Our wine exports to the UK are more environmentally friendly than French wines, and that's despite them having to travel far more "wine miles".
Speaking ahead of last night's Food Hawke's Bay seminar at EIT, David Hughes, a food marketing expert from Imperial College, London, said if New Zealand winemakers shifted the debate from the distance their wine travelled to explaining their carbon footprint, they could compete with the world's best.
"Wine miles", similar to food miles, were becoming increasingly important to shoppers in Britain, Europe and North America.
"I think wine production is less energy-intensive in New Zealand than in France due to climatic reasons," Mr Hughes said.
"There isn't the same humidity and you're much more efficient with your energy inputs."
The major environmental damage was done post-importing, by consumers using cars to take products from supermarkets to their home.
"I would wager the environmental impact is the same whether importing wines from New Zealand or France." However, getting the concept across to consumers was difficult.
"You need to lead the debate, be upfront and connect with stakeholders."
Mr Hughes said wine often escaped the same scrutiny as air-freighted food because people bought it in a "celebratory mood".
"One of the great things about consumers is that they're irrational and illogical. When they're enjoying themselves, they push their concerns to the side."
The main challenge for Bay winegrowers was finding creative ways to crack overseas markets. New Zealand wine was well-regarded in Britain but expensive, and rare.
"If I go to Tesco, the largest retailer and vendor of wine products in the UK, there are 1350 bottles facing me," Mr Hughes said.
"Twenty-nine are from New Zealand and, of those, 25 are big companies like Montana. So if I'm a small boutique winery, how on earth am I going to get the ear of the consumer?"
The answer? Bypassing supermarkets, and communicating directly with consumers by investing in websites or partnerships with UK-based distributors.
Mr Hughes said Bay winemakers would benefit from strengthening the New Zealand brand by exporting only stereotype varieties - sauvingon blanc and pinot noir - "to bring simplicity to a purchase decision in a complex market environment". They would also gain from thinking beyond the typically "older, richer" target market.
"I think young people would respond well to the Hawke's Bay story but they've never heard of you and won't look for you unless you look for them."