As the Australian wine industry scrambles to find ways to reclaim the gaping hole left by China’s likely trade ban, consumers are being mobilized to put their glasses behind local producers.
If China had indeed frozen the trade deal that sees them importing around $ 1.2 billion worth of Australian wine a year, Australians have to get down to business, industry veteran James Halliday said.
By releasing his famous Top 100 Wine List this year, Halliday reflected on the battles that have befallen Australian winemakers again and again this year.
But before the negative, Halliday impresses on TBEN: The wines on this year’s list are exceptional, as are the wines Australia continues to produce.
“I just wish I was 30 years younger so I could see these wines in 20, 30 years because they’re going to be adored,” says Halliday, 82, particularly reflecting on a 2018 Hunter Valley shiraz – delicious to drink now, but decades of “full bloom”.
Producers were already grappling with droughts – then torrential rains – when a summer of bushfires meant the smell of smoke had decimated crops across the country, mostly in New South Wales.
But despite the challenges, the winemakers produced. And they produced well.
The introduction of smart grape harvesters into the process (where the grapes are sorted by machine rather than human hand) has given winemakers the ability to improve wine quality and explore more styles, Halliday said. .
It also results in a cheaper bottle for the consumer.
According to Halliday, the resilience of our winemakers will help them get through the next battle, if it comes true.
“China is really the elephant in the room,” he said.
About 60 percent of Australian wine is exported, of which China buys 40 percent. So if it bans these exports (China has yet to officially declare a ban on Australian wine), producers must find them a new home.
Although we sell to around 50 countries, Halliday explained, COVID-19 has made strengthening those business relationships extremely difficult.
Australian winemakers excel at face-to-face sales, he said. No international travel puts a pin in this one.
It is mainly larger organizations, such as Treasury Wine Estates, that export to China.
On the home front, our small and medium-sized wineries – many of which are family businesses – rely on direct sales to consumers. The cellar door experience.
Again, COVID-19 has hampered this process.
“Many wineries rely on cellar doors for sales or for people who have passed by, never forgetting the memory, still buying that wine,” Halliday said.
“The lack of travel to your front door – many wineries have found this difficult.”
Many of these wineries don’t have a distribution deal, which is why you won’t find them in a standard bottle store.
The domestic market must now rally to support our winegrowers, from everyday consumers to restaurants and retailers.
As restaurants reopen, Halliday says this is where the Top 100 list will become vital in getting these wines to the Australians, those winemakers who have endured so much.
And of course, that gives consumers a chance to taste the best of the offer.
James Halliday will present his Top 100 Wines for 2020 at a virtual event on Wednesday 25 November, with guest presenter Katie Spain. It is part of the Cellardoor Challenge, an initiative to spotlight the country’s basic wine producers. Tickets for the event are available here.