‘Sav’, ‘Sav Blanc’, ‘Savvy’ or plain Sauvignon Blanc, call it whatever you like, such is the popularity of the Kiwi version of this wine globally that it is seriously vying for a place alongside other New Zealand national symbols/icons like the All Blacks, the Haka, the Silver Fern, the kiwifruit, the kiwi bird, the Beehive and Pavlova among many others. Wholehearted endorsements from well known wine critics over the years have further boosted its stature. According to the official website representing the Kiwi wine industry, the grape variety accounted for 60% of the total harvest in 2008. The meteoric rise in demand of the style (Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc to be precise) has also resulted in frantic expansion of vineyards and resultant increment in production to an extent where the industry insiders have started voicing concerns over possible risks of quantity eventually taking over quality. This sentiment recently surfaced from the very heart of the wine-growing region itself.
No doubt it has brought vinous glory to the country and certainly fuels the wine economy, which is aiming at the billion dollar mark by 2010, but any fair minded wine-lover who has interest in Kiwi wines will wonder whether this obsession with Sauvignon Blanc is justified in terms of the versatility of the wines that the country is able to produce. It’s not only the logarithmic growth in production but the potential of other wine regions and grape varieties that should also be a point of discussion. And there is always the fear that a commercialisation of this magnitude may overshadow the artisan nature of wine-growing that a large number of labels in New Zealand have come to represent.
The only other country that comes close to this unidirectional approach is Germany where Riesling rules, but New Zealand is not constrained by a lot of climatic factors which puts Germany on the viticultural limits. In wine-growing terms, the country is quite diverse with the regions scattered between latitudes 36° north to 45° south, the northern hemisphere equivalent of southern Spain to Bordeaux. Favourable growing conditions, well defined seasons and infrequent vintage variations make grape growing a natural choice. These include names as obscure as Arneis and Zweigelt, to all the major international varieties. Whether it is the Bordeaux style reds and Syrahs of mouthwatering concentration and structure from Hawkes Bay, exquisitely fruity and powerful Pinots Noirs from Martinborough and Central Otago, elegant Chardonnays from Gisborne, range of varietals from Nelson or an interesting array of aromatics and sparkling wines from selected pockets, New Zealand has a lot more to offer than just Sauvignon Blanc. Then there are a number of intensely passionate producers spread across the length and breadth of the country who have given a new meaning to phrases like ‘handcrafted wines’ and ‘sustainable viticulture’ and are not part of the S/Blanc bandwagon.
Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc has reached extraordinary heights in a relatively short span of time and is considered one of the the benchmarks in its category but it is in the long term interest of the New Zealand wine industry to equally promote the other gems in its coffers, or as the Kiwis like to say…give the other highly deserving wines a fair go too. Anyone ‘Savvy’ out there who feels differently?