Destiny Bay

100 Club

As the number of New Zealand wines exceeding NZ$100 in price grows, Bob Campbell MW explores the pros and cons of turning the juice of the grape into a luxury product.
Words
Bob Campbell MW
photography
courtesy of destiny bay

A growing number of Kiwi wines are breaking the NZ$100 barrier. In the past year the number of pinot noir labels that have moved their retail prices from two to three digits has increased by one third. My wine tasting database shows that there are now 57 wines with a recommended retail price of NZ$100 or more.

Pinot noir is the biggest member of the NZ$100 club with 20 labels. Central Otago has the lion’s share of the high-price action with 11 wines, followed by North Canterbury with six, Wairarapa with two and Marlborough with one. 2013 Martinborough Vineyard Marie Zelie Pinot Noir leads the charge with a price tag of NZ$225.

Escarpment Wines Kupe Pinot Noir increased the price for the 2016 vintage to NZ$115 from NZ$90 and NZ$60 for the inaugural 2003 vintage. A spokesman from the winery revealed that the new price was simply “meeting the market” after having been underpriced. All of the wine is allocated and sells out within a couple of months of release.

Red blends are another large category in the high-flyers club with 17 wines priced at NZ$100 or above. Ten are from Hawke’s Bay with the balance from Waiheke Island, including Stonyridge Larose, which owner Stephen White believes was the first New Zealand wine to boldly go where none had gone before when he raised the price of the 1997 vintage. “A number of wineries raised their prices above NZ$100 to get attention but had to back-track when subsequent auction sales failed to meet cost price. Our price has continued to rise steadily and has always been among the country’s five most expensive wines,” explained White proudly. “80% of our wine is sold en primeur, currently for NZ$135 per bottle, which rises to NZ$280 when released six months later. We have an unofficial arrangement with en primeur customers where we buy their wine back at cost plus 10% for every year they have held it.” Stonyridge is its own biggest customer. They spend around NZ$100,000 each year buying back their own wine which is then re-sold at a premium through their cellar door and restaurant.

Another red blend from Waiheke Island, Destiny Bay Magna Praemia, is the highest priced wine on my database at NZ$385, although members of the Destiny Bay Patron’s Club are able to buy it at a reduced price (in the world of super-premium wines the word ‘discount’ is regarded with some distaste). 2013 Babich 100 Years Cabernet Sauvignon is not listed on my database because I have yet to taste it. The 750ml has sold out despite, or perhaps because of, a retail price of NZ$400 per bottle. Magnums are still available direct from the winery for the reassuringly expensive price of NZ$900.
Syrah is a relatively small, but growing category on the New Zealand wine scene. It punches above its weight with the highest average price of any other varietal wine. Ten wines currently command NZ$100 or more. Hawke’s Bay is the source of nine wines with the tenth from Waiheke.

Syrah is a relatively small, but growing category on the New Zealand wine scene. It punches above its weight with the highest average price of any other varietal wine. Ten wines currently command NZ$100 or more. Hawke’s Bay is the source of nine wines with the tenth from Waiheke.

Red wines rule at the NZ$100-plus club, totalling 47 out of the 57 members. It’s interesting that chardonnay is the only white varietal to make the cut with three Hawke’s Bay wines and four from North Canterbury. 2015 Clearview Endeavour Chardonnay from Hawke’s Bay is top dog with a price of NZ$175. I recall owner Tim Turvey explaining that the wine was conceived partly to satisfy the “what’s your best wine” query from affluent visitors.

After compiling a list of NZ$100+ wines I compiled a much smaller list of wines that I thought justified a price of more than NZ$100, but were selling well below that mark. I approached the brand owners and asked them why they weren’t charging more. Most revealed that, despite their ‘limited edition’ image production levels were relatively high. They might struggle to sell all their wine simply because potential buyers are thin on the ground in that exalted atmosphere. NZ$15 doesn’t seem like much of a gap to bridge when you are trying to lure a customer from NZ$85 to NZ$100, but moving from two to three digits makes the gap appear much wider.

One of the producers I thought could charge more said, “We work very hard to make high-quality wine and to develop a strong relationship with our mostly long-term customers. We feel that the dynamics change when you go north of NZ$100 because the rules of luxury goods marketing begin to apply.”

I ordered a case.