Almost ten years ago a friend invited me to a Capitol Hill reception promoting free trade with New Zealand. I sampled mouth-watering New Zealand lamb chops, the country’s very well-known and fast-selling Sauvignon Blancs, and earthy Pinot Noir. At the local wine shop, New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs are fairly easy to find, but where did those Pinot Noirs go? Earlier this month, Wall Street Journal wine columnist Lettie Teague had wondered the same thing (content restricted).
It isn’t that the variety was overcultivated like California Merlots. The New Zealand Pinots are still rich and complex–but the prices can get high (a 2010 Felton Road Block 5 Pinot Noir Central Otago runs about $80) and the competition for shelf space is fierce. Teague learns that although there are about 12,000 acres of Pinot Noir in New Zealand today, California alone boasts some 40,000 acres devoted to cultivating the same grape and the domestic variety is significantly cheaper. Then there is the issue of distribution (the bane of every winemaker and distiller).
The wine buyers stateside haven’t lost hope–some continue to be ardent promoters–but it’s going to take some time before more New Zealand Pinot Noirs fill those shelves and restaurant wine lists. (Teague does find an affordable Kiwi Pinot to her liking: 2009 Mt. Beautiful North Canterbury for $20.)