with the largest increase in global vineyard area.  Almost all major producing countries have seen sizeable increases in recent years.  For example, in California, increased plantings of Sauvignon Blanc throughout the 21st century have given the state a vineyard area that now stands close to its all time high.

3. The Country With the Most Sauvignon Blanc is France …

Sauvignon-Blanc-Global-AreaThe global vineyard area of Sauvignon Blanc in 2010 was 110k ha.  The global leader with 27k ha was France, followed by New Zealand (16k ha) and Chile (12k ha).

4. … But New Zealand Has Shown the Largest Recent Increase

Sauvignon-Blanc-2000_2010In 2000 New Zealand had 2,423 ha of Sauvignon Blanc, meaning the country ranked ninth by vineyard area for this varietal, behind countries such as Australia, Italy and USA.  By 2010 the area of Sauvignon Blanc in New Zealand had climbed to 16,205 ha and propelled it into second place behind France in the global rankings.

5. Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc has a Justifiable Reputation

IWC-Sauvignon-Blanc-ResultsSo much for the production potential of countries with Sauvignon Blanc, but which countries are producing the best wines from this varietal?  This is a more difficult question to answer, relying as it does on individual tastes and preferences.  Wine show medal awards are biased because they rarely take into consideration the number of wines which are entered (organisers prefer to keep this information confidential). Nevertheless, the number of medals awarded at an international competitions such as the IWC, can suggest which countries are producing wines of acknowledged high quality.  The IWC2014 results suggest that New Zealand’s strong reputation for working with Sauvignon Blanc is thoroughly justified.

Growing Degree Days in Marlborough, New Zealand

Of the many environmental factors which affect the productivity and quality of grape vines and their fruit, arguably the single most important variable is temperature during the growing season.  Photosynthesis in Vitis vinifera is temperature dependant, and this in turn affects vegetative and reproductive growth.  Different cultivars of V. vinifera have differing temperature tolerances, which largely drives the differing assemblages of cultivars observed in different wine growing regions.

Several measures have been proposed which seek to summarise the temperature records over a growing season into a single numerical value. These include the Huglin Index, Biologically Effective Degree Days (BEDD) and Growing Degree Days (GDD).  Of these GDD, defined as \sum((Tmax + Tmin) / 2) – 10°C), is probably the most widely used and has proven useful in helping to understand differences in wine growing conditions in different parts of the world.

Marlborough-vineyard-GDD-maTo fully interpret GDD data for a particular wine growing region, it’s necessary to examine how these values change both in space and time.  The Marlborough Research Centre maintains weather stations at Blenheim in the Wairau Valley and at Dashwood in the Awatere Valley.  Temperature data from these two sites has been integrated with information from other weather stations by the New Zealand National Institute for Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA).  This has allowed them to produce a grid of temperature data, which has been used to produce the GDD map.  This map shows the median GDD values based on data derived over a number of years.

The map shows the strong influence that topography has on growing season temperatures, with the elevated areas being markedly cooler.  Although on average the Awatere Valley is slightly cooler than the Wairau Valley, there is significant variation within each of these two subregions.

Marlborough-GDD-plotLooking at annual GDD figures at particular weather station(s) brings out the growing season temperature variations associated with particular vintages. Notable are the unusually high GDD values for 1997/98 and the very low values for 2011/12.  The former is probably the result of an El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) event which caused New Zealand to experience an exceptionally hot summer.  By contrast, 2011/12 was described by Wine Marlborough as having a summer which “never really arrived”.

For 2012/13, growing season temperatures were significantly higher than the previous year.  Gapes harvested from Marlborough in 2013 totalled 251,680 tonnes, up from 188,649 tonnes in 2012.  Already being called an outstanding vintage by some winemakers, WineStats will be attending the London New Release Tasting to see if 2013 exhibits high quality as well as quantity.

America’s Love Affair with New Zealand Wine

According to an interview with Philip Gregan (CEO of New Zealand Winegrowers) the US will become the number one market for New Zealand wine within two years.  Is this prediction likely to come about, and what of their traditional markets of Australia and the UK?

Looked at in terms of export volumes, in 2012-13 Australia, the UK and the US were the three largest makets and were each importing 40 – 50 million litres of wine (the vast majority of it Sauvignon Blanc).  The UK had been the largest market by volume for New Zealand wine since 1990, a position it has just given up to Australia.  The recent sharp drop in exports of New Zealand wine to the UK is entirely due to a reduction of bulk wine exports from 27 million litres to the UK in 2011-12, down to 17 million litres in 2012-13.  Over the corresponding period, bulk wine exports from New Zealand to Australia dropped by 4 million litres while bulk wine exports to the US increased by 1 million litres. The overall decline in bulk wine exports was a consequence of the smaller 2012 vintage (194 million litres produced, compared with 235 million litres the previous year).  With 2013 providing the largest harvest ever, and a production of 248 million litres, some producers are likely to again turn to bulk exports rather than increase inventories.  UK supermarkets’ own brand Kiwi Sauvignon may well still have life left in it and the UK could return to being the largest importer country by volume in 2013-14.

When looked at from the viewpoint of revenues, the export story is a little different.  The UK and US each accounted for ca. NZ$280 million of revenue in 2012-13, while Australia’s market was worth NZ$373 million.  The Australian market is showing clear signs of saturation (if not backlash) for Kiwi Sauvignon and looks set to plateau around the NZ$400 million mark.  The UK market also looks to be reaching saturation and may well plateau around NZ$300-350 million.  By contrast, exports of high-value packaged wine to the US have doubled by volume in only seven years and show no signs of slowing.  The total revenue from the US looks set to easily break through the NZ$400 million mark, taking the no. 1 spot in the process, but without an increased promotional programme it might require three to four years rather than two.

Yet for all the upbeat talk of volumes and revenues, it shouldn’t be forgotten that New Zealand wine producers have had their fair share of backruptcies and liquidations in recent years.  Export values (expressed as NZ$/litre) to the three largest markets have declined significantly, even ignoring the effects of inflation, over the past five years.  While this is only one factor affecting winery profitability, it remains an important one.  Until this downward trend can be reversed, further consolidation within the New Zealand wine industry seems highly likely.

Marlborough Vineyard Development: Video Presentation

This short video shows how some key vineyard characteristics in Marlborough have changed through time. Note how Marlborough has become the largest vineyard area in New Zealand, the rise and rise of Sauvignon Blanc, and the relative importance of other varietals such as Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Gris.


How Large is That New Zealand Vineyard Region?

For the early part of the 21st century, New Zealand Winegrowers produced an annual statistical report which provided detailed information on vineyards and varietals throughout the country.  These studies helped estimate future wine production, determine infrastructure needs and better understand disease management requirements.  They were an invaluable aid for studying the development of the New Zealand wine industry and their curtailment after 2009 left researchers dependent upon estimated projections.

Regional Vineyard Growth in New Zealand

So many workers will welcome New Zealand Winegrowers’ recently published Vineyard Register Report for 2012, together with news that in future this will be updated on an annual basis.  The current report provides a timely snapshot of the New Zealand vineyard and a chance to see how past projections have  played out.

The most noticeable feature is the continued – yet seemingly unpredicted – growth of vineyard area in Marlborough.  New Zealand Winegrowers had predicted that between 2009 and 2012 the Marlborough vineyard area would increase by 6.4% from 18,401 ha to 19,570 ha.  In fact the increase in the Marlborough vineyard area was a whopping 4,186 ha (22.7%), giving it a total vine-bearing area in 2012 of 22,587 ha.

Growth of varietals in Marlborough

There has been much recent interest in Pinots from Marlborough and it might have been thought that these varietals would account for a good part of the Marlborough vineyard area increase between 2009 and 2012.  In percentage terms they both showed substantial gains with the Pint Noir vineyard area increasing by 18% (367 ha) and the Pinot Gris vineyard by 74% (405 ha).  Yet Sauvignon Blanc with a 27% increase (3,705 ha) accounted for the vast majority of the expanded vineyard area in Marlborough between 2009 and 2012.

Outside of Marlborough, recorded changes to regional vineyard areas from 2009 to 2012 are small in absolute terms.  The most noteable change is the increase in vineyard area in Otago (1,532 ha to 1,787ha).  Coupled with a reported downsizing in Gisborne (2,149 ha to 1,617 ha), this means that Otago is now officially the third largest vineyard region in New Zealand after Marlborough and Hawke’s Bay.  Don’t try to remember this unless you’re a serious pub quizzer or wine student!


New Zealand Wine: Exemplary Trade Tasting Brochure

Trade tastings can be enjoyable affairs.  A chance to discover exciting new wines and producers and with the likelihood of bumping into friends and colleagues.  Or they can feel terribly claustrophobic with too many people in too small a space and without much natural light.

One thing they often share in common is a poorly produced brochure.  Common faults include flimsyness (making it difficult to write on), too much text (leaving little room for tasting notes), and inadequate information about individual wines (abv, residual sugar, etc).  Regional information about soils, climate, canopy management and planting trends is rarely included.

So step forward New Zealand Wine.  For their recent trade tasting in London which showcased an outstanding selection of wines, they produced a brochure that could usefully form a template for the rest of industry to follow.  Each wine had alcohol and sugar contents recorded and the brochure layout included sufficient space for personal tasting notes.  Additionally, they included a wealth of background information on climate, soils and clones as well as statistical information on vineyard area and exports.

The brochure can be downloaded as a PDF, and would certainly prove useful for WSET students or anyone interested in New Zealand wine.