I’ve got Yalumba fever!

It’s cold here in the Tyrol, viagra 100mg too cold for mountain biking. There’s snow at the top of the mountain, story but not enough to ski. The gray and foggy month of November is my least favourite of the year. But I leave today for Australia and will arrive In Adelaide on Thursday in a heat wave at what is predicted to be a 38°C day.

It’s been a hectic week preparing for this trip. News of winning the scholarship left me little time to rearrange all my plans for the next three weeks. I’ve been wrapping up a lot of loose ends, ask finishing projects, editing my articles, and rearranging appointments. I haven’t slept much – partly because I’ve had so much to do and partly because I’m just so damn excited. My fire is so stoked to go to Oz! This will be awesome; I’ll learn so much!

I’ll fly Münich, Frankfurt, Singapore, Adelaide. It will be a long haul with one short and two very long flights, but my doctor has equipped me with what I need to sleep and prevent thrombosis.

A couple readers have asked that I post my winning essay, so here it is:

Application Essay for 2010 Yalumba Scholarship by Julia Sevenich

“There is no fundamental or systemic problem with the Australian wine sector; it is going through a cycle where after many years of popularity, other regions, countries or styles are garnering more interest from the gatekeepers.”

This statement recognizes that the Australian wine sector is suffering problems in the current market, but it also implies that there is nothing anyone can do about it except twiddle their thumbs and patiently wait until Australian wine becomes more popular again. That would not be very Australian, would it? Australians have always been innovative; docility does not appear to be in the DNA. In Australia’s two most important markets, USA and the UK, entry-level wines are losing ground to other countries with lower production costs. The unique, premium regional wines that Australia has always produced have suffered from the limelight shed on cheap inter-regional blends with cute critter labels and not a whole lot to say in the glass. The AWBC and the WFA have recognized the urgent need for the Australian wine sector to move away from its longstanding volume-driven approach in order to build a profitable long term future for Australia’s wine industry. Strategies such as “Regional Heroes” and “Landmark Australia Tutorial” are being implemented to help re-build awareness of Australia’s regional and varietal diversity. Let us take a look at a few obstacles facing this initiative and consider some solutions.

The global economic crisis is not an advantageous time to get consumers to trade up. When times are tough, people don’t drink less, they drink cheaper across all categories. On the US market, Australia’s number one importer in terms of value, wines in the over $20 category have suffered close to a 50% decrease – a trend that began as the market became flooded with entry-level Australia years before the economic crisis. Excitement needs to be created in this category: a story needs to be told and the regional difference tasted in the glass. Landmark tutorials aimed at the trade are proving effective in capturing interest.

The dominance of production in the hands of a few big companies such as Constellation, Foster’s, Pernod Ricard and Australian Vintage has made it difficult to make a terroir message tangible to consumers. These producers do have wines with authentic regional character in their portfolios, but alas, terroir is associated with small artisanal producers. By communicating core values like “giving back” to the community and the environment, even huge wine producers can become more human. But it’s not just the message, its how it’s communicated. Who are the actual people who work at these wineries? Are they excited about the terroir driven wines they are producing? Employers should encourage passionate staff to use social media like blogs and Facebook, Twitter and reward them with a bit of time daily to devote not only to talking about the work they love, but talking about their other hobbies and passions as well. What if a viticultural manager in Margaret River would write about spraying stinging nettle tea on Shiraz vines as well as his love of cooking and shopping at the local farmer’s market? Or the young woman working at the company’s day care at a winery in Heathcoate writes about her creative engagement at work one day and her passion for skiing in the Snowy Mountains another? This too, can promote an intimate understanding of what a region is all about.

The ongoing drought of the past decade has diminished fruit supply for high-volume producers in hot regions. Brands are forced to source more expensive cool-climate fruit and re-position in the premium segment. No one can predict when or if the drought will end. Even in 2008 the harvest was 1.5 million tonnes, a 20-25% surplus. Australia will have a whole lot of wine to sell if the drought ends. Hopefully, by the time that has happened, Australia will have established the identities of its Regional Heroes on an international scale through its education and incentive programmes. Once regional identity and the good reputation of the premium segment is restored, this can trickle down and infiltrate the image of new wines aimed at new wine drinkers in developing markets like Asia.

Export growth is tougher than ever due to a resurgent Old World and better resourced New World competitors. Everyone in the world is beating the terroir drum. The message must be genuine, clear, simple and tangible in the wine glass. Consumers shouldn’t feel they need a course in geology and geography t be worthy of appreciating good wine. Australia’s GIs must define their identities more clearly. No more than one or two varieties and styles should be the flag bearers for each region in order for an identity to remain in the mind of the consumer.

Demographics are changing and so are expectations. Consumers now expect corporations to be socially and environmentally responsible. They also are looking for leaner low-alcohol wines that are food-friendly. Two demands that at first glance are very different, but both can be closely linked with regional identity. Wineries like Cullen Estate, Yalumba and Banrock Station have demonstrated how vital responsible stewardship is to regional identity. Australia’s exciting regional culinary scene goes hand in hand with GI principles and PR would benefit all participants and invigorate culinary tourism.

The Australian wine sector is all about innovation. Whether it is cutting edge technology, viticultural research or developing sustainable solutions to environmental issue, all quality efforts serve to further highlight the diversity of Australia’s regions and varieties. The continent has the world’s oldest geologies and soils, one of the cleanest atmospheres, proximity to the world’s coldest ocean, a long tradition of fine wine production – wines that reflect a sense of place. Goals are set and planned strategies are being implemented. While thinking ahead and by adapting to things like climate change and economic crisis, Australia is also focusing on what it’s really good at – producing unique high-quality wines with authentic expression of origin.

Share →
  • Justin Roberts

    Congratulations Julia! I hope you have an interesting time down under.

  • Richard

    Remember watching the 'Wizard of Oz" each year, as a child? Of course, you had no idea you would one day visit Oz. Watch out for the munchkins.

    The inordinately proud father.