Monday, August 19, 2013

Australian wine is greater than the US wine press admits

Why won't US media take me seriously?
First, let me give you a number: Australia is the second-largest exporter of wine to the US, behind only Italy. We buy more Australian wine than wine from France and Spain combined.

So why don't you read much about Australian wine?

Part of that is the domination of Yellow Tail, which accounts for 38% of Australia's exports here.

That's a lot, but we're still unduly ignoring the rest of the country. Take away Yellow Tail from Australia and it would still be our 4th largest source of foreign wine, still ahead of France and Spain.

I can't explain why the wine media is so out of sync with the US drinking public. My guess is that media is trend-driven, and Australia's not trendy. What it takes to start a trend, I don't know.

But I will share a little meta-post about my own efforts.

A few years after Yellow Tail took the US by storm, and not coincidentally Australian fine wine sales  dropped, I tried to sell several magazines and newspapers a story about the good wines from Australia.

How I like kangaroo: rare. Image courtesy ezycook
Not just any publications either: publications I was writing for regularly. Publications that ran stories about wine.

And not just one angle on Australia. I tried to sell stories on cool-climate Shiraz, the wines of Yarra Valley, Hunter Valley Semillon, Clare Valley Riesling, Western Australia Cabernet and I forget what else. I tried the general theme story, that Australian wine is as great as any country's and had become underappreciated. I tried the business angle, that Yellow Tail was eating into Australia's image.

Couldn't sell it. I sold other articles to the same publications. I usually send a menu of story ideas, and for a long time I had an Aussie article or two on that menu. But like the liver and onions, nobody ever ordered it. I've sold more articles on wine from Uruguay than I have on wine Australia. Uruguay's new and different (and the Tannat is good); Australia's that old country that just happened to sell 50 million more gallons of wine here last year.

I have never fallen out of love with Australian wine. Yeah, there's a lot of characterless supermarket red from Down Under, but you can also say that about California, and that doesn't preclude anyone here from recognizing the greatness of California's top wines, or lately the quirkiness of our artisans. How often we see articles from some East Coastie that read, "I look down my nose at most California wine, but this one .."

Why don't we see Australia the same way?

Regular consumers have never been as down on Australia as the wine press. For one thing, there are the sales figures.

I'm running an informal poll on my blog right now, for "What Country Makes Your Favorite Wine?" You're allowed to pick 3. As I write this, Australia's running 6th, which is pretty good when you look at the competition. My readers, generally a wine-loving crowd, seem to have Australia in their regular rotation, unlike the wine press.

Now I write monthly columns for two online publications, Palate Press and Wine Review Online. Unlike with most publications, I don't have to pitch them, although like all publications they have the right to edit or just plain reject a piece if I were to write that Grenache was Osama bin Laden's favorite grape or something like that. But under normal circumstances, I can write about the topics I choose.

I've been telling Australian wine importers and winemakers for years, "I love your wines. I'd love to write about them." And then pitching the stories, and getting nada.

Finally this month I said, bugger this, I'm going to write about some great Australian wines.

So I wrote for Palate Press about Chester Osborn's attempt to regain enophile respect for Australian Shiraz by making 13 different single-vineyard Shirazes from grapes he used to combine to make D'Arenberg The Dead Arm.

And I wrote for Wine Review Online about the great dry Rieslings of Australia, which are among the most distinctive in the world, age-worthy and bargains to boot.

Enjoy and g'day.

Follow me on Twitter: @wblakegray and like The Gray Report on Facebook.


Chris Wallace said...

I have to agree. Australia is the Rodney Dangerfield of fine wine (gets no respect). In fact it has become quite fashionable to deem Aussie wines unfashionable. The perception of big, oaky, over-ripe, out-of-balance wines remains with much of the wine press. No doubt there are wines that fit that bill, but there are so many others that offer great balance and style that it is hard to fathom how they get overlooked. I guess that we the consumer are the beneficiaries as most premium Aussie reds sell for half or less than their high end Northern Rhone and California counterparts.

Unknown said...

Chin-chin, Blake. Enlightening your readers on how to properly eat kangaroo AND defending our collective honor? Kudos to you ;)

Unknown said...

No thank you on the bloody kangaroo, but agree with the rest of the post. Tyrrells's Heathcote Shiraz comes to mind as quality, as well as most stuff from Elderton. Their Ashmead Cab was a go to premium Cabernet for me until Total Wine stopped carrying it. Used to get for $40 and worth every penny.

Unknown said...

I wish you hadn't changed your comment options -- quite awkward now. Chris Parente, not unknown.

W. Blake Gray said...

Sorry Chris, but my life is so much better with different comment controls.

For one thing, I get maybe 10% or less of the outright abuse here that I used to. Even the negative comments are more civil.

For another thing, if I allow comments with no registry, every day I have to remove spambot comments touting sketchy websites.

That's just too much work, and too much negativity. Sorry.

WineBusProf said...

Great post, Blake. With many wine columns being reduced or removed from the print media across the world, I wonder if you've just caught onto one of the reasons why...

Great find. Great wines

LPI said...

This is a very interesting article, WBG. There are a lot of folks out pushing the message of the high quality of Aussie wine, and we do see success with it (as you point out - Americans buy lots of it), but it's like bringing the mountain to Mohammed to get a critical mass of people to really talk about it. How do we make it trendy? Just keep talking about it, drinking it and telling others I guess!