“Once a region discovers that it can raise its price by abandoning its individuality, it becomes a mere fashion item. Fashions change; terroir is the one immutable – the anchor of character.”
Hugh Johnson 2000
Those who have an interest and concern for the wine producers of Australia would have been aware of the difficulties facing us in recent years.
The continuing GFC and high Australian dollar has been a ‘perfect storm’ of events for Australian wine producers. The U.S, Britain and Europe have had to tighten their belts so that the vast amount of wine that once flowed offshore has had to flow back into the home market, followed closely by great value authentic wine from Europe.(no need to mention N.Z wine to add to our woes)
It all has to find a home somewhere. So in this period of stress and consternation, the blame game is on in full swing with plenty to take aim at. The long held division between corporate wine producers and ‘family’ run wine producers is being sorely tested.
Out of the blue comes the announcement by Treasury Wine Estate that it would be dumping $43 million worth of wine held in the U.S as it was obsolete?
Then the CEO of TWE, David Dearie, gave an address to the delegates of the 2013 Australian Wine Technical Conference, which I believe was both momentous and propitious.
This is a must read by anyone concerned for Australian wine producers as I see this address as a concise summary of what has brought us to this low point in the history of Australian wine production.
I keep reading this address in absolute amazement. The power of the address comes from just how out of touch Mr. Dearie is with the history and the soul of wine. In his address he uses the word ‘quality’ a dozen times in connection with the words ‘value’, ‘luxury’ and ‘premium..isation’ but not once does he refer to ’place’!
Yet in Europe, and more specifically France (the mother of branded wine), the central importance of ‘origin’ is the defining issue of wine marketing throughout history. This is the underpinning of the AOC, DOCG, DO, etc. systems that have evolved in all the major wine producing countries of Europe.
What gives ‘value’ to wine is the focus on ‘place’ from which it comes- country, region, appellation , village ,vineyard, until you can walk the boundary of the site.
Vineyards use the term ‘terroir’ (or variations of) and regions speak of ‘authenticity’ to try to encapsulate their uniqueness.
Wine is derived from grape juice that was once sap in a vine, that was once ground water, pulled up from the earth on that site.
Branding is derived from these ‘pillars’ of place. France is a brand, Burgundy is a brand, Chambertin is a brand and the producers vie to promote their brands as expression of this place.
Mr. Dearie uses the example of vodka (“neutral spirits so distilled.. as to be without character, aroma, taste, or color”) as how to build brand, value, cachet. What a perfect example of how a brand can be built on nothing but packaging and clever marketing.
He then goes on to express his pride in the Penfolds’ Ampoule .
Sheer comedy!- the Emperor has no clothes!
He does not bother to mention that the red contents of this object is a wine produced from grapes harvested from the Kalimna vineyard – the oldest Cabernet Sauvignon vines in Australia. At least then it would have some claim to authenticity, if it weren’t packaged as a decoration with no intention of the contents being consumed and appreciated. He then goes on to praise brands like Gucci, but rails against commoditisation? Can you picture a Gucci Merlot competing with Petrus? (no matter how beautifully accessorised)
The only way to break the nexus between wine and commodity is to give it a sense of place. If the wine is appreciated for the quality derived from that sense of place then it will be valued and it will command a price commensurate with that value.
This is a lesson we fail to learn at our peril at this time of emergence of the new Chinese and Asian markets and re-emergence of the U.S, British and European markets.
Decisions, decisions – what would I spend my money on… a Yeringberg Cabernet or a Wolf Blass Black Label ? You know the answer.
“The demand that will shape the future is for a sense of place in what we drink. The game is up for those who turn their backs on terroir. The earth will open and swallow them up.”
Hugh Johnson 2000