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M?ori wine: Indigenous culture conquering the world with non-indigenous grapes

Published:  08 June, 2016

The world's first M?ori-owned wine company has its sights set on breaking into the UK market with a 500-year plan to promote its wines and preserve the land.

Malborough-based company Tohu Wines is owned by shareholding family members of four families which began making wine in the region in 1998.

Predominantly Sauvignon Blanc producers, Tohu joined Connoisseur Estates earlier in the year and is ready to ride the Sauvignon Blanc success train currently sweeping the UK.

But as a brand whose USP is its status as New Zealand's most successful M?ori company and its commitment to preserving its indigenous roots, Tohu is hoping to stand out on shelves.

Bruce Taylor, head winemaker at Tohu Wines from New Zealand, said the company's commitment to longevity is at the heart of the brand.

He said: "As a M?ori company, everyone is very passionate about the land and preserving it for the future. The company's strategy is very long term. We have a 500-year business plan - when I tell Americans that they don't believe me."

The plan encompasses provision for long-term local employment and investing in local opportunities to make sure the land is preserved for future generations.

But despite their locally-centered ideology, they have hopes for breaking into the UK market via Connoisseur Estates.

Tohu Marlborough Sauvignon BlancTohu Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc

As the leading indigenous company in New Zealand with a number of food and beverage ranges, they have grown from 1000 cases of Sauvignon Blanc from a contract grower in 1998 to 190,000 cases last year.

Evidently, their biggest challenge is not creating a thirst for their product - New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc has created enough interest of its own over the past decade - it's keeping up with the demand.

"Geographically, there's not much land left that can be planted in Marlborough because of water availability," says Taylor. "We've just had two pretty dry summers and we're close to the limits of what can be planted. Because of this, Marlborough wines are on allocation around the world at the moment.

"With Sauvignon Blanc, we're lucky in that we're able to plant it in places that wouldn't be considered a reasonable place to plant vines. We're a good example of that - we're at a really high altitude, so on the fringes of what's commercially possible."

Marlborough wines have maintained a relatively high price point due to the limited availability of its wines.

This is not uncommon in New Zealand, a country which produces less than 1% of wine in the world, but in the UK it is the country with the highest average price per bottle.

Taylor explained: "Because of where we are geographically, there are economic constraints no matter where we export to, so there's no possibility of producing low cost wine. We have to be premium to be worth it, which is a nice way to make wine."