For the first time ever a New Zealand wine brand has been included in the top three Most Admired Wine Brands in the World, taking out the third spot.
The inflight wine list is about to be extended in Business Premier and iconic wines along with winners will be included.
Earlier this year Air NZ moved to a single provider for Economy and Premium Economy classes, with Villa Maria winning the three-year contract. At the time Bruce Parton the airline’s Chief Operations Officer said the single supplier was part of a multi pronged proposal to improve the wine service.
Now those proposals are about to fall into place, with a number of significant changes occurring over the next two months.
“Stage one was sorting out the somewhat messy and confusing situation surrounding economy class,” Parton says. “We have done that and basically from the money we have saved by having one provider means we can invest in other significant things.”
First up the airline employed two international judges, who with their knowledge of their own markets, can help identify specific palate requirements.
Fongyee Walker, well known in New Zealand wine circles, will bring her knowledge of the Chinese market to the judging table, while Linda Murphy from the US is keen to share her insights of the American market with the New Zealand wine industry. Both judges will join John Harre and John Belsham on the Business Premier selection panel.
On top of the judging role, both Murphy and Walker will tour the major wine regions to talk to producers. Parton says both have valuable experience when it comes to their home markets and they are keen to pass on advice to producers who are struggling to gain recognition in either China or the US. They have already toured the country in July and will be back in October.
“Both (Fongyee and Murphy) are people who are flying our flag overseas in markets that are incredibly hard to penetrate. What we want to do is get them both out amongst the wine community, with their insights and knowledge which we are sure will be of benefit to producers of all sizes.”
With the overseas judges sorted, Parton says the next step was to take a much closer look at what was happening in Business Premier. Feedback from the wine industry had flagged concerns about having to enter the Air NZ Wine Awards to be considered for inclusion. Given only about 50% of wineries enter their wines in shows, Parton says it was obvious a large number of wines were being excluded.
“We will look to try and pick up trophy and gold medal winning wines from the Air NZ Wine Awards. But we are also interested in other top end wines. We want to expand the type of wine we get and the breadth of it – and no longer exclude wines.”
Enter phase three – the choosing of wines that are not part of the awards line-up.
“Some of the feedback we received was along the lines of; ‘I could choose better wines than you do.’ Well we have listened to that and we have invited New Zealand’s 12 Masters of Wine to take part in our selection process. We have asked each of them to name two iconic wines in each category, so each Master will provide us with two iconic savvies, two Chardonnays, two Pinots etc. We will then look to include those in a tasting. So this gives us a wider group of expertise and a wider group of wine to try.”
The airline is keen to promote the wine industry via inflight entertainment, but Parton agrees that for many companies there is a need for long term commitment before the marketing value adds up. So Air NZ is looking at “cutting” longer term deals with iconic producers, to ensure quality and volume stacks up.
“If we find an iconic wine and then say to the producers that we will look to buy a certain amount every year, it provides huge benefit to the winery. They can use that information to under-pin investment. If linking with them up front for a period of time, and investing in their future allows them to invest in their product and increase crop while maintaining quality, then it’s very good for everyone.”
All these changes won’t come cheap Parton admits. He says up until October this year, the budget spent on wine on Air NZ flights has doubled. And that is likely to go up even further in the near future.
“We are quite frankly moving into a phase where price is not the key driver of wine on board. We want to be serving New Zealand’s most iconic wines in our Business Premier cabin and we are aware those wines cost a lot of money.”
Looking forward, he says the changes mean the best of the best, as suggested by 12 Masters of Wine and selected by the four internationally experienced judges, will be included on the airline’s wine list.
“If you enter and are successful in the Air NZ Wine Awards, we will be talking to you. If you want to pitch your wines into our wine tastings in October, if they are good enough, we will be talking to you. And if you didn’t do either for whatever reason, but you are iconic, we will be wanting to talk to you as well.
“I think it is exciting times ahead.”