The initiative, which is jointly funded by the Ministry for Primary Industries and the wine industry, sets out to place New Zealand as the leading exporter of lifestyle wines and significantly increase wine shipments, which are currently worth NZ$1.2bn (US$980m) per year.
"This programme will capitalise on the domestic and international demand for high-quality, lower-calorie and lower-alcohol wines by developing new, natural techniques for grapevine growth and wine production across the New Zealand Wine Industry," said New Zealand Winegrowers’ chief executive, Philip Gregan.
“The programme will produce tangible outcomes for the grape and wine industry and the economy as a whole.”
According to estimates by Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy, the direct and indirect economic benefits will be around NZ$285m (US$234m) per year by the end of 2023.
This will be the first viticulture programme in a new Primary Growth Partnership (PGP) between the ministry and industry, said Justine Gilliland, MPI’s PGP director.
It will primarily look at how to keep alcohol levels low by naturally managing variables like grape variety, sunlight exposure, yeast types and fermentation times. Currently, low-alcohol wines are often blended with fruit juices or have their alcohol level reduced at the end of the fermentation process, which has an impact on their taste.
New Zealand staple production of sauvignon blancs and pinot noirs should fit this lifestyle market because of their lighter characters, but the initiative’s goal is also to make full-bodied red varieties like shiraz available as lifestyle wines without compromising on taste.
''Our focus will be on producing these low calorie, lower alcohol products in the vineyard naturally,'' said Gregan.
“Our point of difference will be producing premium wines that can be naturally produced using sustainable viticultural techniques and native yeasts, providing an important point of difference to existing processing methods.”
A total investment of NZ$17m (US$14m) has been secured for the programme, with the government committing just over NZ$8m (US$6.5m) over seven years, and the balance coming from industry partners as a mixture of cash and in-kind contributions.