13 Sep 2011

Wine industry hopes to cash in on Rugby World Cup

7:35 am on 13 September 2011

Thousands of fans with a thirst for rugby will flood into New Zealand in the next six weeks and the wine industry's hoping to broaden their tastes beyond just ball sports.

The $1.1 billion export industry is one of 18 sectors being promoted to Rugby World Cup visitors as part of the Real New Zealand Showcase.

New Zealand Winegrowers represents about 650 wineries and more than 1000 grapegrowers from around the country.

Its global marketing director Chris Yorke says the 20 nations competing in the Rugby World Cup are New Zealand's top wine export markets, with the United States, Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom together making up 90% of wine exports.

And while rugby may be more traditionally associated with beer, Mr Yorke is confident there will be plenty of wine drinkers amongst the 90,000 international visitors making the trip to New Zealand.

In Nelson, wineries have arranged a first 15 wine competition, which will pit the best local wines against those from the United States and Italy.

Rimu Grove winery's director and winemaker, Patrick Stowe, says the US is one of the top export destinations for Nelson wines, and he hopes increasing awareness about what's on offer will eventually result in increased sales.

He says all the wineries owners' are family oriented.

Mr Stowe says they hope to get some more exposure for Nelson wines and wineries and the competition is based around the aromatic varietals.

Winegrowers has already run pre-tournament events in London, Australia, Tokyo and North America, and it's planning regional food and wine events, as well as daily tastings at the Cloud on Auckland's Queens Wharf while the tournament's on.

Chris Yorke says the events will focus on promoting New Zealand wine's premium image.

He says since the global financial crisis, there has been a slowing of demand in some of New Zealand's key markets, and a high and volatile exchange rate has made it difficult.

New Zealand produces less than 1% of the world's wine and sells it to the top 25 to 30% of the world's markets.

Mr Yorke says beyond the Rugby World Cup, the industry's planning to target other lucrative international sporting events like the America's Cup.