Wine: It's in the blood

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Passion for winemaking runs strong in the Delegat family

Photo / NZH
Photo / NZH

They make the most popular white wine in Australia and have just bought the respected wine company, Barossa Valley Estates. But they're not an Aussie enterprise or even a global drinks conglomerate. They're the New Zealand owned company Delegat's, which is still run by the family who founded it in 1947.

"We go back a long way," says managing director Jim Delegat, who heads the company with sister and executive director Rosemari Delegat. "When my parents arrived in New Zealand as immigrants from Croatia they had nothing, but they were some of the wine industry's early visionaries. We've just continued with their passion and a desire to build on the work they began."

Jim and Rosemari have certainly done that. From a small vineyard and winery in Henderson, they've transformed their parents' business into a multimillion-dollar company, with offices from Auckland to Australia, New York to Hong Kong. It now produces two millions cases of wine a year, including the Oyster Bay brand that has become a global hit and beat local contenders to become Australia's top-selling white wine.

"We rode the wave to capture the early enthusiasm for New Zealand wine and promoted it in a way to catch a big share of that market," says Jim Delegat of the company's considerable success across the Tasman. "It could have been anyone, but we drove it hard."

But Oyster Bay has been no overnight international success, Delegat is quick to point out. "It was launched in 1990 and we started building it in global markets 25 years ago," Delegat says, with this global vision still a key part of the company's philosophy. As an aside he tells me that Oyster Bay Marlborough Pinot Noir is the leading New Zealand pinot noir globally.

Though many wineries preach a philosophy of product quality, Delegat has a different perspective. "Wine quality is a given," Delegat says. All wines have that now, but consumers also seek an emotional reward in their purchase. We did this through the way we communicated about the Oyster Bay brand, which also made it a powerful business proposition for retailers."

Consistency has been crucial to its success, says Delegat, who scoffs at wineries that try to innovate through "tinkering with labels" or create new expressions of sauvignon blanc using techniques such as barrel fermentation. He was also not convinced by the move to plant syrah in the Gimblett Gravels.

"We thought we'd rather make shiraz (syrah) in the Barossa Valley. We'd been contemplating this seriously for the last 18 months, which was behind our decision to purchase Barossa Vineyard Estates."

Although Australian enterprises have had wine interests in New Zealand over the years, it's rare to see this happen the other way around. Delegat's also takes its stake in prime Aussie shiraz territory at a time of growing hostility from winemakers in Australia. Some have been openly critical of New Zealand sauvignon blanc, which has diverted a sizeable portion of Australia's domestic market away from home-grown products.

"I can't understand the sense in bagging what you don't make yourself," says Delegat of this wave of Kiwi-bashing. "They don't have the cool climate conducive to making it, or unique character of Marlborough sauvignon. It's just sour grapes."

Despite now becoming a producer of shiraz, Delegat doesn't think sauvignon blanc has had its day, in Australia or elsewhere.

"New Zealand accounts for 50 per cent of the sauvignon blanc sold in the UK. Just imagine if we accounted for 50 per cent of all the sauvignon blanc sold in the world. In its present style I see no sunset for sauvignon blanc."


Oyster Bay Hawkes Bay Merlot 2011 – $20.99

It's easy to understand the popular appeal of Oyster Bay's pleasant easy drinking wines, such as this merlot, with its smooth, ripe and mouth-filling dark berry fruit and hint of cedary spice.

Oyster Bay Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2012 – $20.99

Succulent passionfruit, melon, green herb and zippy lime combine in what is currently Australia's best-selling white wine.

Oyster Bay Marlborough Pinot Noir 2011 – $24.99

There's some attractive depth to the juicy plummy fruit in this pinot, overlaid with notes of earth, spice and herb.

The Oyster Bay range is widely available from supermarkets and liquor chains.


- NZ Herald

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