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Villa Maria expects its Marlborough Private Bin sauvignon blanc 2020 vintage, harvested under intense lockdown restrictions, to be one of the best on record. It’s also optimistic on export sales.

Despite major operational disruption six months ago threatening an entire primary industry, thanks to near perfect climatic conditions and a growing trend of more wine being consumed from home during lockdowns, Villa Maria is optimistic about sales forecasts in its 60 markets – and New Zealand, Australia, the UK and Ireland in particular. 

Villa Maria Marlborough senior winemaker Helen Morrison says the 2020 vintage had ‘pitch perfect conditions’ that will likely contribute to strong demand for New Zealand’s flagship wine, despite the pandemic pressures. “From December 2019 through to April 2020, Blenheim received just 43mm of rain, the lowest rainfall total on record during this period in 79 years. The cool-moderate temperatures and dry conditions are ideal for all grapes, but aromatics in particular, and these conditions yield ultra clean and disease-free fruit.”

She says the result is intense sugar and flavour accumulation and acid retention. “That’s what has given the 2020 wines their concentration and salivating textures.”

Dubbed ‘the harvest of a lifetime’, characterised by the precarious timing of COVID-19 Level 4 restrictions sweeping New Zealand at the onset of critical harvesting, Villa Maria CEO Justin Liddell expects continued healthy sales. The iconic New Zealand wine brand leading sales by volume and value in the UK and Ireland typically sees a bottle of Villa Maria wine purchased off shelves every four seconds in the UK, and despite a global recession, expects continued strong demand for wine purchased via grocery and e-commerce channels, as worldwide lockdowns inhibit restaurant dining.

According to the Wine Intelligence COVID Impact Report[1], British consumers are drinking more wine at home, more frequently, than prior to lockdown restrictions being imposed at the beginning of March. The report revealed total wine drinking occasions had increased in number, despite the inability to dine and drink outside of home.

While lockdowns across overseas markets are now driving more at-home wine consumption and offsetting a blow to on-trade sales, the pandemic six months ago had the potential to jeopardise entire vineyards across the country, says Justin Liddell “When the first level 4 lock down commenced on March 26, Villa Maria’s Marlborough winery was at the beginning of our harvest – we’d only harvested a third of our grapes.

“Our industry worked urgently to be classified as essential workers in a desperate bid to safeguard the loss of entire vineyards, which meant rushing to introduce strict protocols to protect our workers and the surrounding regional community from the potential spread of the virus.”

Villa Maria Marlborough Winery Manager Chris McLean was only a few months into his role and immediately became the ‘COVID operations manager’. Within a week, the team had successfully transformed a bare paddock into what became known as Villa Maria’s own “Coachella” – a locked down village in Marlborough of 75 campervans rehoming 70 essential employees including dozens of foreign seasonal workers.

Split into two bubbles of 35, the crew bunkered down away from family and friends to work alternate 12-hour day or night shifts for five weeks, harvesting 5000 tonnes of grapes in the first week.


Pictured: Villa Maria’s Marlborough team. In the year ended 30 June 2020, the New Zealand wine industry achieved record exports totalling $1.92 billion, a 6% increase on 2019. The 2020 Annual Report can be accessed here:


[1] Wine Intelligence COVID Impact Report, May 2020

Glenn Baker

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


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