Two and a half years after taking the job of CEO at the Austrian Wine Marketing Board, Chris Yorke finally cut the ribbon on VieVinum 2022 last Saturday, the first of the influential wine fairs he has helmed. The three day wine fair, that first started in 1998, has been a key part of the internationalisation and premiumisation of Austrian wine and so it proved again with Yorke and his team riding the crest of a wave which has seen them successfully cope during the pandemic by boosting exports and keeping the domestic fires burning.
“20 years ago Austria was exporting 50 million litres at an average of €1 a litre. In 2021 the country is exporting 70 million litres but at three times the price,” writes Dean.
‘Life During Covid’ could have been the title of the Austrian Wine Update, which was the keynote speech delivered by Austrian Wine CEO Chris Yorke which kicked off VieVinum 2022 in Vienna on Saturday morning, May 21 – just six days after proof of vaccination had been dropped as an entry requirement into the country.
Despite having been appointed two and a half years ago, this year’s wine fair was the first one overseen by Yorke, and he was keen to explain how Wine Austria had coped in such extraordinary circumstances and how his strategy of increasing the relevance of Austrian Wine had been affected.
“Soon after being appointed in 2020 I presented the plan to the board and then went straight into lockdown. It’s been quite a journey,” he told the press as the fair’s doors were finally opened to 1000+ trade invitees after two years of on/off cancellations.
Appointing a foreigner to be CEO of Austrian Wine, the export focus of VieVinum, and how Yorke and his team have successfully coped during the pandemic all smacks of the continuing, successful internationalisation of Austrian wine. And VieVinum 2022 could not have come at a better time to continue that momentum, what with year-on-year exports showing the highest ever growth in value and breaking the €200m mark to record €216m exports in 2021.
Oeno-tourism: a new focus
Yorke explained how the impact on Austria’s tourism during Covid posed the biggest challenge to the market share in the domestic market, given that 75% of Austria’s production is consumed in Austria and the country experienced a colossal drop in tourists. Austria as a whole lost almost half of its tourists from 2019 to 2021 with Vienna a massive 71% drop. This was evidenced in the retail value of Austrian Wine which had risen by 16.6% from 2019 to 2020 but in 2021 it was just a 0.7% increase.
“My biggest concern was that in Austria there would be a dusting up of bottles in restaurants and in retail,” Yorke explained when running through a long list of activities his team implemented to both maintain market share in the domestic market and help drive the momentum of exports: creating a digital wine hub supported by an in-house studio; online tastings; digital press trips; masterclasses in a dozen countries; new listings; third party activity and restaurant promotions were just some of the initiatives Yorke and his team introduced. All in all the Austrian Wine team conducted 195 events in 2020/1 representing 700 producers through 8,693 wines.
“Tourism will probably not get to where it was, but it’s quality not quantity that is key,” he said, explaining the importance of oeno-tourism and the spending power of wine tourists both in the capital’s on-trade and in the wine regions that are all (except Styria) within an hour’s drive of Vienna.
Yorke said that his team have a ‘Mozart index’ which is an informal way of detecting the rise or fall of tourism in Vienna. Hawkers dressed as Mozart, encouraging tourists into classical concerts, disappeared during the crash in tourist figures but have been steadily increasing ever since.
The growth in exports
The emphasis on exports, then, could not have been greater during Covid and Austrian Wine clearly delivered by increasing it by over 15% during 2021.
Particularly impressive has been how Austrian wine as a whole has become more premium in the export market. 20 years ago it was exporting 50 million litres at an average of €1 a litre. In 2021 the country is exporting 70 million litres but at three times the price, a statistic that Yorke took some credit for in his speech, having achieved a similar effect in helping a market premiumise – in his previous position as head of New Zealand wine.
Key to this increase in value has been sparkling wine which has increased in value by 34% and Qualitätswein whites which have increased by 23% – Qualitätswein reds by comparison have risen in value by just 3.1%.
Austria’s top four export markets in value and in order are Germany, Switzerland, USA and the Netherlands with Germany still four times larger than the US at 43.73%, although that share has decreased from 60% from the previous year, a reflection on selling at a far lower average price per litre in Germany but also the successful broadening of international exports by Austrian Wine.
One of Yorke’s objectives for his team for the next 12 months is to achieve €250m in exports and aiding that will be an increased focus on the US market – transforming it into the second largest export market over the Swiss. At the beginning of the pandemic, he revealed, Austrian Wine conducted research into the international perception of Austrian Wine amongst the top four export markets, results of which have fed into the strategy of increasing the international relevance of Austrian Wine.
The vision of the team, then, is for Austrian wine to be premium, environmentally conscious and be balanced both through traditional winemaking and modern.
Although more work needs to done across all fronts, raising the average per litre price of Austrian wine in its top 10 export markets to over €3, and having 16% of all wineries practising organic viticulture (one fifth of all organic vineyards also being biodynamic) were notable achievements highlighted in Yorke’s address.
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