The wine industry in Australia is not in a particularly happy place. The chains run the retail market domestically. The public have an insatiable desire for Kiwi sauv blanc, generally at the expense of Australian aromatic white styles. We are all under pressure to sell more of our wines. The 2011 vintage was problematic. Dry July hurts the industry. Most of us talk the talk, but the audience don’t appear to be listening. Online sales are growing exponentially, and developing a penchant amongst the public for a bargain, rather than developing a relationship with a brand.
All of which has been addressed in a number of forums – not least Twitter – over the last few weeks. And months.
So where do we go from here? Do we complain, and talk amongst our own? Do we develop grand plans over gorgeous wines which are forgotten, or deferred, or are just too hard in the cold light of day?
I am an optimist, on occasion. I do believe that as an industry whole, we are capable of great things. I do also think that the ego needs to be removed from the people, the brands, the wineries and the regions for this discussion, and we need to start being excited again, and to add to that, a healthy dose of being smart.
If people aren’t buying our wines, we need to ask why.
We need to listen to our customers, and find something they might like, rather than pushing them to try something which is not within their scope.
We need to understand that using bargains and deals will damage our brands. If we need an avenue to shift some volume, maybe we just need to manage our customers better. If someone else is offering a better deal, and we are then paying a cut out of our measly take, how can we be smarter in working within that forum?
If we deal with the chains – and here I am generally referring to the smaller brands, with less recognition factor – make the effort, and look after your existing restaurant/retail/direct customers. By which I mean? Make a slightly different label. Make a slightly different wine. Offer one to one market, and one to the other.
Yes, 2011 was a difficult vintage. That does not mean that there are no good wines. Unfortunately there are people already avoiding some beautiful wines because of media influence, and the lack of a solid positive voice from our industry. And you know what? Most of us learnt some huge lessons in how to deal with a raft of issues, and how to take advantage of our fruit in the best way possible. That only makes us better at what we do. Every vintage runs the gamut of quality. Try our 11s. They could well surprise you.
Kiwi sauv blanc? Don’t look to me for answers. Just appreciate that many of those customers may now be drinking wine for the first time and enjoying it. A percentage of them may go looking for something else, and might just find it a little closer to home.
And Dry July? Yes – it hurts because it hits brands in a month when sales generally pick up, and it is firmly targeted at the wine-drinking public, not the long-neck-necking drinkers. But, it does raise money for a very good cause. $10million in five years is no small effort, and I dare say most of us know someone affected by the big C. So we work with them -we are asking them to be more specific in terms of the health benefits, and to look to work with our industry next year. Accept it. We cannot change it, nor should we want to impact such a charitable organisation. We are simply asking them to be a little smarter about it.
And in order to balance Dry July out, we are in the process of creating another monthly focus – something along the lines of getting people to focus on the new, the unusual, the diverse and the fun. Pick up a bottle of something you wouldn’t normally. Drink less, but better (thanks @ozwinereview!). We are approaching media, and little retailers, the chains, and the hospitality industry. I think that raising money for improved mental health services in rural areas is a good cause. Because we are farmers at heart, and I dare say most of us know someone who has suffered. Suggestions gratefully accepted.
It has been a while since we have needed a truly innovative approach in the wine industry. And don’t get me wrong – the daily victories and innovations are beautiful. But perhaps we need to learn how to be smarter. To be better. To be more accessible. And to understand our markets. To listen. And to learn to be better at playing the game.
We need to work with the issues in the industry – and not just rage against them.