The Australian wine community’s biggest challenge

Author: Brian Croser
Source: Tapanappa
Review Date: Jul 2011

The following article orinignal formed a response to the Winemakers’ Federations of Australia’s submission to the GWRDC 5 Year Planning process.

Even if the WFA’s new research model is adopted by the GWRDC and is supported by the Australian wine community it is unlikely to discover and implement any paradigm shifting technology, identify any new market, new trend or style preference that can be sustainably exploited that will rescue the industry as we have known it. Australian branded commodity wine is inevitably in a highly competitive battle to retain market share and relevance against increasingly better organised competitors who have some sustainable advantages in the production and marketing of this wine type.

The Australian wine community’s biggest challenge, which remains unaddressed in the WFA submission is its poor and diminishing performance and perception among the gatekeepers, wine writers and fine wine consumers of the globe. The irony is that in fine wine, Australia does have some real and sustainable advantages which it is has resolutely failed to explain, allowing deliberate and self serving misinformation to define Australia’s fine wine profile.

The overwhelming image of Australia that is damaging global market perceptions for both branded commodity and fine wine is that Australian wine regions are hotter, drier, more industrial, dominantly suited to Shiraz and more under threat and less sustainable because of climate change than our competitors in the Northern Hemisphere, Chile, Argentina, New Zealand and South Africa. The opposite is true but we do little to counter the perceptions.

The Australian wine community’s considerable investment in research and education should be recruited to defining the image of Australian fine wine with spill-over effects to the quality and purity perceptions of  Australia’s branded commodity wines.

The Australian wine industry was successful in the 80’s and 90’s partially because of the high regard for and the tangible results of our research and education endeavours which led the world in implementing quality control technology for the production of fresh wines. We borrowed much of the approach from the German industry which  had learnt how to mechanically industrialise wine production in time to see its own industry decimated by the global market rejection of its cheap industrialised brands.

The technologies of which we were so proud as a source of our superior competitiveness are now universal and although still highly production relevant for branded commodity wine, create negative perceptions among global communicators and in fine wine markets turning to things natural, organic, biodynamic and reflective of the terroir and the artisan winemaker.

It’s way past the time we devoted some research and promotional funding to redefining Australia’s total wine country image, by redefining its fine wine image, demonstrating to the fine wine world our commitment to researching, elucidating and explaining Australia’s unique fine wine attributes with credible academic force.

Ironically the regions have moved past the national organisations in attempting to implement this endeavour and strategy in a fragmented and variable way. The Barossa valley, Margaret River, McLaren Vale, the Adelaide Hills and Mornington Peninsula, just to name a few, have attempted to map their geologies, soils and climates to make sense of their regional and subregional wine styles.

These efforts are laudable but lack the force of a unified national wine community, lack the academic rigour and credibility of properly researched terroir mechanisms and the consequences for wine quality and style and lack the organised extension of the knowledge to the regional winemaking communities and to the market gatekeepers and consumers.

What could be a nationally coordinated demonstration of rigorous commitment to the underlying principles of fine wine is degraded in the perceptions of the gatekeepers as just another marketing ploy because of the lack of real understanding of Australia’s place in the grand global terroir scheme at the very fragmented regional and winemaker level. They are currently the organisations and people out there attempting to communicate their own terroir uniqueness to the world without properly understanding it or the national context and lacking academic credibility.

The research agenda for the new age of Australian wine is succinctly outlined in Chapter 14 of John Gladstones’s “Wine Terroir and Climate Change.”

I quote just two paragraphs from that chapter,

“Terroir studies should again focus on established regional climates and those local factors of geography, topography, mesoclimate, soil, geology and vine nutritional and water relations that together have always constituted terroir as properly understood.”


“In the market place the two levels” ( branded commodity and fine wine) “are complementary rather than competitive. Elite wines do much to establish a region’s reputation for all wines.”

We desperately need a forum in which Australia’s fine wine research and promotion agenda can be defined and implemented around terroir which is the universal driving force of  fine wine and by implication the future success of the whole Australian wine community.


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