Australian Wine Overseas: Where to From Here?
If you asked a wine drinker in the United Kingdom 20 years ago what they thought of Australian wines, there’s a good chance their answer would include descriptors like ‘great value’, ‘fruit driven’ and ‘approachable’.
According to Justin Taylor of Taylors Wines in the Clare Valley, this was thanks to brands like yellowtail and Jacob’s Creek. They succeeded in getting, he says, “A lot of people drinking a lot of Australian wine.”
Libby Nutt of Casella Family Brands agrees, saying their yellowtail brand, “is responsible for a major share of volume and value of the mainstream Australian wine category in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada and China.”
While Justin sees this as “a good thing,” he adds that Australian wine is heading in a new direction. “I certainly think in the last five years we’ve reinvigorated ourselves as a premium wine producing nation.”
Chris O’Connor of Bunnamagoo in the NSW Central Ranges agrees, saying, “We need to continue to promote the mid to high end ranges, this is working for us.”
Helping to drive this change in the UK is wine writer Matthew Jukes, who started presenting his 100 Best Australian Wine in 2004. This began, he says, with the explicit intention of presenting a more complete picture of Australian wine.
“I, and many others,” he explains, “knew that we had barely scratched the surface of the sheer talent and excellence on offer, so I made a point of highlighting what I thought were the most fascinating and truly world class wines each year for consumers and trade to enjoy.”
And the work has paid off, he says. “Sixteen years on, I can genuinely say that all of the effort was worth it because now top Aussie wine is seen everywhere on restaurant lists and wine merchant shelves.”
According to Matthew, drinkers in the UK see Australian wine as unique in the wine world. “We realise that Australian wine is made,” he says, “by fun-loving, genial, positive people who just happen to be brutally professional and immensely well-informed about not only the taste of their wines and where they sit in the world, but the world’s great wines, too.”
With these words, Matthew could be describing Australia’s First Families of Wine, a group that’s worked tirelessly to promote Australian wine overseas. The Taylors are one of the 11 families that makes up the group, which Justin says makes quite an impact when they appear at the US and China roadshows.
This is because, he says, “of the very true personalities behind each of the brands. You’ve got some wonderful winemakers, you’ve got some wonderful history, so there’s a lot of authenticity and the consumers really warm to that.”
The chinese market
Pictured above (from left to right): Australia’s First Families of Wine in London; Libby Nutt, Casella Family Brands General Manager Marketing and Export Sales; UK wine writer Matthew Jukes
China is currently one of the most exciting markets for Australian wine and while First Families is a tireless advocate, Justin credits the industry as a whole for getting the word out.
“Our industry is working its tail off in the Chinese market. I did the last China Roadshow and it was the biggest number of Australian wine producers under one roof at any one time.”
And the punters are well-represented, too. “All those shows and events we do in the big cities and some of the two tier cities in China are really well attended,” he says, “there’s a lot of consumer interest and a lot of distributor and importer interest.”
While Australian producers are doing a great job overseas, Justin believes some of the interest from Chinese drinkers comes from the wonderful experiences they have visiting Australia.
“Chinese consumers come here,” he says, “enjoy our food, drink our wine. And they go back and look for it.”
Matthew is of a similar opinion. “There is much more awareness of grape varieties and their more famous regions and this, in part, comes from the fabulous job that Aussies perform with wine tourism. I meet hundreds of people every year on my 100 Best Roadshows who have loved visiting Australia and they all have brilliant stories about the wineries and winemakers.”
Back on the road, one of the hardest working of Australia’s winemakers on the international scene is Peter Gago. The Penfolds chief winemaker travels the world spruiking the appeal of not only the Penfolds collection, but also the credentials of the country in general. One of the ways he does this is through the Penfolds recorking clinics. Started back in 1991, these free events see wine enthusiasts bring along any Penfolds red wine that’s over 15 years old for a ‘health check.’
One of the best things to come out of these clinics, Peter says, is seeing that “not only are people buying our wines, but they are cellaring them.” The events themselves also promote the fact that “Australian wine really does cellar well.”
The road ahead
Pictured above (from left to right): Penfolds chief winemaker Peter Gago; Bunnamagoo’s national business manager, Chris O’Connor
While much is being done to open the eyes of the world to the authenticity, diversity and ageing potential of Australian wine, there’s still a way to go.
This is particularly true in the US market, according to Chuck Hayward, who has spent the past 30 years educating US trade and consumers on the appeal of Australian wine.
He feels that if you can get it in front of the consumer, they love it, but it’s just not widely available. To change this, he believes there needs to be more of a longterm mindset.
“People who’ve been to the States before, they realise it takes a little bit of work and so you just have to be committed,” he explains. Instead, he says, “A lot of people just expect to come over here, maybe do two or three trade tastings in a couple of years and go, ‘we didn’t sell anything.’”
Fortunately, many wineries, including Penfolds, Taylors and Casella, are working with the longterm future top of mind. In fact, Casella Family Brands has recently taken on some premium established names. As Libby explains, “Momentum is building behind premium Australian wine and it is our interest to help sustain and build on that momentum, to ensure it really opens up the category and doesn’t just become a short term trend.”
Matthew is optimistic that it’s going to take more work, but the story will get out. “Australia is a cornucopia of world class wine regions making world class wines,” he says, “and I wish more work was done internationally to highlight this, but there are plenty of us banging the drum and so it will happen, we just have to be patient!”