One evening last week I awoke to see a koala bear sitting in a swaying tree with a piece of eucalyptus in its mouth. Confused for a brief second, I realized that I fell asleep in front of the TV. There was a documentary about the impact of urbanization on koala bear populations. I sat up and started to watch because who doesn’t love a cuddly koala bear. Earlier that day, I had attended a full-day wine workshop (is there any better kind of workshop?) hosted by Wine Australia. In celebration of this past Australia Day, let's talk Aussie wine.
What do Canadians think of Australia? If I had to guess, it would be that it’s a hot and exotic country that speaks English with a cute accent, saying things like “g’day mate!”, and playing “footy”. Although home to many poisonous and scary creatures, it’s also a wondrous playground of sprawling beaches and coral reefs along the coast. Inland it encompasses rich mosaics of scenic landscapes and distinct ecosystems. Australia is a mixture of tropical and temperate climates sitting along side arid desert and, of course, bustling cultural urban centers. As a young teenager, I was lucky to have taken a trip to this land down under with my parents. I recall my father getting into a small scuffle with a kangaroo. True story!
How does Australian wine fit into the general perception of the Ontario consumer? I feel that Ontario wine lovers have pigeon-holed the wines both positively and negatively. This compartmentalization is a challenge, yet also an opportunity for selling regional Australian wine in the Ontario market.
When you hear “Australian Wine”, what comes to mind? Shiraz! There is not a doubt that Australia has become famous for this red grape leading to both its popularity and now the apparent ho-hum attitude that we’re seeing towards it. Shiraz is no longer the most popular kid in school. Consumers have become charmed by emerging star varietals from other regions (Malbec from Argentina for example). Another challenging factor is one of style. We’ve seen Australian mass-produced value wines flood the Ontario market for years now, leading to the opinion that this is what Australian wine is all about. Juice that indulges in oak, opulent fruit, and a burst of bruisy ethanol. Whatever the opinion, positive or negative, there is something that Australian wine already offers the consumer - choice. There’s a reason that these wines have become so popular. Many of the wines are approachable and come at varying price points. Whatever the budget, there’s a wine for it. However, there are still many regional and varietal examples that are just sitting on store shelves, undiscovered. Can we make consumers excited about Australian wine? Can we change the public’s perception and widespread use of these umbrella descriptors? I think so! While there is always room for cheap and cheerful, Australian wine is a serious contender with premium high quality products that show a “sense of place”. Australia can convince the consumer that yes, they can have both value and regional expression. If stars in Hollywood are any indication, public opinion can certainly be swayed towards the positive - it just takes the right message.
Australian wines are going through some dramatic changes. They are beginning to reveal a more refined, elegant...cooler side. From the more restrained use of wood and malolactic fermentation, the whites in particular are showing a confident nervy backbone. Still maintaining the purity of the fruit with reduced alcohol, both the reds and whites demonstrate fresh, vibrant life with a superb underlying structure. A new generation of wine is here and I see this as a fantastic opportunity for Australia to showcase its cooler viticultural areas. With such a large land mass, varying effects of ocean, altitude, and latitude how can an entire continent’s wine industry be generalized by blanket terms? The message needs to get through. Highlighting this new renaissance of Aussie wines and introducing or should I say, re-introducing distinct geographical locations to Ontarians, will bring a more refined image to Australian wines. The good news is that more of these wines are finding their way into our market, at affordable prices. We want consumers to walk into the LCBO and ask their product consultants for the Chardonnays of Yarra Valley, the Pinot Noirs of Mornington Peninsula, the sparkling wines of Tasmania, the Rieslings of Clare Valley, the Semillons of Hunter Valley, and the Cabernet Sauvignons of Coonawarra - for example. Let’s start promoting these regions, and their unique take on varietals, into starring roles. See the new wines of Australia or should I say, the real wines of Australia unfold.
No plonk here folks. Ace!