A "New Producers Tasting" will give exposure to the state's small winemakers.
It's sometimes said that yachting is like standing under a cold shower on one leg, fully clothed, tearing up $50 notes. Planting vines, on the other hand, is completely different, it’s claimed, because you’re standing in the middle of a field tearing up $100 notes.
The wine analogy was common in the mid-90s, when Australia’s wine industry was galloping ahead at a blistering pace.
Now the tides of fortune are washing up a different fate for those who fled to grapes a few years ago.
In an oversupplied marketplace where even the established and highly competitive wineries are struggling, spare a thought for the small wine makers without significant capital investment or cash flow – the mums and dads of the Australian wine industry.
“The problem is that there is some bloody good wine out there – it’s just that no one has heard of it,” says Gerry Smith of Old Bridge Cellars in Fremantle.
A 25-year veteran of the wine industry, Mr Smith decided to give small producers a helping hand by creating the first ‘New Producers Tasting’ event.
Scheduled for August 13, Old Bridge Cellars will host this wine tasting with a difference – it’s only for producers who have released no more than three vintages and have little or no retail and restaurant representation.
Mr Smith says four to five new producers knock on his door every week, trying to sell their wares.
“Most of their wine is excellent; it’s just that they have nowhere to go. They can’t go to Woolies or Coles,” Mr Smith says.
Colin Higgins is one such producer. His label, Fuddling Cup, first released in 2003 from two hectares between Bunbury and Capel.
Mr Higgins and his wife bottled 630 cases that year, 840 in 2004 and plan to peak at 1,000 this year or next.
Fuddling Cup will be pouring at the New Producers event, which Mr Higgins describes as a rare opportunity for people in his position.
“We’re very excited to be given the opportunity to bring our wine to the attention of the public. An event like this is so much better than a scattergun approach to advertising some small players get caught out with,” he says.
Brad Skraha agrees. His sheep-farming family started Wild Orchid Wines in 1997 to diversify during the downturn in global wool prices.
Across 19ha they grow shiraz, merlot and cabernet – producing roughly 300 cases of each. Adding an unwooded chardonnay to the range this year, Mr Skraha says that while the current wine climate is understandably tough, it’s also an exciting time for small producers.
“When you’re a new player like we are, it’s hard to get brand exposure let alone distribution for your product,” he says. “But there are wines out there with a lot to offer. We’re in the Blackwood Valley, which is emerging as a new region with lots of potential.”
Mr Skraha says the Old Bridge Cellars event will benefit his family’s winery most by providing immediate customer feedback, something small producers usually miss out on.
WOW and Fuddling Cup will join names including Arimia, Moombaki and 20 or so other WA wine producers pouring 50 to 60 wines in total. Forced to trim the list from 48, Mr Smith says he has had enough positive feedback already to warrant the event becoming an annual fixture.
Those interested in discovering some local wine secrets are invited to the event to meet the people responsible for some of the most colourful and inventive local wines away from the mainstream offering.
Old Bridge plans to stock each producer’s wines in store after the event and create mixed and variety dozens to showcase a collage of the best and brightest.
“Everyone needs a helping hand now and again,” Mr Smith says.