In a letter dated 20 May 2015, Air New Zealand announced sweeping changes to their wine selection process. Historically the airline has invited all New Zealand vineyards to submit wines for selection and this has given the airline's passengers wonderful exposure to the diverse and exciting range of wines produced in New Zealand. It is important to recognise the current wine selection process is complex to administer, but one would have thought the benefits to the airline outweighed that consideration, particularly as Air New Zealand is seen as our national carrier. The following quote from the above letter is indicative now of the airline's current thinking:
".... from the beginning of 2015, the airline will move to serving wines through longer term partnerships with a limited number of New Zealand wineries. In line with this a Request for Proposal (“RFP”) was recently issued to a small number of potential suppliers. This RFP covers the wine we would pour during domestic Koru Hour flights, in our long haul Economy and Premium Economy cabins and in our airport lounges."
While the notice did point out business class wines will be selected from a wider range of options, no longer is that class open to all wineries either. I think a reasonable interpretation of this is 'potential suppliers' are probably the larger commercial producers and many, if not most, of the smaller, boutique producers will be left out in the cold. That is such a shame, particularly as, just a few days prior, Air New Zealand released a press statement advising that they had just signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with New Zealand Winegrowers aimed at promoting inbound wine tourism to New Zealand. Very confusing signals, as these tourists will want diversity in their wine choices, not something purchased via an "RFP".
An important question now is why those rejected would want to participate in the annual Air New Zealand wine awards? It would not be surprising if many elect to boycott them.
It is also likely to have other consequences for the airline. For example, as a company working on the very thing the MoU was set up to address, in our case significant inbound tourism from China, we will certainly not be inclined to use Air New Zealand as our preferred carrier as we grow the business.
Am I disappointed by the lack of consultation and the clumsy way in which this change was announced? You bet!! But, it is important to conclude by saying no-one expects a guarantee to be listed for aircraft service by right, however all kiwi wineries would like to think if their wines are great examples of New Zealand wine, they have an opportunity to at least be considered for service by their national carrier.