Who’s Who in New Zealand

Rebecca Gibb MW reveals who the people are behind this vibrant and successful wine culture.

Liz Wheadon, Polly Hammond, Bob Campbell MW, Dr Wendy Parr
Liz Wheadon, Polly Hammond, Bob Campbell MW, Dr Wendy Parr

Colonised by beer-drinking Brits and whisky-swilling Scots, New Zealand’s wine culture has been slow to develop. It wasn’t helped by a strong temperance movement in the early 20th century, which culminated in a close-run national vote on prohibition. The abstemious philosophy lasted for most of the century: New Zealand bar owners had to close at 6pm every evening until 1967 — initially a wartime measure, it lasted 50 years. Diners could not enjoy a glass of wine in a restaurant until 1960 nor could they buy wine in supermarkets until 1989. 

However, in the past 40 years, the New Zealand wine landscape has changed dramatically. Wine bars and fine dining restaurants have emerged alongside the burgeoning wine industry, with more than 700 wineries spanning the length of the country, although two-thirds of production is based in Marlborough. The country’s small population of 4.8m drinks nearly 500m litres of alcohol each year; while wine represents 108m litres, New Zealanders continue to prefer the grain to the grape, consuming 2.7 times more beer than wine. New Zealanders also enjoy wines from across the Tasman Sea: Australia accounts for 75 percent of the country’s total wine imports, which total 40m litres. France is a distant second with 3m litres. 

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