Australian Wine in The U.S.

The Australian Government recently released its annual report, which outlines Wine Australia’s achievements and outcomes for the last financial year. This corporation is a statutory authority that was established in 1981 to provide strategic support to the Australian wine sector. The group is actively involved in promoting Australian wine and educating media and consumers on product. They are also responsible for maintaining the integrity of Australia’s wine labels; export regulations and compliance; and name protection of wine producing areas. I wanted to highlight a few factors from this extensive report, for which I found interesting in terms of where their growth is heading in the U.S. and what is needed to move the needle forward.

In the U.S., premium trends continue strong growth in the market. Symphony Information Resources Inc (IRI) reported Australia’s premium table wines driving growth for the category with wines over $8 growing at 11.2%; the $15-19 category growing at 9%; while wines above $20 show the most dramatic growth of any price segment at 15%. This is no surprise as many consumers seek better quality. The strongest rate of decline was recorded in the segments below $4.99 per bottle.

Attributing greater sales in the premium market is unquestionably an outcome of better product on the shelves and educating consumers and media. But I also think more can be done in this segment.  One focus for Wine Australia is to showcase premium wine to targeted consumers in the U.S. through a combination of partnered events and exclusive educational and consumer events. Most events they host happen in major cities such as New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco. If Australia wants to change their image nationwide, they will have to go beyond major cities and target the smaller communities that might not have famous chefs or sommeliers that guide consumers to try new things.  With this in mind, Wine Australia should look for Ambassadors that can help spread the word. I think wine bloggers and retail wine stewards would be great advocates to handle this task.

Now I certainly don’t have statistics on where Australia’s reputation is most damaged but I would think that if the proposal is to shed the reputation of Australia’s cheap or overblown “hot” wines, why not go to the demographics where one might make the largest impact? Hit the places where Australian wine doesn’t sell well and try to raise the bar through education and by introducing new styles to the market.

…which leads me to what we find on the shelf.

Let’s talk product, shall we? Wine Australia’s big push is to continue trade education and to challenge the world’s perception of Australian wine. I support this direction and although I have not participated in any of their events, I am certain the intent is to introduce media and consumers to new styles and producers. This is a great strategy, but if product is not on the shelf, the strategy will fail.

A working example is what many consumers find on U.S. supermarket shelves—rows upon rows of Yellow Tail and Fish Eye.

yellow tail Photo credit: Wine-searcher

Many blame consumers, sommeliers and retailers for not pushing distributors harder to get better product on the shelf.  Have I pushed my retailers and distributors to bring in better quality?  You bet.  But I can’t say it has helped much over the 12 months I’ve been pushing it. I figure patience is a virtue.  But honestly, I think distributors are taking the Australian producers for a ride.

In my day job,  I fill an Architect role.  But I also dabble as Nike’s first and only “Sommelier to the All Stars”, meaning, I select wines for Athletes and for special events.*  And here is a snippet of the Australia section–what I have to work with from one of our distributor catalogs. Sure, there are a few sub-average quality wines, but not many:


I have written about Australia’s reputation before (Will the Real Australia Please Stand Up?) and I am sure many would agree it is impossible to promote Australian wines when you have Yellow Tail competing with Screaming Eagle. Athletes have money to spend, and they are not looking for substandard product, so I end up recommending wines from other places. Unlike Spain, Portugal, Australia, etc., we see wine from every country on the retail shelves in America.  So, as long as quality spans the shelf, Americans are just as happy to purchase a wine from Argentina or Chile as much as they are purchasing wines from Australia or California.

Shout from mountain top
So if the key driver is to build the reputation of Australian wine in the U.S., get the best product on the shelves, build a network to promote it while hitting all demographics and shout about the products from the mountain tops.

* The views and ideas expressed here are my own, and do not represent the policy or opinion of my employers

Australia wine photo credit: