Last night (Tuesday December 3), I attended a tasting of Balblair vintages. We tasted five whiskies, 2003, 1997, 1990, 1983 and 1969, prefaced by a glass of Balblair’s base spirit.
Speaking exclusively to Drinks International, the Marlborough-based winemaker and owner of Marisco Vineyards – which also produces The Kings Series wines - said: “We still have to go into China - and Russia and Scandinavia are coming up.
"In the US we set up our wine importation and distribution network last year - which is quite a big thing for a private company to have. We’ve got to the US very late. It’s a massive opportunity – I can sense we will sell lots there.”
“Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc is now the biggest white wine in Australia. In Germany they are telling me my wines are growing too fast! Last year my range grew 8%, whereas they’d prefer 4-5% growth. If growth is too fast there is a danger it will become too trendy; if it grows slowly it becomes an established brand.”
Marris said that even if Sauvignon Blanc lost its number one spot in the UK market, there would always be a following for Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc.
He said: “Chardonnay is coming back [to popularity] but it is grown all over the world – Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc is not. In Chile and South Africa they may be doing a great job but it will never be a Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc.”
Marris sold his Wither Hills brand in 2002 for a reported NZ$52m and has spent the last seven years building The Ned - his entry brand (£6.99-£12.99) - and the more premium The Kings Series (£12.99-15.99) to sales now totalling 400,000 12-bottle cases.
Eighty percent of his wine volume is Sauvignon Blanc, which is drawn from his 650 acre single vineyard estate near the Waipara River in Marlborough.
He said the volume of his business in the UK, an established Sauvignon Blanc market and a third of Marisco Winery’s total sales, means he has a historical association with the country but, because of the company’s agility, it does not amount to a reliance. He said: “I can easily pull 50,000 cases out of the UK and put them into China or America.”
In China, Marris has just agreed a deal with Dynasty, one of China’s older and bigger national distribution networks.
Ordinarily regarded as a French red wine market, Marris said China’s buying culture is changing rapidly and that white wines could soon take off. “I’m pitching my floral Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris,” he said. “Women are now buying wine from supermarkets for the home – wines that are better suited to Chinese food.”
The New Zealander said his winery has also featured in a Chinese 10-programme TV series about Australian and New Zealand wine.
Airing in Tianjin, which has a population of around 10 million, and Beijing, around 20 million, the show is poised to be rolled out to other major cities' regional television hubs.