Chris Stroud is European Marketing Manager for the New Zealand Winegrowers, a Friend of the Circle and the generous supporters of our Christmas Party last year. Amanda Barnes interviews him to find out how growers and producers in New Zealand are coping with Coronavirus, and what will be the first thing he does post-lockdown!
What brought you into the wine industry?
I studied Spanish as a degree and on my year abroad based in Seville, I decided that my dissertation topic would be on Sherry. On the first of many research trips to Jerez, I was in the office of Antonio Valdespino, and we were tasting from the solera barrels in his office! I think I was hooked after that and following university, was given a Wines from Spain generic brochure so I applied to a few companies and was taken on board by Freixenet for my first industry job.
After a couple of years, and a stint at Majestic, I went to work in New Zealand (ending up in a wine shop) and so began my interest in the wines from there.
How is the wine industry in New Zealand coping with the current pandemic and is New Zealand Winegrowers planning any changes or actions in response?
New Zealand was in the middle of harvest when the country was put into lockdown. However, the New Zealand Government declared that the grape and wine industry and all parts of its supply chain was classed as essential businesses and so were able to continue to operate during the lockdown. This did not include cellar doors and restaurants, which had to close.
Harvest was able to continue with essential harvest workers, winery staff, trucking, bottling and related workers able to work. However strict guidelines had to be adhered to ensuring that there was no chance of the virus spreading. The industry’s most important priority was keeping their people and communities safe, and wineries and vineyards had to adhere to rigorous requirements to continue to operate.
NZ Wine has a dedicated webpage on Covid 19 updates where we provide updates, Q&A’s and guidelines for wineries so they could ensure they could work safely at this time.
The good news is there have been excellent conditions in New Zealand and the industry is very excited about a high quality vintage.
Obviously the pandemic has meant that a lot of our physical activity has had to be cancelled or postponed. However, this has provided an opportunity to look at digital activities, so across the world we are looking at podcasts and webinars to help our members, as well as promote New Zealand wine. One such activity is a series of webinars with leading Master Sommeliers and Masters of Wine from the UK, US, Canada and NZ coming together to discuss key topics. These occur on the last Wednesday of the month and details can be found here: https://www.nzwine.com/en/events/the-new-zealand-wine-diaries/
What are the key trends in New Zealand’s wine industry at the moment? What do you think we should be looking out for in the coming months?
I think the key word is diversity. Diversity across different varieties, as well as diversity of styles within a particular variety. For instance, Sauvignon Blanc is, of course, the grape variety that New Zealand is best known for however, I don’t know that people realise the huge range of styles being produced from this grape from the classic style, to regional and sub-regional expressions and innovations with wild yeast and barrel fermentation too. We also have a leading research programme in the lighter alcohol category too.
However, while Sauvignon is the most well known, there is a much wider range of varieties being produced. Pinot Noir is very highly regarded with many distinctive regional expressions, New Zealand Chardonnay is very underrated but there are many world class examples. Likewise Syrah which works extremely well in New Zealand’s cool climate and has its own style. Then there are aromatics and smaller plantings such as Albarino, Gruner Veltliner that are causing interest. I have also seen an increase in the number of New Zealand Roses available in the UK too.
Finally, sustainability is very important to New Zealand producers with 98% of the vineyard area certified. Organic grape and wine production is also a growing part of the New Zealand wine world with 10% of New Zealand wineries now hold organic certification.
Really, there is so much to discover and I look forward to the time when we can put on events again to showcase our wines – especially from the 2020 vintage which will be memorable for many reasons!
You’ve been with New Zealand Winegrowers for almost a decade now (9 years!). What do you most enjoy about working with producers there?
I really enjoy working with the kiwis. The New Zealand industry is very young in world terms and relatively small with just 700 producers. Marlborough, our largest region was mainly sheep farming until the early 1970’s and many of the first pioneers are still involved today. With such a young history, the producers are not afraid to innovate and they have a very can do attitude. For instance New Zealand was the first wine industry to establish a nationwide sustainability programme in 1997, which is still going today.
The producers are very collaborative and supportive and help each other out and share their learnings and experiences for the good of the industry. New Zealand has an enviable reputation with wines delivering high value around the world and certainly I think punches well above its weight which is testament to the dedication, work ethic and passion of all those involved. They are also very friendly and humble people (well… apart from when it comes to rugby…!). Oh and I really do love the wines!
And finally, what will be the first thing you do post-lock down?
The hospitality industry has been hugely affected by the lockdown so as soon as I am able I would like to support them, and go out to a restaurant with my family, or head to a pub garden on a sunny day and enjoy a cold beer or glass of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc! (of course)