The following article by Patrick Schmitt appeared on Drinks Business, 20th September 2013.
Australia should shift its emphasis from the personalities behind the wines to the places where they come from in a bid to further the country’s fine wine reputation.
That’s the view of Frenchman Xavier Bizot, who is general manager of Australia’s Tapanappa, and son of former Bollinger chairman, the late Christian Bizot.
Xavier Bizot moved to Adelaide and took up a senior position at Tapanappa having married Lucy Croser, daughter of Brian Croser, who founded Tapanappa in 2002 after the sale of his former brand and business, Petaluma to Lion Nathan in 2001.
Bizot said to db in London on Monday this week, “Australia is good at talking about the winemaker, but it should talk more about the vineyards – and there are fantastic and very old vineyards.”
It was a comment that echoed the sentiment of his father-in-law Brian Croser, who had stressed the importance of the vineyard and its management in a discussion with db at his house in the Adelaide Hills in November last year.
“Winemaking is overrated as a profession and viticulture is way underrated,” he said, adding that he would like to see more focus on the “mechanisms of terroir” in the Australian wine industry.
Indeed, Croser has been behind the development of an entirely new vineyard area in Australia with his Tapanappa Pinot Noir, which comes from a former sheep farm on the Southern Fleurieu peninsula, converted to vines in 2003.
Speaking to db this week, Bizot said that Croser’s benchmark for Tapanappa Pinot wasn’t Australia’s best examples, but those from Burgundy, particularly Gevry Chambertin – “the wine is more Cote de Nuits than Cote de Beaune,” he said.
Bizot noted that Tapanappa’s Pinot vineyard on the Fleurieu peninsula benefits “from a unique mesoclimate” due to its position on a northwest facing slope at 300 to 350 metres.
“Go down 100m and the site is perfect for Cabernet,” said Bizot, stressing the importance of the high altitude and the precise nature of this Pinot producing area.
Continuing, he said, “The climate in the Fleurieu peninsula is absolutely amazing for Pinot Noir.”
Bizot also said the Tapanappa wasn’t comparable to other Australian Pinots, but that there is a “misconception” in the country as to what Pinot Noir “should taste like”.
“Australians have been seduced by the sweet and sour Pinot of Mornington Peninsula, or the high acid style of Tasmania,” he recorded.
However, he explained that the trade – particularly the fine dining sector – were appreciative of the Tapanappa Pinot.
“The Wine and Spirit Education Trust has been in Australia for five years and as a result there are a growing number of very well-educated sommeliers driving the fine wine knowledge in Australia,” he said.
He also recorded a strong following for red Burgundy in Australia, both at the top end and entry level.
Indeed, Bizot, who imports and distributes wines from Burgundy’s Chanson Père & Fils, which is owned by Group Bollinger, noted the success of Chanson’s generic Burgundy in Australia, which, due to the weak Euro versus the Australian dollar is retailing at AU$25 – a price he described as “fantastic value”.
But he noted the challenge of shifting wine in Australia’s increasingly consolidated retail sector – 77% of wine sales are through outlets owned by either Coles or Woolworths.
With less than 30% of the market left for smaller retailers and independents, Bizot said, “It is harder to do business [in Australia] without dealing with Coles and Woolworths unless you have a good on-trade business, which thankfully we do.”