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Upscale New Zealand Players Cloudy Bay And Loveblock Look Beyond Sauvignon Blanc

July 7, 2016

Two of New Zealand wine’s most prominent luxury players—Cloudy Bay and Loveblock—see openings to diversify the kiwi category by moving beyond the core Sauvignon Blanc varietal and secondary offering Pinot Noir—but they aren’t necessarily agreed on what comes next.

Created by New Zealand industry veterans Kim and Erica Crawford following the 2003 sale of their Kim Crawford brand to Vincor (now part of Constellation), Loveblock launched in the U.S. in 2013. With production currently around 25,000 cases—of which 80% is exported to the U.S.—Loveblock is led by its Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc ($26), which accounts for the vast majority of its U.S. sales. “Ten years ago I was thinking, ‘we’ve got to find something else,’ because the Sauvignon Blanc bubble is going to burst, but it hasn’t,” says Erica Crawford, who serves as CEO of Loveblock.

Eyeing future upside in Pinot Noir, in 2002 the Crawfords acquired a 100-acre block in Marlborough’s Awatere Valley to produce Pinot for the Kim Crawford brand. But today, Crawford says, “you can’t sell Marlborough Pinot Noir for love or money. Central Otago has become the benchmark for New Zealand Pinot. So we’re top-grafting about 10 acres a year of Sauvignon Blanc on Pinot Noir in Marlborough, and we’ll probably have to speed that process up.”

Loveblock, imported by Terlato Wines, is also making gains with its Central Otago Pinot Noir ($34) from a small base, and it’s seeding growth on its Marlborough Pinot Gris ($26). “Pinot Gris is the natural third frontier,” says Crawford. “We try to create a Pinot Gris that’s varietally correct, but has a bit more mouthfeel and texture. New Zealand has planted a lot of Pinot Gris as a whole, and I think we can make it well.”

Moët Hennessy’s Cloudy Bay, one of New Zealand wine’s pioneering brands, likewise leans on Sauvignon Blanc for most of its 40,000-45,000-case U.S. volume, and it too has made inroads with Pinot Noir. But senior winemaker Tim Heath tells SND that Chardonnay, not Pinot Gris, will be the third focus varietal. “Chardonnay is an underrated grape in New Zealand. It doesn’t get as much attention as it deserves,” Heath notes.

While Cloudy Bay looks to enhance its presence in Chardonnay, its core Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc ($31) continues to garner accolades, earning a spot among Wine Spectator’s Top 100 Wines of 2015. Three years ago Cloudy Bay added a luxury Central Otago Pinot Noir, Te Wahi ($75), to its lineup, and Heath says the winery is now “toying with potentially releasing some single-vineyard wines looking ahead. But we’ll take our time. We won’t do it just to do it. We need to find the parts of our vineyard sites that truly have something interesting to say.” —Daniel Marsteller

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