Winemakers hope to shed 'cheap and cheerful' image

Some of the nation's most well known winemakers are striving to lose Australia's reputation for producing 'cheap and cheerful' wine, instead focusing on premium wines that attract higher prices.

Mitchell Taylor, chief executive of Taylors Wines and recently appointed third chairman of Australia's First Families of Wines, told BusinessDay that reviving Australia's wine sector to place more emphasis on wines that sell for above $15 a bottle would help celebrate the country's quality wines and relieve the pinch of the high Australian dollar.

"What's on our agenda is to help put the colour back into relaunching the Australian wine industry overseas," Mr Taylor said.

"We are doing it because of the brutal perfect storm we have been going through recently and the image of Australian wine abroad is not as premium as it should be."

Australia's First Families of Wines was an initiative created four years ago by 12 winemaking families to help promote the diversity and quality of Australian wine and the important and historic role families have played in the industry's success. Its members include some of the oldest family wine companies in Australia including Yalumba, De Bortoli, Tahbilk, Campbells, Henschke and Brown Brothers.

Speaking this morning before the group's maiden wine tasting masterclass in Brisbane, Mr Taylor said Australia's first major push into overseas markets decades ago was aimed at low price points, which might have made good business sense at the time but was now in need of renewal and a shift in focus.

"The way Australia went into the export markets, we started to trade at the pointy end, the value [cheap] end of the market, and that's a good foundation but when the exchange rates go against us as they have now and the wine oversupply situation - then all of sudden we come off the scale.

"And so the idea of Australia's First Families of Wine is to promote our very top premium, excellent wines that are really the wines Australia needs to promote to be sustainable as an industry in the long term."

Australia's First Families of Wines has conducted a number of trade missions since 2009 to publicise and promote its ideals, having visited Britain three times, North America and in September the grouping will conduct its first Asian tour with visits to Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing.

Mr Taylor said although key markets of Europe and North America remained mired in recessionary conditions, making it all the harder to tempt drinkers to purchase more expensive wines, there were some early signs of improvement in Canada and parts of the US.

He said China was a crucial market in which Australia's wine industry was well placed, with the Chinese culture especially enamoured by family ownership and a sense of history and tradition which was what Australia's First Families of Wines was designed to highlight.

Turning to the high dollar, which makes Australian exports more expensive to overseas buyers, Mr Taylor said the wine sector would like to see the currency depreciate by another 5-10 per cent in the next 12 months.

"But at the same time we have to be able to sell wines at the highest price and to compete with the best of Europe and the best of California, there is still a market for those wines. You have just to got to watch that Australia has a seat at the table when it comes to being before the eyes of consumers, especially luxury wines."

Mr Taylor said his families grouping had a good working relationship with Australia's dominant liquor merchants, controlled by supermarket giants Woolworths and Coles, and that he detected a swing back to family brands.

"We are fairly positive about working together with them because if we talk about reaching the market you have got to look at the statistics. They represent now, nearly 80 per cent of the market, and the way its trending its looking like in another 5 to 10 years they will have a bigger influence."

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