Winemaker aims to turn riesling-based drink into an international brand

Red Bull might give you wings, but Chris Archer is bringing a little bit of bottled happiness to the world.

The wine-making veteran has created Ritzling, a lightly carbonated riesling-based alcoholic drink, with a plan to turn it into a global beverage brand on a par with Coca-Cola, Corona and Heineken.

Archer, 41, is turning his back on wine industry tradition to produce a beverage that puts wine in the same consumer category as beer and cider.

Branded "bottled happiness", the drink comes in quirky packaging, featuring heraldic griffins, baroque butterflies, roses and hummingbirds, and focuses on the brand rather than the wine variety, vintage year or vineyard location.


"Corona - what's it made from?" says Archer. "In these scalable beverages around the world what's actually in them is not important. In Red Bull we really don't want to know what's in it."

That's not to say what's inside the bottle is not important.

Archer, a riesling fan through and through, is still producing premium riesling under his Archer McRae label, and has created a drink that honours the variety without turning off consumers.

While riesling is loved by winemakers and growers, it has always remained in the shadow of the white wine superstars such as sauvignon blanc and chardonnay.

As a variety it is versatile, able to be made into sweet or dry, high or low alcohol, dessert or aperitif wines, but this versatility makes it challenging for new wine drinkers, who gravitate to their dependable favourites, Archer says.

"The whole point of this product is to remove the baggage of this ingredient. We've removed it completely. We're not selling wine, we're selling happiness."

Archer, who has no problem with people sipping his drink straight from the 250ml bottle, recommends popping a wedge of lemon or lime in the neck to bring out the acid flavours, pouring it over ice or using it as a base for a cocktail.

"The whole point is to have the person try this product not knowing what it is. It's an absolute strategy for us."

The decision to create happiness in a bottle came when Archer had hit a career low.

After two decades as a winemaker in the Hunter Valley in his native Australia, France and New Zealand, he was working at Martinborough winery Alana Estate when he was made redundant in 2008.

Archer says it was a blow that he will take a long time to recover from but it gave him the fire in the belly to hit out on his own.

As well as establishing the Archer McRae label and taking on a bit of consulting work, he set up an off-licence at Wellington's City Market, promoting mainly Martinborough wines.

For someone who had only ever dealt with the technical side of winemaking, it was a crash course in the art of branding and nailing a sale.

The City Market became the perfect testing ground for the first release of Ritzling last year, and an opportunity to make taste tweaks for the second vintage.

A chance sampling by a writer from international innovation and trend website resulted in inquiries from around the world.

The initial run of 900 litres was increased to 4000 litres the following vintage - both of which sold out - and he scaled up 1400 per cent in this year's vintage to produce 50,000 litres.

The drink is on sale in a selection of retailers and bars in New Zealand, but the big growth is from overseas.

Australian chain Dan Murphy's, which claims 60 per cent of the off-licence market, has just been shipped its Christmas order and little bottles of happiness are on bar shelves in Hong Kong, Fiji and parts of Northern Europe.

"As opposed to case orders, I'm now talking containers," says Archer. "It's just surreal."

The only really unpopular thing about Ritzling has been the name, which is being dumped in favour of Joiy.

With connotations of a spritzer mix of wine and sparkling water, the obvious link to the less popular riesling variety, and the possibility that the Ritz Hotel could get miffed, Archer made the tough call to heed the negative feedback he was getting.

The shorter, sharper Joiy - already adopted overseas and in New Zealand next month - comes unencumbered also and links nicely with the bottled happiness marketing line.

"It pissed me off because we've had so much noise about (Ritzling) but for the long-term future of the company I think it's essential we do it and do it quick."

Eventually overseas growth will be fuelled by licensing agreements with overseas manufacturers in the style of international beer brands, which are produced by local brewers to an agreed standard.

"No one has done that. It is to actually make a global branded wine. That's my vision."