Conditions are ripe for upmarket Australian wines to make progress in the UK, according to Voyager Estate’s sales & marketing manager Fiona Findlay.
Having worked with UK agent Justerini & Brooks for the last 15 years, Findlay acknowledged that recent years had proved challenging. “Over the last five years we haven’t grown here, but then I don’t know many Australian producers who have,” she told the drinks business. “We have held our ground though, which we feel is an achievement given the conditions.”
On her first visit to London since 2008, when the economy was at its most uncertain, Findlay highlighted the far more optimistic atmosphere she had observed on this latest trip.
“I think there’s a huge opportunity in this market, particularly in the sector we’re looking to play in with all the wine bars and the more sophisticated drinking offers out there”, she outlined.
Suggesting that the explosion of bars and restaurants in London was “very much mirroring what’s been happening in Australia in the last 10-15 years”, Findlay continued: “There’s so much more knowledge with consumers now and they’re interested in experimenting. If you give them that opportunity with a by-the-glass list then the wines can do really well.”
As for the progress of Australian wine in the UK, she told db: “It feels like there’s a lot more interest in that premium category.” However, added Findlay: “We’ve still got a lot of work to do in telling that premium, regional story and really recapturing that artisan spirit.”
For Voyager Estate and its fellow Margaret River producers, she flagged up particular potential for the region’s traditional white blend in the UK. “The Sauvignon/Semillon blend has an opportunity here,” said Findlay. “It’s not that straight, pungent Sauvignon style and the Semillon gives it a more textured, savoury line. As a category it’s a bit underdone here.”
Again, she drew a comparison with the situation in Australia, where Sauvignon Blanc is the country’s top selling white variety but, Findlay reported, nine out the top ten selling Sauvignon Blanc brands come from Marlborough.
Despite this dominance by New Zealand both in the UK and Australia, Findlay suggested that in Australia at least: “We are starting to see a bit of shift.” She noted that upmarket on-trade outlets in particular are now beginning to list alternative Sauvignon Blanc options.
While attributing the widespread success of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc to the fact that “People feel it’s a safe choice,” Findlay suggested that the time was ripe for a fresh trend to emerge.
“It will be interesting to see where people go next,” she commented. “Pinot Grigio? Back to Chardonnay? Or perhaps Sauvignon/Semillon?” Of this latter option, Findlay said: “We think there’s a real opportunity for it in this market; we would love to see that category grow.”
For more on developments within the Australian wine category, look out for January’s issue of the drinks business in the New Year.