6 May 2021

Too many customers, not enough grapes - Marlborough winemakers struggling to match demand

6:01 pm on 6 May 2021

Key export markets are thirsty for Marlborough wine, but low grape yields mean that demand is outstripping supply.

The head of Wine Marlborough says growth in demand from the US has helped drive huge growth in New Zealand wine exports.

Caythorpe Family Estate owner Simon Bishell said the grape yield was about 25 to 30 percent down on the normal volume (file image). Photo: RNZ / Tracy Neal

Frost and cold weather early in the season led to smaller harvests from many vineyards in the area and the smaller crop could leave some wineries facing tough decisions on who they can supply over the next year, industry group Wine Marlborough says

Caythorpe Family Estate owner Simon Bishell said the grape yield was about 25 to 30 percent down on the normal volume.

The business had seen plenty of fresh interest, but supplying those new customers after a slim harvest was a challenge, Bishell said.

"Any existing customers that we do have, we need to try and ensure that we look after them and try and supply them because they're customers that have supported us for many years now.

"It certainly a challenging one to try keep everybody happy and keep everyone satisfied ... all my existing customers won't be missing out, it'll be more ensuring that I can try and supply new customers at a sustainable level."

Disruptions to shipping and rising labour costs were further hindering the company's production and supply chains, Bishell said.

Wine Marlborough general manager Marcus Pickens said increases in at-home drinking during Covid-19 lockdowns had driven increased demand.

Marcus Pickens of Wine Marlborough

Wine Marlborough general manager Marcus Pickens. Photo: RNZ/Sally Round

But some wineries might not be able to get product to all their usual customers, Pickens said.

"I think it'll be a really tricky balance for the wine companies, they're really looking carefully at all their customers, they're sort of working through the relationships they've got, and trying to supply everyone where they can.

"If they really can't, I think those conversations are being quite open and upfront."

Pickens was hearing from some winemakers that it would be a challenge to eke out limited supplies until the next vintage in about 12 months.