THE Western Australian wine industry is under siege.
Business is tough. Internationally, ‘Brand Australia’ is taking a bath. The UK is Australia’s biggest export destination, with the sub £10 category once dominated by wines from Australia. But new players are now entering that market – Eastern European and South American countries are taking advantage of their relatively low wage costs, the high Aussie dollar and the fact that they are generally making better wines than they were 10 years ago – wines of a similar cheerful, approachable style that was once the trademark of Australian wine.
The style of these wines, whether from Australia or elsewhere is crowd-pleasing, fleshy, ripe and approachable. They are easy to drink but they are generic, it’s hard to tell the difference between any of them; they could really be any variety from any country.
The Perth market has changed as well – we have all rejoiced as a swath of small wine bar operations has opened during the past few years. These cool little places have small wine lists that focus on giving their customers a unique experience by providing an interesting list – inevitably this means wines by the glass from all over the world. As I am writing this, I have had a look at the list in my bar/restaurant and realise of the 21 wines available by the glass, only four of them are from WA. That is certainly not because WA wines aren’t worthy, I just needed some scope to make sure I am giving the best experience I can to my customers. The result? Less WA wine being sold in these establishments.
The other type of hospitality venue in Perth is the bigger pubs (with bottle shops). They are (mostly) less discerning with their wine selection and so it makes sense that WA wine is well represented on these lists, but it’s not always the case.
Very often, Coles or Woolies own these big venues. The best way for these multinational companies to make a buck out of their wine lists is by bypassing the local wine industry almost altogether; ever wonder why you don’t recognise any of the labels on their wine lists? It’s because these bigger companies are sourcing their own fruit at rock bottom prices from struggling growers and creating their own in-house brands to put on their lists. It’s good for their business but not great for the long-term viability of the industry.
So what’s the answer? Regionality. What I mean is we need to produce unique wine that expresses clearly where it’s from and what the variety is. By doing this we can produce wine that is unique, unlike any other wine from anywhere in the world. What is the point of a Margaret River producer having 15 varieties planted and making 15 different wines? We all know that cabernet and chardonnay work best in this region, so why not just do less wine but do it better? Got too much fruit? Then decrease your yields.
Make better wine from an appropriate variety and soon there will be small bars in Barcelona and New York pouring your wine because it is not that generic crowd-pleasing style that just tastes like Aussie red. It’s now a sophisticated, dynamic world-class shiraz from Frankland or a nervy, stunningly intense riesling from the Porongurups that shows true varietal characteristics with a regional signature that is like nothing else from anywhere in the world.
The Old World has been doing it for centuries; chardonnay and pinot from Burgundy, sangiovese from Tuscany, Champagne from Champagne –lets put the right varieties on the right vineyard sites and make better wine that can compete locally and abroad because of quality, not price. Just try a Larry Cherubino wine and you’ll see what I mean.