Saturday, May 21, 2011

AUSTRALIA: Adversity Drives Innovation to the Edge

In a crowded marketplace, standing apart is a challenge, but that is exactly what wines from Australia have been able to do.
Margaret River, Western Australia
An isolated and expansive island nation, it is one of the oldest and driest places on the planet. Its soils are leached and saline, and water management has evolved here as an art and a science.  Recently, a seven year drought across nations most important agricultural region, the Murray-Darling basin, was followed by the wildfires of 2009, only to be followed by record floods in the states of Queensland and Victoria that produced outbreaks of widespread vineyard disease. The global economic recession has hit hard in Australia, and wine grape prices have hit record lows, supported by an oversupply of grapes. In recent months, a growing number of smaller Australian wineries in the Southeast have given up and just walked off their land. As the vast majority of the wines Down Under are produced by a handful of large beverage corporations, earlier this year behemoth Constellations Brands sold its Australian portfolio for an estimated $800 million loss!

Even as the Australian wine industry battles to overcome these significant challenges, consumers continue to hear descriptors like 'new' and 'innovative', or 'generous' and 'easy going' to portray its wines.  I know that under the umbrella of their Guarantee of Quality there are the Geographical Indication(GI) designations, similar to the EU appellation system.  And, that the Australians are responsible for quality wines in a box packaging, as well as wines sealed by freshness guarantee screw caps. With a domestic per-capita wine consumption rate considerably higher than ours, the Australians still manage to export the vast majority of what they annually produce. For more than a decade, their successful Strategy 2025, has focused on growing Australia into a targeted $4.5 billion preeminent global wine export leader by volume and quality. But what else could they do to overcome these recent industry challenges?

Australia continues to lead the world in wine science, and also produces iconic wines that are among the best in the world. They have also ingrained standards of value wines into our conscience, like Jacob's Creek or so-called 'critter wines'.  But perhaps the most meaningful and important effort today is comprehensively displayed on the WineAustralia web site. Australia is hitting on all cylinders as they currently employ a disciplined strategy to raise awareness of their fine, widely available products. Marketing to improve image, to increase agreeable price points, and introduce a wider range of wines to global consumers, Wine-Australia, has launched a brand message with an implied assurance at every price-point of consistently better quality. This focused effort includes these framework 'personalities':
  • Brand Champions offer a strong premium brand message, supported by quantity and accessibility (i.e. Jacob's Creek).
  • Generation Next wines are socially innovative products in packaging or marketing(i.e. Clare Valley screw-cap initiative). Note: see blog entry 02/09/11 Quality Innovations Down Under.
  • Regional Heros, are wines from somewhere, with an association between region/style/variety(i.e. Shaw & Smith Adelaide Hills).
  • Landmark Wines initiative recognizes leading high-profile wines of inherent quality and world wide reputation(i.e. Penfolds Grange).
There are wine producing countries that still today move all too slowly from their Old World stature or dated  hierarchy.  And then from Margaret River in the west to Tasmania, there is Australia.  In the lead in so many facets of today's wine industry, Australia has once again shown that adversity can be a positive drive towards innovation in the world of quality wine.

Among the recently announced Decanter World Wine Awards 2011 Regional Trophies were the following Australian quality wine values:
  • McWilliams Mount Pleasant Cellar Release Elizabeth Semillon 2006 Hunter Valley
  • Tesco Finest Tingleup Vineyard Riesling 2010 Margaret River
  • Bird in Hand, Two in  the Bush Shiraz, Mt. Lofty Ranges 2009 Adelaide Hills
  • Catching Thieves Cabernet Merlot, Margaret River 2010 Western Australia
A toast to all that Australia brings to global wine lovers."Cheers, Big Ears; Same Goes, Big Nose!


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