The meeting took place at the University of Auckland and grew out of an initiative of its Biological Economies Research Group and the Wine Industry Research Institute.
As meetings go, this one had an unusual title: 'Provenance, Diversity and Prospects'. Organiser Nick Lewis said it grew out of concerns from the fall-out of the global financial crisis, and also from the realisation that the novelty of setting up a winery is waning.
"Some of the romance and novelty is evaporating with wine and this is an inevitable thing, showing it's time to move onto the next step," Lewis said, in his pre-amble, adding that what the New Zealand wine industry needs today is a new national goal.
While consensus was elusive on many issues, all present agreed that a stronger focus on defined regionalism around this country would create strength, both in terms of marketing and selling and in terms of wine quality for New Zealand. In other words, New Zealand needs appellations or denominations of origin, which guarantee the authenticity of where its wines are made.
"It would be a good starting point if we could rely on authenticity, such as being clear that all wines labelled 'Waiheke' really are completely and only made from 100% Waiheke Island-grown grapes," said Chris Canning, winemaker and director of Hay Paddock Winery on Waiheke.
"I believe the University of Auckland's Business School could play a very useful part in advancing the progress towards the establishment of geographically based provenances or 'identities' for New Zealand wines. What they have already recognised is that regional groups, whether formally or otherwise, are spontaneously evolving in this direction; for example, Gimblett Gravels, Waiheke, Central Otago and Waipara, among others," Canning added.
"Many of us believe that New Zealand Winegrowers - with its need to present a national view of the industry - has been, and remains, an obstacle to this process and needs to be substantially de-constructed in order to allow identity, provenance and vitality to be expressed at the local level more quickly," he said.
There is no direct correlation between the physical size of a region and the profile it is capable of achieving in the wine world, Canning suggested. Nor is there an imperative for a national initiative in order to establish respected, globally recognised and geographically defined wine areas, suggested Master of Wine Paul Tudor, citing Chateauneuf-du-Pape as an example of a region that spear-headed the prototype for the appellation controlee system in France, in 1923.
The question is: should such regionality in New Zealand be championed, encouraged and formalised at a national level – or simply left to chance?
"We all agreed that wine regions around the country are working to build such propositions," wrote Lewis, in a post-discussion document. "We need to develop techniques for identifying, generating and demonstrating difference that sustains and supports provenance propositions, including focusing attention on non-human 'actors'," he said.
These non-human 'actors' included vine behaviour, microbial communities and a continued focus on the unique properties demonstrated by yeasts, such as those focussed on by Matt Goddard, who has worked with Master of Wine Michael Brajkovich from KumeuRiver Wines to identify Saccharomyces cerevisiae.
"We could objectively show with Saccharomyces cerevisiae that there was a clear difference between Chardonnays in the microbial community in West Auckland to that of Hawke's Bay and Waiheke Island," said Goddard, "which means there is very strong potential to use these as part of a regional identity."
"What we didn't talk about in relation to these questions was how regional propositions might relate to national scale geographical imaginaries; how diverse enterprises relate differently to different provenance propositions at different geographical scales; how they draw on these, support them and reshape them," said Lewis.
Each of these three questions is important in how national and regional representative bodies are formed and operate. These issues might provide subjects for another discussion about provenance, Lewis said.
Canning suggested that the most positive outcome would be to put in place appellation rules.
"As far as we are concerned, the case is made but the coordinated voice of the New Zealand wine industry is dominated by extremely large voices who have a vested interest in not allowing it to happen."
It could be misleading to equate provenance with appellation, said Lewis.
"They are not the same thing. One of the questions is: do we need everyone in a region to sign up to an appellation to give it authenticity?" asked Lewis.
In closing, he suggested that the challenge for New Zealand Winegrowers is to find a way to facilitate regionalism. For wine regions, Lewis said the challenge is to keep moving towards it and, for academics, the challenge is to keep talking about it, measuring it and informing others.