Treasure found in McLaren Vale but vineyard silent

Treasure in the vale

This piece of information, or similar, cropped up in various publications at the beginning of the month:

“A 252-acre vineyard located in McLaren Vale’s ‘dress circle’ has sold for $10 million. The vineyard comprises three separate vineyards which were sold as a single transaction. The vineyard has chosen to remain anonymous.”

It’s hard even for an unnamed vineyard (but let’s call it Connors Farm) to remain anonymous. TKR doubts the vineyard had any direct say in the matter. Possibly the sellers wanted to remain anonymous. We understand it could have been Norm Doole, and various investors, people like the Buttery and Harvey families, but it hasn’t been confirmed. Tight-lipped, these vineyards.

The vines won’t reveal who bought them, nor will the land they are planted in, but the whisper between the rows is that it was Treasury Wine Estates (TWE). Apparently TWE has more than 200 acres diagonally across the road from the unnamed Connors, plus other holdings in the region, now in total close to or over 1000 acres. The question being: what will TWE use the grapes for?

It could do more with the Rosemount brand, making it McLaren Vale focused. Or establish a new brand. Or it could use the fruit to feed the Penfolds brand, in turn feeding the growing Chinese market.

Honour your cash

Australia has been named “country of honour” for the 2018 Hong Kong Vinexpo. An honour or a greedy grab for cash by the Vinexpo organisers?

It’s hard to say. As Wine Australia (WA) has agreed to the conditions of being country of honour, we have to trust that it has made the right decision. According to Andreas Clark, CEO of Wine Australia:

“This is a brilliant opportunity to shine the light on the diversity and premium quality of Australian wine. Greater China is our number one and fastest growing export market, so Australia taking the title of Country of Honour will help strengthen our position in the market, and enable us to showcase the breadth of fine Australian wine to some of the most influential people in the region.”

At first one has to agree with the diversity and premium aspects, but thinking deeper, are they the parts of the industry that need the most help? Looking at grape production and rounding out figures, from a 1.8 million-tonne vintage we have:

  • Shiraz: 430,000 tonnes
  • Chardonnay: 406,000 tonnes
  • Cabernet sauvignon: 255,000 tonnes
  • Merlot: 107,000 tonnes
  • Sauvignon blanc: 100,000 tonnes
  • Total: 1.298 million tonnes

What this shows is that almost 1.3 million tonnes of grapes come from just five varieties, which raises the question: is it diversity or the mainstream that needs the most help?

Looking at the regional aspect:

  • Riverland: 517,000 tonnes
  • Murray Darling-Swan Hill: 425,000 tonnes
  • Riverina: 325,000 tonnes
  • Total: 1.267 million tonnes

The reality being: there are five varieties and three regions that dominate Australian wine production. Looking at the situation from another angle, there are about 600,000 tonnes from 60-plus regions and numerous varieties providing the bulk of the diversity and premium quality that Clark mentions. 

TKR can hear and understand the protests from growers/makers in the regions noted above, stating how they grow this, that or the other varieties, and have won medals at this, that or the other wine shows.

We can also follow the thought process that by impressing trade and consumers with a Mornington Peninsula pinot noir or Hunter Valley tempranillo the whole image of Australian wine will be lifted in China and other Asian markets. But of this we are not convinced. We believe the pinot and tempranillo could be well received, but not in their power to pull through several hundred dozen cases of Riverland chardonnay in the same order.

With luck, we will be proved wrong, and all Australian wine exports to Asian countries will continue to increase, and at prices that benefit growers and producers.

Meanwhile, for those attending Vinexpo next year there will be lunches, dinners and tastings focused on Australian wines. We will have to see if the Vinexpo release holds truth. It says:

“The diversity of its terroirs and its regulation-free appellation areas have enabled Australian winemakers to stay at the forefront of innovation in experimenting with new grape varieties, and to achieve a move upmarket that has been praised by critics, sommeliers and consumers alike.”

Or, as TKR suspects, Vinexpo is exchanging words for coin.

Also gaining coin from China is Wine Intelligence, which measures the market, sales and trends. Wine Australia and Wine Intelligence have been good buddies for years, and we suspect a deal of coin has been transferred from one coffer to the other. We assume the intelligence received in exchange for the coin has been worthwhile to Australia.

Wine Intelligence senior research manager Chuan Zhou has been in Australia recently, doing the rounds and giving opinion on how Wine Intelligence is reading the Chinese market. According to newspaper reports:

  • Chinese wine consumers are younger
  • They drink for pleasure, not so much for status or health
  • They buy cheaper wine for home consumption

The attraction of lower tannin and higher fruit flavours are turning Chinese consumers away from often harsher European wines to softer Australian options, according to Zhou. If this proves true, there is hope for the 1.3 million tonnes of grapes originating from the warm inland regions we mention above.

TKR still believes the average vintage is too large and needs trimming, with the real crap wine not being made or finding its way to market, any market. Nor should Australian producers be raising prices without making sure the quality matches, or better still exceeds, that price. But the element of greed is a mighty force, so it’s a fingers-crossed situation.

This is the importance of the Chinese market, not poncy pinot noir or trendy nebbiolo paired with chicken feet in spicy sauce served at a themed dinner at Vinexpo.

Perhaps of greater interest than the style of wine the Chinese are drinking is the method of purchase. Zhou is reported as saying that this year 48 per cent of Chinese wine drinkers bought wine online.

About time

It was good, but also pathetic and about time, to read a letter of apology from the Winemakers’ Federation of Australia (WFA) to Anthony Madigan, editor of Wine Business Magazine.

In 2013 Madigan was asked to leave a WFA industry forum. Without going over old ground, this was wrong and should never have happened, which is the pathetic part. The good part is the apology, sent by WFA president Sandy Clark.

In it, Clark says he would, “appreciate the chance to meet with you [Madigan] and resume, what I understand was formerly a very cooperative and productive relationship”.

The Key Report is not having what we would call a cooperative and productive relationship with WFA this year, but so be it. We find the WFA less than useless at the moment, and no more than the puppet of a few large companies.

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