“Sod the wine, I want to suck on the writing. This man White is an instinctive writer, bloody rare to find one who actually pulls it off, as in still gets a meaning across with concision. Sharp arbitrage of speed and risk, closest thing I can think of to Cicero’s ‘motus continuum animi.’

Probably takes a drink or two to connect like that: he literally paints his senses on the page.”

DBC Pierre (Vernon God Little, Ludmila’s Broken English, Lights Out In Wonderland ... Winner: Booker prize; Whitbread prize; Bollinger Wodehouse Everyman prize; James Joyce Award from the Literary & Historical Society of University College Dublin)





27 April 2017


The Blairich Range above the vineyards of the Upper Brancott Valley, Marlborough, New Zealand ... photo (used with permission) by Kevin Judd, from his beautiful book with Bob Campbell, The Landscape of New Zealand Wine

US market: NZ  shows Oz how 

We did it folks. After all those years of reports and analyses, papers and plans and macho presumptions about the quality of Australian wine, we let New Zealand topple us in the value of our wine sales to the Unites States of America.

Last year, as the US market continued to move away from our critter labels and cheap irrigated wine, the volume of Australian wine sold to the US fell by 11%, while the volume of imports shipped there from New Zealand rose by 14%.

At the same time, after years of clear warning as it trended the wrong way, the dollars went even more sicko: the 7.3m cases New Zealand shipped to the US brought it $US399.8 million while Australia's 16.7m cases returned only US351.7m, according to Mark Soccio, wine business analyst at Rabobank.

On the release of its latest Wine Quarterly, Rabobank reported "The trends for each country couldn’t be more different, and while the US still imports more than twice the volume of Australian wine, New Zealand wine on average commands over two-and- a-half times the price of Australian wine at the border.

"It is a David and Goliath situation just because of the size of the New Zealand industry." Soccio said. "It's roughly twenty per cent the size in terms of production. New Zealand has been experiencing very rapid growth over the last four or five years into that market, and by contrast the Australian industry has struggled to a large extent to build on the foundation it established some time ago ... 

"Post-GFC there was a big move down-market by consumers just for pure economic reasons, but that stabilised and since then there has been a shift up-market for various reasons in the US," he said. 

"Consumers are consuming more premium wines and that has certainly played into the hands of the New Zealand industry."

Kevin Judd photographed by Bob Campbell for The Landscape of New Zealand Wine ... beyond his brilliant photography, Kevin has certain form in New Zealand's wine success: with West Australian backer David Hohnen, he co-founded Cloudy Bay, which is pretty much where the whole boom started ... apart from his photography, Kevin persistently continues to set a delicious  winemaking standard with his exquisite Greywacke wines.
Apart from some fluffing about how China will save us, there has been little word of reassurance from the confounding collection of representative bodies and councils our wine industry has managed to assemble and feed - with taxpayers' help - for decades.

Having come to the wine world from an early life in rocks and mining, this writer has always contentiously compared the mentalities of these two disparate industries. Just as we sell our gas to foreign rivals at a discount we don't afford ourselves, so we insist on using water we don't have to make oceans of unprofitable wine by mining the Mallee for sugar to make legal ethanol which we market as a legitimate gastronomic item.

In essence, we're exporting our water by disguising it as wine, and guess what? Our US friends prefer the more expensive offerings from the Kiwis. 

Not to mention the French or the Italians.

It's a long time since Prime Minister John Howard convinced us that the sale of Telstra would supply billions to fix and rehabilitate the Murray-Darling Basin, our biggest vignoble by far. Fix? Rehabilitate?

Yo-ho-ho ... back in the day when that friend of the miner, Honest John, was convincing Australia that it should swap its telecommunications network for a river that flowed ... five Prime Ministers later, neither body seems to have made any improvement
The billions are spent but the Basin is still only barely managed as politicians desperately slush water rights back and forth between their swinging electorates.

If you've got any, water is one thing: growing profitable wine grapes is another.

The beginning of arid inland irrigation: Chaffey preaching the big vineyard gospel

The jaundiced observer should be forgiven for suggesting that if the US market is any guide,  the more water we give our ever-thirsty inland irrigators, the more their monetary returns diminish. 

Is that a business plan?

Rabobank reports that in 2016, the US continued to import about one third of the wines it drank, but while it imported an extra 1% in volume that increment represented a 3% hike in value.

As it learns more about wine, America is ready to pay more for it if it's better quality.

"Wine imports [into the US] reflect the ongoing premiumisation trend, as the lion's share of the growth is being driven by more expensive wines, while imports of lower-priced wines continue to fall," Rabobank reports.

Reiterating that the US is one of the "most attractive wine markets in the world", the report hammers the fact  that "The most profitable wines, priced above US$8 per bottle have been steadily rising [while] wines priced above US $11/bottle are growing by double-digits. The US market offers scale, growth and attractive margins for those that can effectively penetrate it.

Effective market penetration? Bacchus only knows how much worse our US export numbers would look if you removed the Penfolds' contribution. 

Take out those expensive premiums Peter Gago tirelessly promotes and things will look a damn lot worse. One bloke. One team. One brand. 

Penfolds chief winemaker Peter Gago presents Grange, and other delights, at The Wine Spectator's New World Wine Experience tasting at the J. W. Marriot, Los Angeles, 2012 ... from A year in the life of Grange by Milton Wordley and Philip White
Gago sees the increasing thirst the US shows the Old World, with Italian sales up 4% in volume 2016 (driven by a 29% hike in sparkling sales and, wait for it, a 17% surge in vermouth!)

France, too surged in the US, with volume up 9% overall, led by still bottled wine (10%) and sparkling wine (6%).

And on and on it goes: "This is not a new phenomenon," the report states, "but the rebound in the value of the US dollar, as well as increasing challenges in other markets (e.g. the weakness of the British pound and uncertainty around future trade agreements with the UK in the wake of Brexit), make the US wine market increasingly more attractive by comparison."

So the US has the money, the thirst and the curiosity. Can Australia produce the quality? 

Can we start afresh?

Should we replace all those wine industry councils with Rabobank?

Now we're officially besties, again, it will be interesting to see whether the two great buddies, their President and our Prime Minister, can ensure this newfound brotherhood extends beyond treacherous nuke games with that nutter in Korea.

You don't have to go far into the really smart premium-and-profitable end of Australian wine export before you meet and befriend brilliant hard-working operators who slog tirelessly building networks of trust in the markets of South Korea, China and Japan, and some honkeys start rattlin nukes there? Like the White House actually losing track of warships? These are our friends. Neighbours. Sheesh.

When the moment comes next week for Oz PM Turnbull to chink those toasts on the big aircraft carrier, surely even the Donald would prefer a mature Grange to a glass of Trump?

I know he prefers to toast with Coke, but surely in the privacy of a friggin nuclear warship they can escape the fake news? 

Is there any trade in this deal?

Knowing Peter Gago, the bottle is probably already on the way. It will not be wasted, wherever it goes. Another well-placed Mills bomb. But is anybody else keen to join in some sensible profitable export? 

More importantly, are they capable? Will we still be here? 
No aircraft carriers: Lake Wanaka, Central Otago, New Zealand ... photo Kevin Judd

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