Gaining a greater voice on the world stage for premium New Zealand wine is an ever-increasing challenge. Smaller wineries are often drowned out by powerful multinationals with their vast budgets and sophisticated marketing tools. Yet there are those who believe quality speaks volumes; that several voices singing the praises of New Zealand’s wine in harmony will be more effective than one voice singing alone.
So back in 2004, twelve of the country’s most prestigious and enduring artisanal wineries decided to join forces from a marketing and education perspective and ‘The Family of Twelve’ was created. Judy Finn of Neudorf remembers what first brought them together.”We were all friends and we decided we were doing too much travelling, had a huge carbon footprint and were all export-focused companies. So we decided to see if we could share the international travel workload and promote New Zealand and other premium products from New Zealand at the same time.”
The Family of Twelve is an alliance of family-owned wineries across the length and breadth of New Zealand located in eight of the county’s top growing regions. Family members represent a who’s who of what makes New Zealand wine so special today and include Villa Maria, Kumeu River, Millton Vineyard, Craggy Range, Palliser Estate, Ata Rangi, Neudorf, Fromm Winery, Lawson’s Dry Hills, Nautilus Estate, Pegasus Bay and Felton Road.
Reducing air miles may have been the initial catalyst but increasing interaction between winemakers and viticulturists has been one of the positive results. Wineries which, day-to-day are competitive, get to be collaborative through a once a year get-together they call ‘Vini Viti’. During these two-day events, the winemakers and viticulturists meet up for highly focussed workshops and tastings. It’s an opportunity to discuss what works and what doesn’t, and perhaps share information about trials they may have been running. Every year Vini Viti is held at a different winery which chooses a major topic for the workshops and is given a budget to purchase wines for a tasting where family members’ wines are tasted alongside their peers. As Marcus Wright, chief winemaker at Lawson’s Dry Hills explained, “It’s awesome to discuss the technical side of viticulture and winemaking. From a geek’s point of view, it’s great to have the opportunity to examine and drink some of the country’s best wines.”
This collaborative philosophy is echoed in the Family of Twelve’s ‘Critical Comment’ – a document that serves as a roadmap for where the family is going and what drives it. The document describes how the family is “bound by a common love of their craft and a desire to share their knowledge to a wider audience”. For in this family, brothers and sisters help each other to achieve greatness, while each pursuing their own lofty ambitions.
They meet several times a year for board meetings when members plan various educational and marketing initiatives. The Family Chair rotates every two years and right now Paul Donaldson of Pegasus Bay is at the helm. Right from the outset, there were a few simple house rules: to be a part of the Family, each winery had to be family-owned, you had to make great wine, and importantly, you had to be able to make decisions within 24 hours.
When it comes to being heard in the world market, the alliance allows wineries to speak with a louder voice. Or as the website expresses it, “We are a family of twelve siblings with one voice and one purpose.”
The export market is The Family of Twelve’s main focus and joining forces for international trade initiatives provides economies of scale by combining resources for events like workshops or the wine trade. A pre-requisite for participation is that the winery’s owner or perhaps the senior winemaker must be present to promote their products – and to assist in promoting their siblings’ wines.
Together they’ve staged tastings and masterclasses in cities like New York, San Francisco, London and Amsterdam, while also hosting inbound visitors to New Zealand including the wine media, key sommeliers, retailers and wine buyers. Endeavours like these are what helps The Family of Twelve not only pioneer new opportunities, but fulfill its vision of “nurturing long term relationships with an emphasis on education at home and in key export markets” .There have been events where family members’ wines were tasted blind alongside some of the world’s best. Also important is education about the differences – and distinctions – between the various regions in New Zealand, with a leaning very much to the premium end of the member wineries’ portfolios.
Education doesn’t stop there. In 2017 they established ‘The Family of Twelve Wine Tutorial’, a two-day residential tutorial for twelve wine professionals comprising a series of workshops, dinners and guest speakers. Its purpose was to impart first-hand knowledge to the wine industry’s next generation of leaders, representatives and communicators. The program has been so successful they’re now planning the 3rd event.
Looking to the future, this family is very much focussed on building an enduring legacy for New Zealand wines. Certainly, the 16 years that the group has been in operation confirms The Family of Twelve is here for the long haul and the wider New Zealand wine industry will be the long-term beneficiary.
For more information, please visit http://familyoftwelve.co.nz/