Australia, along with neighbouring New Zealand, have arguably been the most successful countries in the world in being able to control, contain and keep its borders as safe as it can from Covid-19. But it also means its people are effectively grounded for the short to medium term at least. Which means no Australian winemakers roaming the world telling their stories for months to come. Which is why Wine Australia has set up Connect, a new platform to essentially take its producers, its stories and its wines around the globe through a new 12 month digital platform. It’s as ambitious as it sounds as Richard Siddle finds out from Stuart Barclay, general marketing manager.
Wine Australia has set up its new digital Connect platform to act as its marketing, communications and education platform for the next 12 months. Here’s what it can potentially do for you.
You are launching a new online portal – Connect – what is it and why are you launching it now?
Connect is a dynamic, always-on, virtual platform bringing the global wine community together to build new connections with Australia’s thrilling wine scene for powerful commercial outcomes. With over 250 exhibitors registered and total of over 1,900 wine products, Connect is a go-to resource for Australian wine over the next 12 months until April 2022.
Winemakers, buyers, importers, distributors, media, educators from across the globe will be able to conduct business with Australian wine brands in the Expo, as well as explore and learn about Australia’s extraordinary and commercially robust wine scene.
Over the 12 months, the ‘Conversations’ section will feature an ongoing series of live gatherings, including quarterly keynotes panel discussions on the future of drinking by global thought-leaders, a monthly deep-dive into key varieties and virtual tastings targeted to individual markets around the globe.
How have you decided what content and services to provide through Connect?
Connect is all about building connections and relationships between Australian wine producers and the international trade. We have a good understanding of where the opportunities are for Australian wine and the content and services are based around driving exports and increasing the demand and premium paid for Australian wine.
We are also working with with Austrade, Food Innovation Australia Limited (FIAL) as well as state and regional associations to develop opportunities for Australian wineries and international trade over the next 12 months.
You are positioning Connect as both an educational tool but also a business tool – can you explain how the two sides are going to work?
There are different sections of the platform dedicated to different purposes.
- The ‘Expo’ area allows buyers to discover wineries, and also provides the opportunity to arrange meetings, request product information and price lists, as well as see their importer and distributor details.
- The ‘Discover’ section gives detailed information about Australia’s 65 wine regions, with regularly changing “curated collections” that highlight specific styles, regions and more.
- The ‘Conversations’ area will host monthly educational market-specific sessions for Asia Pacific, UK, Europe and the Americas, as well as the quarterly Future of Drinking series which will take a look at emerging and developing trends in the industry.
So buyers are able to set up one to one meetings with producers they are interested in talking to – how it that going to work?
The platform enables buyers to connect directly with producers from across Australia on a range of subjects (sales, media requests, product information, booking a meeting), putting the enquirer in touch with the relevant person depending on the nature of their request.
What sort of seminars and debates do you have coming up?
Every quarter, we’ll also be hosting keynote panel discussions with global thought-leaders on the future of drinking.
On the first Tuesday of every month we will uncover the uniqueness of Australia’s climate, landscape and regional wines through the lens of a specific variety. Mark Davidson will host intimate and informative chats with the winemakers and viticulturalists who are challenging convention and blazing new trails in the search for quality, individuality and diversity. This variety focus will also be supported by localised virtual tastings in multiple cities around the globe.
The first of our ‘Connect Conversations’ will be a virtual tasting and discussion putting Australia’s regional expressions of Cabernet Sauvignon into a global context. This comparative tasting and discussion will include guests from the US, Canada, the UK and Germany, while our expert panellists – Mary Gorman-McAdams MW, John Szabo MS and Oz Clarke OBE – also span multiple time zones. We’ll discuss some of the key Cabernet producing regions and most revered producers, and how they fit in a global fine wine context with international comparisons, through a blind tasting of some international Cabernet Sauvignon benchmarks.
How will you be promoting the site and making the trade aware of what is going on?
Wine Australia is running a global marketing campaign, including paid global social media as well as PR outreach and media partnerships in different markets to drive traffic to Australian Wine Connect. We are also targeting our global database and using our owned channels to attract international media and trade to the platform, with a diverse programme of events and experiences such as live tastings, panel discussions and educational sessions. Participating wineries will also act as brand ambassadors, working with their importers to further spread the message.
Through global communications and marketing supported by our in-house team members based around the globe (Australia, UK, USA and Canada), we will ensure that trade continue to visit and use the platform over the next 12 months.
It has also been designed as an international platform open to buyers from all over the world?
That’s right. The objective of the Connect platform is to do what it says on the tin – connect people, wherever they may be. Export is a crucial aspect of the Australian wine trade, and with limited scope for travel and international fairs in the present and immediate future, this is an effective tool for keeping Australian winemakers and international buyers in contact, wherever they may be in the world.
You have clearly introduced this in response to the pandemic and the fact Australian producers can’t travel – what do you propose doing with Connect once international travel is possible?
The pandemic has profoundly changed the we live and do business, and the impact is likely to be long-lasting. Consequently, Connect will continue to be relevant long after the travel restrictions. In addition, the impact of travel on the climate crisis can no longer be ignored, and businesses may respond to this by turning to the Connect platform as a sound alternative to travel.
Will you look to use Connect more rather than have to invest so much time and resource into major fairs such as ProWein?
The nature of trade fairs will definitely change as a result of the pandemic. Consequently, to ensure Australian winemakers are still in front of the relevant members of the trade, Connect allows them to continue to have those conversations with key people.
How has Australia coped with the pandemic overall in terms of exports and sales?
The pandemic has changed in market distribution systems around the world with the closure of hospitality outlets cafes, restaurant and hotels seeing sales switch to retail outlets, which experienced sales growth compensating for the falling on-premise sales. Markets such as the United States of America (USA) and the United Kingdom (UK) where Australia has a strong retail presence, saw Australian wine sales grow.
The recent strong growth in exports to the UK continued in the 12 months ended March 2021. Value increased by 33% to $461 million and volume by 21% to 264 million litres (29.3 million 9-litre case equivalents). This extended the UK’s lead as the biggest destination for Australian wine exports by volume and saw it jumping over the US into second place by value. The average value received for Australian wine in the UK increased by 10% to $1.75 per litre, the highest level in a decade.
While Australian wines are heavily weighted to the commercial and value end in the market, premium Australian wines are on the rise to the UK. IRI reports that in the 12 months March 2021, the strongest growth for Australian wine in the UK off-trade market was between £7.01 and £20 per bottle with double-digit growth rates, albeit from lower volumes. For example, sales at £7.01 to £8.00 grew by 38% and at £8.01 to £9.00 by 44%.
There is also upside for Australian wine in this segment of the market. Currently, Australia holds a 12% volume share of the market between £7 and £20 per bottle compared with 24% below £7.
Laura Jewell MW, Wine Australia’s regional general manager for UK & EMEA, says of the results: ‘This is a positive set of numbers for the UK which reflects the strength of the larger Australian brands in the multiple retailers as well as the focus on more premium wines through the online sales channels during the last 12 months, most of which have been spent in lockdown. With 22% share of the off-trade in both volume and value, Australia continues ahead of its rivals with growth mainly between £5 and £20.
You have been hit hard by the Chinese tariffs – what steps are you taking in response to that – raising exports to other parts of the world?
In order to further strengthen and diversify Australia’s wine export markets, Wine Australia is working closely with the Australian Government and Australian Grape and Wine, the peak national grape and wine industry body that provides leadership, strategy, advocacy and support.
We are focusing our resources to drive penetration in the traditional markets of North America, the UK and continental Europe and diversify into the Asean/APAC regions.
How is the 2021 vintage looking like in terms of quality, production, volumes and which regions have done well?
Cool and dry conditions over much of the country have contributed to an excellent vintage in most regions with winemakers reporting outstanding depth of flavour and colour due to the extended ripening period. Most areas were picking two weeks or more later than usual.
Heavy rainfall in the eastern states fortunately came after most regions had finished picking. However, a number of cooler regions were caught with fruit on the vine. Canberra is reported to have gotten most of their fruit off, but the Southern Highlands and Beechworth had only just picked their sparkling fruit and were waiting for things to dry before making an assessment and resuming picking.
Some low-lying areas of the Hunter were inundated but had already picked. Fortunately, after a week of heavy rain more normal dry sunny conditions returned and vineyards are drying out rapidly. To date damage in the Hunter appears minimal.
Which varieties have performed well and which ones have struggles in terms of volume?
It’s too early to provide an answer as a cooler summer means the vintage is running later than normal. Wine Australia will release its annual Vintage Report in July.
- For more information on Wine Connect and to sign up to get involved click here.