Following a recent visit to Australia, CEO Lulie Halstead finds the Australian Wine Community more buoyant than 2 years ago
During the last couple of years, I sense that the feel good factor among the Australian wine community has dipped. The soaring dollar means exporting has become more and more problematic, and there’s more global competition from countries and regions making increasingly good wine, at competitive prices. No wonder the Aussies have been feeling a bit bruised.
But perhaps things are changing. I was one of the speakers at the recent Wine Industry Outlook Conference in Melbourne, where I detected a pleasing amount of positivity. Australians seem ready to roll up their sleeves and realise the great potential that still exists for their wines.
To make this happen, Australians are getting back to what helped make them great in the first place, working collaboratively and sharing ideas. It helps that the Australian wine industry is relatively small and geographically compact, and that its people tend to have a naturally upbeat, “can do” approach to life.
We heard about an innovative scheme in the Barossa Valley, where winemakers and food producers have teamed up to develop a tourism project. That’s a great example of how the wine industry can talk about itself in a slightly different way, and convey a positive image.
There’s some interesting work going on from a branding point of view, too, which could certainly have an impact. There are now also 65 Australian GIs, offering scope for regional wines commanding a price premium. But all this can only work because Australia now makes very good wine at lots of different price points. There’s no doubt about that.
Consumers recognise it, too. During one of my presentations I made the point that Australia’s recent problems haven’t been caused by consumers falling out of love with Australian wine: our research proves that this is far from being the case. It’s simply that some heads have been turned by brash new competitors, eager to replicate Australia’s success and if possible steal some market share.
So where should Australia be focusing its export efforts? Another speaker, James Gosper of Wine Australia, listed the priority markets as China, the UK and the USA. I would agree with that. Clearly Asia is opening up huge opportunities for Australia, and has the advantage of being a neighbour.
But the UK, despite the tough trading environment and discount pricing culture, remains the market with the highest Australian export volumes. And there’s still a massive opportunity in the USA which has yet to be fully tapped.
The larger-than-expected 2012 vintage could be a good or bad thing for Australia (yes, parts of Europe have seen a low harvest, yet there’s still a global oversupply). But I flew home from Melbourne with a sense that the future for Australian wine is much brighter than the industry once dared to believe – and that the feelgood factor is on its way back.