Every patriotic Australian is in thrall of our greatest performer on the international stage at the moment - the hulking, sun bronzed, all conquering Aussie dollar. Cheaper overseas travel, cheaper overseas shopping on the internet - cheaper STUFF - you bloody champion Aussie dollar! There are some, however, who are being smashed by the strength of our strapping currency. I speak of, amongst others, the Australian winemakers.
The rippling muscularity of the Aussie dollar is making it heart breakingly difficult for our winemakers to sell competitively offshore, with many brands in standstill. Witness the wines labelled for foreign markets being sold in Australian retail shops and on the internet. Our currency strength has also opened the door for foreign raiders to have a crack at the local market as overseas made wines become more attractively priced. In fact, imports of foreign wine increased from 7.1 % to 12.6% of domestic sales between 2006/07 and 2008/09 (total value $473m). That percentage increase represents a not insubstantial 24 million litres of wine.
So the poor Australian winemaker is copping it both here and abroad.
It is interesting to track the history of foreign wines in Australia. Of course the aristocrats of France - Bordeaux and Burgundy - have always done well with the traditional oenophiles in Australia. And Champagne cornered the celebration market decades ago. Beyond these international superstars, other foreign success stories in Oz have been some left field offerings, with names such as Blue Nun, Black Tower and Mateus springing to mind. These weren’t cracking wines by any means, but for a couple of reasons they appealed to the average drinker. We Aussies are pretty simple folk. We like simple, shortish names and we are not averse to the odd gimmick. And these wines, either by design or good fortune, all had both.
Blue Nun could have been sold as, say, Muller-Thurgeau which is the wine’s predominant grape. But the good burghers of Rheinhessen knew that name wouldn’t fly, so their marketing gurus got into a huddle and came up with the brilliant idea to name the wine after…. a nun - and to sell it in a bright blue bottle. Seriously! Now, most owners would have sacked the marketers on suspicion of drug abuse. But when Blue Nun was released here we bought boatloads of the stuff.
Black Tower Riesling was another bottle play by the Germans. Black Tower was (and is) sold in a funky faux concrete bottle that looked like - a tower (we got it!) and the added bonus was that you could use the empty as a door stop, or a vessel for the home brew.
Brilliant and practical.
Finally - Mateus, a reasonably benign rosé made in Portugal, was a showstopper not only in this country, but around the world, with 3.25 million cases sold annually at its peak. That’s about 30 million litres of one wine.
Are you seeing a pattern now? The bottle looked like the short, fat brother of a real bottle; think De Vito next to Schwarzenegger in “Twins”. We took pity on the stubby brother and drank heaps of it. We even displayed it, empty or full - didn’t matter - on the trophy shelf in the pool room. Strange…but true.
And when we talk about easy-to-pronounce names we can look to our own market for clues. We like Shiraz - not the poncy Syrah favoured by the Kiwis. We love Cab Sav, or perhaps Cab Merlot, and Chardy, Riesling and Sav Blanc. We may even extend the vocab to Pinot (though we are not that fussed with the Noir).
And when all else fails we label it “classic dry white”….or “sparkling”.
So we have cracked the code for successful foreign raids on Australia.
Cute bottle (with alternate use possibilities as a bonus) and a simple name.
Wine quality is not absolutely necessary for success. Let’s road test some of the new contenders:
Austria - One of the nicest wines I have tasted lately has the unfortunate name of “Gruner Veltliner”.
I see you shaking your head in wonder - that name CANNOT make it: Gruner Veltliner sounds like Sophie Veltliner’s ugly sister.
Hmm, maybe we are on to something…..flavour profile similar to Riesling, same tapered bottle…let’s call it “The Ugly Sister” and we’re on to a winner !!
Germany- Gewürztraminer should be a massive seller in Australia as it is the perfect accompaniment to Asian food. But seriously guys - the name, the name! The only solution I can think for this: put it into used VB longnecks and hope that people buy it by mistake.
Italian – The Italians have very trickily influenced Australian culture for decades via the restaurant trade. This has made us familiar with Italian words such as puttanesca, margherita and carbonara. In fact most Australians speak basic Italiano…don’t we? Bravo Italy, we will have no problem with your Dolcetto and Sangiovese. (Plus we love those natty raffia Chianti bottles.)
Spain – great wines; love them. But I don’t think they have a huge future in this country. Controversial, I know, but not all of us have the cash to hang ‘round funky wine bars and order by simply gesturing at an over-priced wine list.
My take is that the average Australian does not want to be laughed at when they go to the bottle shop and ask for Rioja or Tempranillo.
It is simply not natural to get the pronunciation correct (Ree-och-a and Tempra-nee-yo... pleeeease). The only solution is to put them in a matador shaped bottle and call it Spanish Classic Rojo. Problem solved.
So there you have it…the manifesto for foreign wine sales success in Australia. Please don’t let the raiders know, for our winemaker’s sake.