Updated July 10
Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand’s Marlborough region has helped make this small nation a wine powerhouse in recent years. American imports of New Zealand wines grew 7 percent in 2017, to 5 million cases, according to Impact Databank, and 375 percent over the past decade. Wines from Marlborough, located in the northeastern corner of New Zealand’s South Island and the source of about two-thirds of the country’s wine, have led the way.
But there is peril in popularity. Marlborough vintners are growing increasingly concerned about Sauvignon Blanc shipped abroad in bulk to bottling facilities around the world. They fear Marlborough’s reputation could be damaged.
Quality-oriented Marlborough vintners are seeking to distinguish their product from bulk-wine brands. They worry that if they don’t take action, “The damage to the reputation of Marlborough wine would be immense and it would take years to recover,” said John Forrest of Forrest Wines.
To address that fear, a group of local producers has launched Appellation Marlborough Wine (AMW). Dog Point Vineyard’s Ivan Sutherland is chairing the initiative, with Forrest serving as vice-chairman. The organization has created a certification process for Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc that they hope consumers will see as an assurance of quality.
Bottles labeled as Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc are only required to be made from 85 percent Sauvignon Blanc grapes grown in Marlborough; the remainder might be different grape varieties or grapes from other wine regions within New Zealand.
The AMW certification requires that 100 percent of the grapes be sourced from Marlborough vineyards participating in a recognized sustainable viticulture program (according to the New Zealand Winegrowers trade group, 98 percent of the country's vineyard area is already certified sustainable), and that the wine be bottled in New Zealand. At least three dozen of Marlborough’s 130-plus wineries have joined AMW, which collects both a NZ$1,000 membership fee and a small portion of sales equivalent to about 1 cent per bottle, to offset operating costs. The group has registered Appellation Marlborough Wine as a trademark in the majority of key markets, including the U.S., and plans to extend its certification program beyond just Sauvignon Blanc.
Response from local producers has been largely positive, with Auntsfield, Greywacke, Huia and Mahi among the founding members. Wine Marlborough, the local trade group, has also signaled its support. “Wine Marlborough’s board encourages [AMW’s] success and [is] keen to understand where the points of collaboration are as the initiative takes shape,” said Marcus Pickens, the group’s general manager.
Members hope that the label will strengthen their wines’ reputation for quality with consumers. “We believe that the AMW trademark is an effective means of communicating that this type of philosophy is used in making AMW wines,” said Luc Cowley, director and winemaker at Auntsfield. “This will differentiate from wines which are made in a commodity manner.”
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