The man who joined me for coffee at the community table introduced himself as a "sparky." "I'm an electrician," he said, motioning to his truck parked outside the convenience store/coffee shop on the town's main drag.
When he asked what brought me to Martinborough, the subject quickly turned to wine. He knew enough about the state of affairs with New Zealand wine to appreciate the country's present oversupply amid a clumsy global economy. Many wine stores had slashed prices, and because of that he was drinking better wine now than ever before.
Martinborough is a winey enough little crossroad an hour from Wellington on the North Island. About 900 people reside there, he guessed, and there were plenty of tourists sampling the local wines. The best I tried were those from Ata Rangi. Across the board, Helen Masters' Sauvignon, Pinot Gris, Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs had a little more richness, depth and concentration than others from the area that I tried.
Wifi being expensive and spotty, I'd turned to Kiwi newspapers for briefings. Several pages featured wine tales.
One read, "Swiss Couple Outlay $2M for Vineyard." The couple's purchase ended a five-year global search for the right property. Chile, California, Canada and even Morocco were considerations. The couple wanted an established business, in a good tourist location. The deeper they dug into vineyards and wine the more excited they grew.
The story right next to the vineyard buy: "Two Marlborough Vineyards on the Market." Strife in the wine business continues, the story said. People were being forced to sell.
For everyone who wants into the wine business, it seems someone else wants out.
Sparky reached for a business section from another paper on the coffee table. "Bulk Wine Exports Bring Down Average Price," the headline declared. The good news: Kiwi bulk wine sales were up. The bad: Prices per gallon were down. Some wine was being shipped to be bottled elsewhere to save money. Other wines were destined for retailer brands in Britain. Bottom line: A lot of kiwi farmers and vintners are operating on razor-thin profits.
That might change. Harvest was still a few weeks away, this having been an unusually cool growing season in New Zealand, and most of the grapes were ripening at their own leisurely pace; the crop, vintners said, looked good but not heavy. A small crop would help dry up the surplus. But a crop of great wines is far more important. The 2010 and 2011 vintages were both first-rate, and the quality of the wines that reach U.S. shores could go a long way toward helping New Zealand gain a stronger presence. Vintners are hoping 2012 will be a repeat of the excellent 2010 vintage.
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