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Australia to take on Kiwis with new white wine

Last week, the drinks business was given a sneak preview of one of the most exciting launches for this year’s LIWF – Semillon Blanc.

Hailing from Down Under, it’s an entirely new offering designed to take on New Zealand’s infamous gooseberry-scented wines and encourage consumers to reassess Aussie whites.

It’s the brainchild of Neil McGuigan, Australian Vintage’s interim CEO and last year’s IWSC Winemaker of the Year, who was keen to create a competitor to Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc, which has been eroding Australia’s white wine market share both in its home market and abroad.

“New Zealand has done a fantastic job with Sauvignon Blanc and it’s going well in Australia and the UK. We need to give them a bit of stick,” he told db in an exclusive interview.

After much discussion, McGuigan realised Australia already had the perfect comeback varietal: Semillon.

The only problem was that in its traditional home, Hunter Valley, the grape is expensive and while it offers the much-heralded characters of longevity, low alcohol and no oak, as McGuigan points out, “for the general consumer, there’s not enough oomph.”

Outside Hunter Valley however, McGuigan has been able to source cheaper grapes with more weight, and as a result, has created what he calls a “Sauvignon Blanc killer,” which is “fresh, full,” and with the latter grape’s “zip and zestiness”.

Using fruit from 25 year-old vines in mid New South Wales and Sunraysia, McGuigan has found Semillon which was previously “blended away”.

He has also employed specially selected yeasts to accentuate mouthfeel and aroma, allowing McGuigan to craft a sort of Semillion on steroids.

Interestingly, he believes the Semillon Blanc, which is initially planned for the UK market only, will eventually lead the consumer into the more traditional style.

McGuigan also stressed further advantages for Semillon Blanc, saying: “It has length and the wine is around 11%”.

The product, which Tesco has already agreed to list from summertime this year, will go on shelf at £6.99 with promotions down to £4.99.

The wine’s label will state “New wine style” with a description explaining why the wine is different and what you can expect from it.

Further explaining the launch, McGuigan concluded, “We need to take a position – we are a significant producer in Australia and we have an obligation to show leadership. Yes, this is risky and we are sticking our neck out.”

He added that Australian Vintage’s marketing investment for the year ahead will centre on the Semillon Blanc and it will be the headline wine at every UK wine festival.

To try the wine visit Australian Vintage’s stand at the fair, N10.

Patrick Schmitt, 17.05.2010

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