The following letter was published in WBM Magazine’s weekly newsletter on 29th, November 2013.
After a decade of being deliberately agnostic about the Australian wine community’s political processes, my frustration at the continuing bad news story that the Australian wine community hierarchy conspires for itself, boiled over in an essay I wrote, which was published on Jancis Robinson’s website. My lament is that the leadership of the wine community has not only wasted the opportunities of the decade past but they have damaged the image and credibility of Australian wine. The wine industry organisations and their boards have obsessed on the issues of grape oversupply and the structure of wine tax in a very public and destructive way. They have not constructed logical policies to deal with the dichotomy of Australian wine, all wine, which is divided into the two very different products fine wine and branded commodity wine. They have failed to promote and enhance the image of Australia fine wine. Their own expensive and end on end reviews reveal, after some teasing out, that Australia’s fine wine future lies in the 20 percent of wine producing more than 50 percent of income and probably 70 or 80 percent of profit. Branded commodity wine is in a battle to the death with the low cost producers of the globe (e.g. Chile) where the lowest cost wins. They deserve our support in their battle and long may they hang on, but our future is not there.
The refusal to recognise the different strategic imperatives of the two wine types is a failure of leadership. I had not appreciated until today the same frustrations are shared by many of the small winemakers of Australia whose passionate endeavours are supported by the rebate of the WET tax which the representative organisation, WFA has endangered by trying to act as the moral umpire and neighbourhood watch on potential abuse of the tax. That is not the role of WFA. Leave WET alone and allow the ATO to perform its role should it decide to do so. Our representatives attacking WET will undermine it with the net result of handing money from the wine community back to Government. It will also seriously damage the businesses, which are numerically and spiritually the key to the fine wine future of Australia. Again today I became aware of the processes our industry representative body has engineered to ostensibly bring the industry along with their findings and policies. The public meetings I am told have largely been against the incipient policies of the WFA. Finally I am appalled that the editor of WBM has been threatened with legal action for being at and taping a public meeting called by the WFA in McLaren Vale which I am told was dominantly opposed to the WFA’s proposals. The openness, optimism and aspirations of this unique industry are under attack in a way I have not seen before. It is difficult to see why Anthony Madigan is not owed an apology by the WFA for their treatment of an editor going about the business of reporting the industry, which is his brief. If there is reason for not offering an apology, that explanation should be forthcoming from WFA in a very open and public way.
– Brian Croser AO