I was on twitter a couple of weeks ago talking to Jayson Bryant from New Zealand (twitter: @jayson_bryant) about wine when it struck me that the selection of white wine from NZ  relative to Australian white wine on our shelves had changed rather dramatically over the 3 years I have been in the store.

Today, our selection ratio of NZ to Australian wine is less than 1:2. 3 years ago it would have been more like 1:5. I thought that we on Bowen might not be representative of the general Vancouver market so decided to check things out in downtown Vancouver.

Much to my surprise, our ratio is not markedly different to most stores. The 5 private wine stores I visited had ratios varying from 1:1 to 1:2 and then I visited the big BCLDB flagship store on Bute and Alberni. Their selection was very much closer to 1:1 and, checking the BCLDB website, the actual listings in BC for NZ white to Australian whites is 54 to 73 or very nearly 1:1!

This is a dramatic shift in market balance from years ago when the Australian powerhouse dominated the two countries white wine sales in BC. How has this come about?

Firstly, although there have been an increase in NZ wine selection, the primary reason the ratio is closing is that there has been a marked reduction in Australian whites in the market here. This is reflective of the shift away from all those heavily-oaked Aussie chardonnays so popular in the late ’90s and early ’00s. Secondly, here in BC, New Zealand was the theme country for the Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival (VPIWF) this year so NZ received lots of local exposure for their increasingly diverse selection of both red and white wines.

Both countries still make great wines but the trend is very much in favour of NZ at the moment. While NZ is hugely strong with their Sauvignon Blancs, I was really impressed with the Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminers and Rieslings I tasted at VPIWF plus NZ Pinot Noirs are coming on in leaps and bounds with Syrahs not far behind.

There are potentially lessons for the BC wine industry here too. Although our industry is younger than NZ’s, the total population of NZ is the same as BC’s and their domestic wine consumption is almost the same per capita as here. NZ is growing now on the strength of its export prowess not so much on its local support. Perhaps it is time that the BC wine industry focuses more on exporting than on local marketing – after all, we should have huge advantages in being next door to the USA whereas NZ is 20ookm away from its nearest large market and major competitor – Australia.

On Bowen, we have already increased our NZ selection in both reds and whites and more to come in our new store (opening January 2011) I think the white ratio will drop much closer to 1:1 then. Maybe we’ll even start to see the selection ratio on the reds starting to shift too.

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