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Maori Wine Exporter’s Pinot Noir Hits The Spot

Maori Wine Exporter’s Pinot Noir Hits The Spot Overseas

Wellington, November 19, 2001 -- The first Pinot Noir from high-flying New Zealand wine maker and exporter Tohu Wines has been snapped up within a few months of its release, confirming the company’s standing both as a producer of high quality wine and as the exporter of New Zealand’s first indigenous branded wine.

Tohu Wines is already an established exporter of Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, wines it has been producing and marketing with distinctive Maori branding since 1998.

Its first Pinot Noir vintage, which was released in May, is a long-awaited addition to the company’s portfolio and has been enthusiastically welcomed by Tohu’s overseas distributors in the United States, United Kingdom and Europe, according to the company’s Chief Executive James Wheeler.

In fact, Mr Wheeler says, the only real limitation faced by Tohu in the marketplace at the moment is that demand hugely outstrips what the company can supply.

Tohu’s first vintage in 1998 was 3500 cases, a total that rose to 6000 this year. However an estimated total of 24,000 cases of wine will be available in 2002, rising to 43,000 by 2004 as new plantings come into production.

Tohu’s success in international marketing could not have happened without the help provided by Trade New Zealand’s Maori Business Unit and Trade New Zealand staff in offices overseas, says James Wheeler.

Tohu’s significant point of difference - it is the first Maori export wine company – is one of the reasons the company has been able to make its mark overseas, despite its small production figures.

While Tohu was aware from the start that Maori branding would be a crucial ingredient of its success, rather than deliver a product to overseas buyers and hope for the best, it enlisted Trade New Zealand support to carry out research in target markets.

“We took a range of different labels, colours, shapes and names and Trade New Zealand staff in the US and UK used their local knowledge to find out what would work,” James Wheeler says.

“The name was pivotal with Americans in particular - if they’re going to buy the wine they have to be able to say it.”

Trade New Zealand staff have also researched potential importers and distributors in Tohu’s export markets and short listed them in advance of visits by Mr Wheeler.

Assisting wine companies like Tohu is a significant and growing aspect of Trade New Zealand’s work. This reflects the fact that in the past decade, New Zealand wine exports have grown by over 1000 %, totalling $NZ169 million in 2000. This is projected to grow to 40 million litres, worth $NZ390 million in foreign exchange earnings, by 2005.

While New Zealand’s production is tiny in global terms (New Zealand produces less than 2% of the world’s wine) our wines are regarded as world class. It was the Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc that first captured the world’s attention and sparked the huge growth in the export industry, but there is also increasing recognition for New Zealand Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Methode Traditionelle sparkling wines, Riesling and Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot.

Tohu Wines has three shareholders – Wakatu Incorporation in Nelson, Ngati Rarua Atiawa Iwi Trust in the Nelson/Marlborough area and Wi Pere Trust of Gisborne.

Producing quality wines is the central aim for Tohu and James Wheeler says any wine that doesn’t meet the high standards set by the company won’t be bottled.

However portraying the philosophy behind the company comes as an important second aim.

Dual themes of the sacredness of the land to Maori people and the wisdom and values of the old people are central to the company’s branding and carry through into its business culture. For example, scholarships and training programmes are already offered to young Maori by Wakatu and are likely to include opportunities in viticulture and winemaking in the future.

Tohu Wines expects to continue its phenomenal growth this year and is currently working with Trade New Zealand to develop new markets.

To support this growth, the company has recently bought 160 hectares of land in the Awatere Valley in Marlborough, adding this to its 40 hectares (some of which is already in production) in the Wairau Valley and its Chardonnay production from the Wi Pere vineyard in Gisborne.

For more information, please contact:
James Wheeler
Chief Executive
Tohu Wines
Ph 04 566 0019

Andrew French
Maori Enterprise Team Manager
Trade New Zealand
Ph 04 496 6501

Distributed by Aimee McClinchy, Trade New Zealand Communications, Ph 09-915 5628, Fax 09-915 4205, Email

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