Iconic New Zealand wine brand Montana has been heavily criticised by wine critic Bob Campbell for swapping out New Zealand grapes for supposedly inferior quality Australian grapes. The move has been attributed to Montana’s desire to retain their retail price of $9.99.
“I guess I shouldn’t pre-judge a wine I have yet to taste, but it’s a fact that bulk Australian sauvignon is cheaper than bulk Marlborough sauvignon,” Campbell wrote on The Real Review. “There’s a reason for the price difference – Australian sauvignon blanc is, by and large, inferior.”
Campbell has since expanded on his comments, describing Marlborough sauvignon blanc grapes as "punchy, aromatic, zesty, tropical" while Australian grapes are less characterful. The bottles are labelled on the back as being from Australia, in accordance with the law, but Campbell argued that while this was a legal move, it was no less misleading.
"I personally think, to me, I began my wine industry career in 1973 as an accountant with Montana so I guess it's kind of personal,” Campbell said. “I might be overstating the case but it's just that, to me, Montana and Marlborough are inextricably linked."
Minister for Agriculture Damian O’Connor also had his say on Twitter, with the simple caption “Pretty bloody dumb.”
However Montana, which was bought by distribution giant Pernod Ricard in 2010, has rebutted the claims, with Pernod Ricard New Zealand managing director Kevin Mapson arguing that the move was necessary to retain good wines in the under-$10 category.
"By sourcing grapes from Australia, we can continue to make wines of the quality that Montana consumers expect at the same price point. This sourcing transition only applies to the Montana Classics and Montana Affinity ranges. All of the other Montana ranges will continue to be made from New Zealand grapes," Mapson said. He agreed that Australian sauvignon blanc was less aromatic than those from Marlborough but still denied that Australian grapes were inferior. He argued that consumers were aware of the change due to strict labelling laws.
Wine columnist Dennis Knill agreed. “Bob Campbell, whilst he's probably the first in New Zealand to have a masters in wine and knows his stuff he really needs wake up and smell the coffee. There's a thing called profit and it's not a dirty word and Montana have every right to try and produce a product under $10. A lot of New Zealanders are not wine connoisseurs and they don't appreciate the best that money can buy and are happy to drink a wine that's chilled in the fridge that's good enough for the average punter.”
Over time, Mapson said that most Montana Classic and Affinity wines would be made from Australian grapes, but maintained that Montana still was invested in New Zealand grapes. The brand’s Festival Block and Winemaker Series will continue to be made from New Zealand grapes.
Montana wines made with Australian grapes:
Montana Classic Pinot Noir 2016
Montana Classic Sauvignon Blanc 2017
Montana Classic Chardonnay 2017
Montana Classic Merlot Cabernet 2018
Montana Affinity Sauvignon Blanc 2018
Montana Affinity Pinot Gris 2018