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Nada Young explains how Marlborough Wine Limited has been quietly growing its market share in Southeast Asia.

You may not have heard of Marlborough Wine Limited, but if you pay attention to international wine awards, or the alluring gold medal stickers on wine labels, you will surely be familiar with the major wine competitions of the world such as the  IWSC (International Wines and Spirits Competition), Sydney International Wine Competition (SIWC) and the San Francisco International Wine Competition (SIWC). 

Marlborough Wine Limited’s flagship brand, Toi Toi, stands proudly among the great wines of the world at these competitions and their ever-growing list of accolades should impress even the stiffest ‘Old World’ wine snob.

Notable achievements include five Gold Outstanding medals at IWSC and a Trophy at the New Zealand International Wine Show (NZIWS) for their world class Toi Toi Marlborough Riesling; a Trophy for the Best Sauvignon Blanc of Show at the SIWC 2018 with their Reserve Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc; Gold Medals for their Toi Toi Marlborough Pinot Gris at the SIWC and Bragato Wine Awards; 94 points for their sensational Toi Toi Central Otago Pinot Noir; Gold for their Toi Toi Gisborne Reserve Chardonnay at the Royal Easter Show; and Best Wine of Show for their Marlborough Sara’s Rose at the colossal Wines and Spirits Wholesalers of America (WSWA) wine show.

Reading through these awards you may have noticed another remarkable feature and one of the key elements of their success on the global stage – they are not tethered to a single location. Instead, Marlborough Wine Limited’s vineyards span the country, strategically placed in what they consider to be the best wine regions for growing each varietal.

This ability to showcase the ‘best of New Zealand’ has enabled Marlborough Wine Limited to gain a foothold in dynamic and highly competitive international wine markets.   

Co-founder Kevin Joyce says “By sourcing grapes from the best wine growing regions of New Zealand, we can continually over deliver on our customers’ wine expectations. We do this with our family values of integrity, passion, innovation and kaitiaki – sustainable guardianship and protection of our lands for future generations.”

Eight years ago, Kevin and Sara Joyce, the founders of Marlborough Wine Limited set their sights on expansion into Asia and, together with Incite’s team on the ground, the journey began with focus on Southeast Asia, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

Back then, Old World wines still reigned supreme in the region and distributors were worried their customers would turn up their noses at New World Wines, especially given our early adoption of the Stelvin closure (screw cap) which they felt would ‘spoil the ritual’ of opening a bottle of wine.

There was also a deeply entrenched preference for full bodied red wines and the subtle complexity of Central Otago Pinot Noir was sometimes perceived as ‘thin’ or weak, while the crispness of a Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc could be ‘too sour’. 

Price sensitivity was another barrier. The high excise tax levied on wine in many Southeast Asian markets meant that when it was eventually cleared through customs the cost of goods had skyrocketed. At the same time, other New World wines from regions like Chile and Argentina were flooding the market with wine for as little as FOB USD $1.50 a bottle. There was also a thriving Grey Channel to compete with (wine smuggled in without paying taxes or duties).  

In response to these challenges Marlborough Wine Ltd and Incite focussed on nurturing relationships with the right distribution partners and supporting them in their marketing efforts. The strategy to build trust and loyalty with each partner was well received by distributors who were jaded by impatient exporters who took a ‘hands off’ approach to exporting.

Marlborough Wine Ltd also diversified and released three very approachable new labels, Marlborough Vines, Mouku and Stone Bay, enabling them to meet different price points and taste profiles. Toi Toi would always be the flagship brand, but having a second tier of brands allowed their distribution partners to penetrate different segments of the market.

Within the first two years distribution partnerships were established in Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, Taiwan, Hong Kong and later, South Korea. Sales were modest at the beginning. However, by patiently fostering each relationship and supporting distribution partners with marketing support and other initiatives, awareness and volumes continued to expand.

As the international recognition of New Zealand’s famous Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc and Central Otago Pinot Noir expanded, so too did demand and with solid distribution partnerships in place, Marlborough Wine Ltd was well positioned to take advantage.

Slowly but surely the business has grown, one sip and a time, with regular orders now being shipped to distribution partners across the region. With diligence and the continued focus of Incite’s team on the ground in the market, the future is looking bright.

Nada Young is a director of Incite.

Glenn Baker

Glenn is a professional writer/editor with 50-plus years’ experience across radio, television and magazine publishing.


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