New Zealand AMA with buyer Sarah Knowles MW

Short answer - Yes! (I do hope so) :+1:

OK – I love the wines, and as vine age increases and winemakers understand their parcels of grapes more deeply I am sure that the quality can continue to grow.
However the major stumbling block is that there isn’t actually a lot of Syrah planted! Less than 0.5% of the land under vine in New Zealand is Syrah – with only 2000 tonnes of grapes in 2016.

However really interestingly – when you look at exports relative to plantings – sauvignon over-exports – ie it makes up just over 70% of the planting in NZ but nearly 85% of all exports.

All other grape varieties have a higher % planted than exported, except for Syrah which is proportionally loved in the export market….

This to me is another reason why we have hope as longterm Syrah lovers – given the global demand plantings are increasing. It’s just about finding the right sites, and then being patient….

The wine club culture in California has a long history and is a mainstay feature of the industry.

It may also be in growth, as an isolationist foreign policy may lead to a relaxing of inter-state regulations on the sales of wine – which may allow wineries to access customers directly in many more states than they are currently allowed to via the three tier American trade system.

You are right therefore in pointing out the clear challenge it poses, especially for a small winemaker who can sell direct to consumers at a full retail price. Whereas I would require a much lower wholesale price so that once shipped, duty paid and delivered to members your price is not significantly higher than their domestic retail position.
Wine club members will also buy wines on trust to gain access to iconic wines each year. Wineries can trial new things without risk of being left with stock and often wine club members are very loyal taking their allocated wines year after year.

However, many wineries also see the advantage in exporting, it’s an easy way to spread their risk a little, and it can be seen as a proof of quality. If a winemaker is prepared to allow their wines to be sold in the UK, France or Japan for example they have to be open to critical assessment – good or bad, from world respected critics.

Many Californian wineries also accept a smaller margin ability on a proportion of stock to get a more global exposure. They actively want non-Americans to try and enjoy their wines putting them in a global context.

As the buyer for the US – these wine clubs can be tricky to navigate, but so far have not caused a complete barrier to buying on any wines I truly loved and thought offered great value.
And on the positive – they can provide establishing wineries with a critical early cash flow model that will allow them to grow and improve their own quality with time.


I’ll answer both @NickP’s questions here in the same post!

I have always thought of these three regions as producing pinots that have genuinely different characteristics.

I think of it as:

  • Spice and savoury perfume with very fine grained tannins from Martinborough
  • Pure red berry and cranberry fruit forward with bright acidity from Marlborough
  • Power, cherry and truffle, complex and cellar potential from Central Otago.

Wonderfully too, I really feel that all three regions are making some examples of Fine Wine Pinots that are equally high in quality terms – I don’t see one region as outperforming another.

Man O’ War Dreadnought Syrah 2013 – I am not famillar with this wine to really give a solid opinion but I’d have though it should be good for 10 years – so 2023.

Felton Road Block 3 Pinot Noir 2015 - now comfortably to 2025 (and longer if you enjoy the more savoury style that can develop with age)

Dry River Craighall Vineyard Riesling 2016 – now comfortably to 2024 (although if you enjoy mature Rieslings – Dry rivers can go on for decades…)



Sauvignon plantings are still increasing in New Zealand, however some major regions are now nearly fully planted. The valley floor and most logical hill sides in Marlborough for instance are more or less planted – although each time I visit vineyards are cropping up in once considered marginal site (and often doing well).

Marlborough sauvignon may also feel like to us an “old trend” now in the UK. However it is still in double digit growth year on year here, and is still one of the most popular by-the-glass choices in on restaurant lists, and is still seeing growth in the multiples.

At The Wine Society we are also still seeing sales of New Zealand Sauvignon growing, and a couple of years ago Sauvignon took over as The Society’s bestselling white varietal – beating chardonnay for the first time in a long time!

So from a UK perspective it doesn’t look like the bubble is about to burst anytime soon… (fingers crossed!)

However the other long term option for most New Zealand producers is that although New Zealand Sauvignon is a very strong category in the UK, they don’t actually produce that much of it. In fact the number of hectare planted of New Zealand Sauvignon is about equal to that of Portuguese Vinho Verde!

As new markets for wine open globally, the fruit forward approachable style of New Zealand Sauvignon and consistently high quality makes it very appealing. And so as it stands the global demand easily outstrips supply.

We are seeing that as the US market start to show interest in New Zealand Sauvignon, buying anything that is going spare – meaning that our long term relationships are vital in securing our own stocks and pricing.


Stranger things have happened!

Both Forrest and Hans Herzog produce one… I guess when I was also buying wines from Austria, I often felt that we should list more St Laurent from there first, and because of the niche nature of SL’s in New Zealand they can come at quite a high price tag…

But who knows in a few years, with a spike in plantings, it could be the next big thing!

Which one have you tried and enjoyed? :slight_smile:


This is becoming a bit of a swear word nowadays. :slight_smile:


Do you mean, when a wine is described as “dry” when perhaps what we really mean is “low in sugar”?

If so, yes it is ridiculously daft for us to call a clearly wet thing dry…!
However I guess it is because the opposite of sweet is often sour – and that not what we really mean when we try to describe a wines style…

Dry can also refer to a red wines tannins and the drying effect they can have on our palate…

All in all, when you think about it, it is a bit daft however using “dry” to mean low in sugar, has just become a helpful piece on language however faulty towers esq it seems - don’t get me started on the use of “corked” Fawlty Towers corked wine - YouTube


Isn’t it jammy that’s the problem…
I love fruit!


Ata Rangi Martinborough Pinot Noir any vintage, preferably 5 – 15 years old.
Kumeu River Mates Vineyard Chardonnay 2015 The Wine Society | Free UK Delivery

However – on the topic of shipping from the “furthest corner of the globe rather than just across the channel” it is often suggested that although it seems inverse it is often better for the environment with a lower carbon footprint. This is attributed to the large number of containers that you can get onto one ship versus a single container on a lorry coming by road from mainland Europe.

A study by the National Geographic stated that getting a bottle of wine from Sydney to New York by container ship was at a significantly lower carbon cost than getting a bottle to New York by truck and road from California. See link if you are interested.


Now there is some food for thought, have never thought about it this way. Thanks for the link!

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I am delighted that you enjoy a range of Pinots, we value long term relationships and love the wines we stock, but I know that I am spoilt for choice. Hopefully as sales increase I will be able to widen the current range, but we have listed pinots from Rippon and Neudorf in the past and I always see their new vintages. I am also in touch with the winemaker at Escarpment and love the wines, but am just watching to see what happens now that they have been bought by Torbreck and I am in touch with the guys at Aurum to see what we may be able to do when they are a little bigger.

Michael Seresin and his UK agents kept us up to date with all the changes that have been going on, and interestingly it shouldn’t affect our range too much at all…

It all sounded a little more dramatic in the news then in reality – as they have only sold the “home” vineyard site and winery building. Michael is retaining the brand, has a long term rental agreement on space in the winery and has full ownership of another vineyard – Raupo – which is where the majority of his pinots are from. So our supply of Exhibition Pinot will continue from the same vines and each year we will continue to look at the range including wines such as Leah, Rachel and Sun and Moon to decide vintage by vintage if we want to ship them.

However the changes do mean that there may be an opportunity to list some new wines from the new team once they get going with the grapes and winery they now own… watch this space…

As I have mentioned in a couple of answers to these questions – I am a huge New Zealand Syrah fan, so I am delighted that you are too. Each year we tend to work with, as a minimum Te Mata, Trinity Hills, Craggy Range and Mission Estate – due to list spaces and warehouse picking bays they are often on rotation – but I promise that they are all given time through the year.

Finally, I am delighted you love the wines from Kumeu River – I couldn’t agree more. :slight_smile:


I always wanted to try and have been chasing Judge Rock in Central otago for the opportunity. I have tried and enjoyed Austrian examples, which are more accessible to me.

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Waiheke often crops up, but as you may know, many of the producers are very small operations that focus on cellar door tourist activity generated by their proximity to Auckland. The one or two larger estates, I seem to find, often struggle to export at a price that offer real value when compared to other wines from New Zealand because they are used to selling at full retail prices on premise… However I have my eye on a few, and retry every year, so we may feature wines from this sub region soon.

Thanks for the tips in Waipara/Canterbury – I have tried wines from both, and I fall back on the “spoilt for choice” line – which really rings true with New Zealand, what I really need is for more members to buy more of our current premium NZ range (especially the reds) so that I can push the budget to buy more…!

Thanks for all your help.

Given the dominance of Marlborough – with over 2/3rds of New Zealand’s vines, really all other regions can be seen as discovery!

However I love some of the aromatic whites coming out of Nelson and hope to list more going forward, the pinots from Martinborough continue to get better and better, and now sub regions of Central Otago are really starting to show their unique characters – bannockburn vs Bendigo for example show totally different flavours (try Felton Road vs Prophets Rock)! :smiley:


Its a complicated issue, working out the carbon footprint of a bottle of wine but it is a hot topic! A lot of the study goes into the purchase of dry goods and where they are from,
foe example shipping barrels or where screw caps are made…!
Water use - in the vineyard but also in the winey is under huge scrutiny too…
It starts to get very detailed very quickly but there are some great winemakers who really care - and in the process of understanding it more, they are making reductions to become more truly sustainable!


I have mentioned already my love of New Zealand Chardonnay, Riesling and Syrah. I also adore the pinots, so here are a few of my favourites….


A full bodied style, with some great oak, for a steal, perfect roast chicken wine.

I had this at my wedding! Love it.


A good step into this unique spicy style.

One of the best vintages ever in Hawke’s bay and a super producer.


Germanic off dry style with bright New Zealand pure fruit expression.

Opulent and complex – don’t think, just try it!

Pinot (an everyday and one showcasing each major region!)

Perfect with slow cooked lamb on a Sunday…

A real fine wine challenging people’s perception of new world fine wines…

Perfectly ready and utterly delicious velvet-y pinot

One of the best pinots from Marlborough from some of the best winemakers and viticulturists I have ever met.


Wow, there are more Kiwi St Laurent’s out there than I realised! I’ll look out for it on my travels.


Thanks so much for these amazing replies, Sarah!! :smiley: I can’t believe the detail you’ve gone into.

I have a less clever question - what’s been your most memorable wine moment when visiting New Zealand?


New Zealand has some of the most stunning vineyard sites I have ever seen, but I really had to pinch myself when I was tasting a new vintage sample of our Exhibition Central Otago Pinot Noir - made by the hugely talented Paul at Prophets Rock - over looking his steep vineyards that fall right down to the mirror like reflective lake - I vividly remember getting goose bumps!
I even got to stay over up there and watch the sun set - so peaceful, with the perfect wine, simple food, and talented friends.
I am so lucky where wine takes me


Sounds amazing, Sarah! Out of this world, in fact…
Thanks for taking the time to reply so clearly and with so much detail! I don’t know much about NZ wines, being an Old World stick-in-the-mud, but you certainly made me want to experiment a bit outside of my comfort zone!


Thanks for your answers. I really understand the space on the list issue. But from a geeky :nerd_face: bit of view, more choice of the finer things please.

On Seresin, I’ll watch this space. I’m hoping to try some Zephyr wine tonight. at the sun Dedham. The mark 111 SB looks interesting.

I realised now that I haven’t tried the trinity hill gimlets so will order some next time.

Have you tried Burn Cottage. That another that impressed.