By Renee Dale, MOI Wines

The main strength of New Zealand’s billion-dollar wine industry is the people, the people, the people. There is surely collectively more than a billion dollars’ worth of knowledge between us all. In 2015, there were approximately 7500 employees working in the NZ wine industry. If we assume that these were all on average an age of 25, that is collectively 187,500 years’ worth of knowledge.

While the human capital is indeed large, I feel that it hasn’t been tapped into properly and we are at risk of losing some of our greatest minds.

New Zealand once had a very open, progressive, explorative wine industry market. But over the last 30 years with the introduction of wine into supermarkets and expanding our products globally throughout the world, this billion-dollar industry success has brought us into an almost clinical-like phase of our wine production. I may poke some bears by voicing this opinion, but we can’t deny that wine is now a consumer good, a product, that needs to sell quickly in order for next year’s vintage to continue.

Could I be wrong in thinking that the golden era of wine exploration is over? Are we still truly pushing boundaries and exploring new products or has the pressures of overseas export market compliance and trade barriers morphed us into what sometimes feels like a creatively stifled, homogenous corporate landscape of supermarket style driven brands? Sometimes everything just all looks a bit beige.

I’m making very broad-sweeping statements here because truly, those of us who want diversity, creativity and resilience for our industry know that there is an uprising bubbling across New Zealand in small pockets of free thinkers and radical winemakers. These people aren’t just the lo-fi, natural, biodynamic or vegan wine movement – many of them are just good old ‘clean’ winemakers like myself. There are many of us who have been unable to explore their inner wine creative and so have begun their self-expression in the form of a “side-hustle” under their own labels.  We are bringing the wonder back in to the world of wine by exploring new wine styles, sharing our knowledge with each other, traversing the fine lines of wine marketing and challenging the dull status quo of wine packaging. It’s the only way to keep our wine industry interesting and progressive!

I want to see the New Zealand market (if not the global market) making room for these “side-hustle” labels because they’re so much more than just another SKU. These wines are the bottled and stored human energy, knowledge and unique lessons of their lifelong winemaking apprenticeships. I want to see the big brands stepping up to be the giant’s shoulders that these little brands can stand on. With the long-term goal in mind of encouraging diversity, we will inevitably build industry resilience where everyone wins! Why can’t we shape our industry where these little brands are tangibly supported and encouraged by our bigger brothers and our industry body – the NZ Winegrowers?

With freedom comes discovery. From discovery grows knowledge. From knowledge springs creativity. From creativity forms innovation. From innovation builds resilience.