In part one of our buyers debate into the possibilities for Victoria wines in the UK our panel was united not just in their praise for the state’s quality of wine, but for its diversity, value for money and the fact it is effectively 21 mini regions all wrapped into one. For the second part of our report we open up the conversation to look at how Victoria compares and contracts to what is available across the rest of Australia and what our panel think our the country’s main opportunities and challenges.
You can taste and discover the potential of wines from Victoria for yourself at this week’s London Wine Fair in the Wines Unearthed section.
Our thanks go to our panel for taking part in the debate. They include:
- Victoria Sharples, founder of Swains Wine Bar & Store in Hampstead Heath, London.
- Jamie Wynne-Griffiths, founder of Propeller wine agency.
- Angela Mount, wine buyer and consultant.
- Stuart McCloskey, managing director of The Vinorium.
- Frances Bentley, wine buyer at LWC Drinks.
- Roger Jones, co-owner of The Harrow at Little Bedwyn.
- Kim Wilson, managing director, North South Wines.
Representing Wine of Victoria was
- Stephanie Duboudin
(You can watch the full debate here)
Roger Jones could not speak more highly of Australia and what its wines and producers did for its restaurant, The Harrow at Little Bedwyn. Its wines are still very much part of his new Harrow gourmet tasting menu pick up service.
“Our success as a restaurant was down to Australia and we are very grateful to it. We listed over 350 wines from Australia and chose Australia simply for its wording. It was so much easier. When we opened our restaurant the idea was to offer somewhere more relaxing than a smart, posh place in London. I wanted people to be at ease and Australia was the easiest way forward.”
Jones has been listing and working with Australian producers since 1998 and has always concentrated on sourcing premium quality wines. He says it was also an exciting time because so many of the top producers and winemakers were coming over to promote their wines. It meant quite quickly his regular customers would come in and start naming areas and regions and ask, say, for a Chardonnay from Mornington Peninsula, or Pinot and Syrah from Yarra.
That said, he does not think Victoria in itself has any relevant profile with wine drinkers and enthusiasts. It is more that the different styles found in all its regions means that it’s the individual areas that are more well known that the state they are in. It does, though, throw up the problem in that it is so diverse it can be hard to pull it all together as one voice, which is a challenge and opportunity for a body like Wine Victoria, says Jones.
(Click here to see Roger Jones explain why he is grateful to Australia and its wines)
Stuart McCloskey is well placed to give his verdict on where he sees the overall Australian premium wine market, and Victoria in particular, as he runs a specialist wine merchants dedicated to Australian wine. He says his love affair goes back to his late teenage years when he started to buy a lot of Australian wine for himself. “I just latched on to some producers and I took it from there.”
The Vinorium is currently working with 45 different Australian producers and bringing in 350 labels and says if the supply chain was fully functioning that figure could easily be up to 70 or 75 producers. As it is it’s trading £2.87 million a year with an average bottle price of just over £30 through its retail business. “Those statistics have not really changed in the last five years.” He says there is a big appetite out there amongst consumers to quite happily spend £30 and a lot more on good, premium Australian wine both in the shop and online. “The demand for us sits at the premium level, and before the Ukrainian war, was just getting stronger and stronger. It’s fantastic for us. Long live Australia.”
McCloskey can also vouch for how keen premium Australian producers are to get into the UK market. He currently has a tasting room with up to 500 wines from wineries pitching their wines and gets about five to 10 requests a week to list someone’s wine.
He now looks forward to offering The Vinorium range on a wholesale basis to independent wine merchants.
Value and variety
(Click here LWC Drinks’ Frances Bentley on what Australia can do better than anywhere in the world)
Frances Bentley says the big advantage Australia has is its “breadth and variety both in terms of price points and varietal choice”. It also offers buyers consistency, both in terms of stable pricing and in vintage differentiation “which is really good to see”. “People like that continuity and the product they know they are going to buy.”
It has also moved away from the big alcoholic wines of the past and is now offering a wide choice of fresh, vibrant wines, full of acidity that are easy to drink. “Those fresher reds are really important in the on-trade now. People want fresher, more elegant styles and that is what we are now getting from Australia.”
It also has the wines that can as easily service the Dog & Duck pub down the road, right through to premium restaurants. “Australia can do all of that and more.”
Jamie Wynne-Griffiths believes it is the combination of the approachability, the branding and the “inherent sense of fun that comes through a lot throughout the Australian category is absolutely a strength and helps navigate people through thinks like regionality.”
He gets a strong sense from independent wine merchants that they are open to trying new things from Australia and working with the next generation of producers. Whilst they completely respect and want to continue to work with the legends of the Australian wine sector that have come before, “there is a little bit of fatigue around the familiarity of those names and a desire to have something a bit different”.
That’s where Australia’s overall diversity means “there is a phenomenal opportunity at its feet now”.
(Click to see UK wine buyers on what they see as Australia’s big advantages)
The panel agreed that the pricing coming out of Australia and Victoria offered good value for money, particularly in context to what is being charged from elsewhere in the world.
Jones says the wine they were able to taste from Victoria were all priced very well and offered great value. “Anything from Mornington Peninsula is at a plus. People expect to pay more.”
Bentley says of the prices, for example, being asked for Pinot Noir: “It’s a premium project and I think they are fair prices.”
Kim Wilson agrees: “I think they offer really good value for money and it is a certain kind of consumer who would be looking to buy these Pinots. They are very happy to pay that type of money for it and be pleased with what they get.”
The challenge, says Angela Mount, is to get those consumers who are prepared to pay a high premium for wines from Burgundy to do the same for wines from Victoria and other premium areas of Australia. “How do you get that message across that they are more likely to get a better wine and more value from Australia?”
McCloskey says his private customers are all “sophisticated” in the prices they are prepared to pay and already know that “Burgundy is over-priced”. “You have to educate, but you have to educate them on regionality, on micro climates, on wine producers, but you don’t need to educate them on price,” he claims. “Proof is in the pudding. They are sophisticated buyers.”
This is reflected in the fact that 20% of its daily business comes through organic search to its website, where consumers know what they want, are looking for it and will pay the price asked when they find it. “They have left Burgundy and Bordeaux behind. We have a lot of customers who are old school Burgundy clients and happy to spend £40 without a blink of an eye on a Chardonnay or Pinot Noir, or £45 to £50 on a Cabernet. They don’t have a problem with that at all.”
It’s certainly encouraging to see what the major retailers are now doing with their Australian ranges and looking to push consumers up the pricing ladder, says Angela Mount.
Having the majority of its premium wines under stelvin is also a crucial factor in the success of premium Australian wine and the confidence a wine you have just bought is not going to be corked.
The final comment goes to Sharples who was keen to celebrate the consistency coming out of Victoria and across Australia. “You only have to look at the judging I have done and the number of wines you taste in a flight and the Australian wines, are nine times out of 10 so consistent and so good, which is not always the case in other countries.”
Wine Victoria at London Wine Fair
Can you Unlock Victoria?
You can come and taste the diversity and breadth of wines for yourself at this week’s London Wine Fair at the Wine Victoria stand. There are 12 producers taking part and showing a wide variety of wines including cool climate Pinots and Chardonnays, to fortified wines and a wide range of alternate varietals. You are invited to Unlock Victoria by picking up a key from one of the Wine Victoria team walking around the fair walkabout, and seeing if it unlock the safe on the stand to win a fantastic prize. You can find Wine Victoria in the Wine Unearthed section on Stands 113-117 & 144.
- You can read what the panel thinks about Victoria and what its sub-regions offer in the first part of our debate published earlier in the week by clicking here.
- To find our more about Wine Victoria go to its website here.