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Oxford Landing’s low-alcohol wines are no ‘knee jerk reaction’ to the duty hike

Oxford Landing winemaker Andy La Nauze tells db about having skin in the low-alcohol game long before the duty rise kicked in.

Australia’s Oxford Landing has just secured an all-important retail listing for its new low-alcohol wine range SunLIGHT ahead of the Christmas rush.

Comprising a 7% ABV Chardonnay and an 8% ABV Shiraz, both of which are now available at Sainsbury’s for £7 per bottle, the range reflects Oxford Landing’s commitment to the lower alcohol space, a sector it has dominated in that price tier for more than a decade.

“Sugar can only make up so much on the palate. People are spending millions of dollars on trying to crack the magic code,” winemaker Andy La Nauze tells db of the challenge of crafting lower alcohol wines.

Has he managed it? According to La Nauze the residual sugar in SunLIGHT Chardonnay is approximately 11g-12g, while the Shiraz hovers around the 14g mark. La Nauze also re-instates carbon dioxide during the winemaking process for greater body.

“When you remove alcohol you remove carbon dioxide,” he explains. “We add that back by running the wine through a gas transfer membrane just prior to bottling. I think there’s about 1.4g of carbon dioxide per litre in the SunLIGHT Shiraz.”

Part of the SunLIGHT Chardonnay is matured in barrels, while malolactic gives the wine “another layer of flavour,” says La Nauze, who recommends pairing it with fresh sashimi to fully appreciate the mouthfeel and body of the wine.

Is he happy with how the range is travelling? “The wines are looking sensational, ” La Nauze says, having brought them over from the Riverlands in South Australia, where red sandy soils over limestone dominate Oxford Landing’s vineyards. The producer’s location has also been advantageous during an unusually rainy year for Australia. “Occasionally the river floods, but the 100ft cliffs either side of our vineyards stop the water from going very far,” he explains.

First out of the traps

While winemakers across the globe are making efforts to bring their alcohol levels down not only to meet growing consumer demand for lighter wines but also to swerve the recent duty hikes which came into force in the UK in October, Oxford Landing can be accused of no such kneejerk reaction.

La Nauze says the brand has built up “a lot of commercial credibility”, in the 5-10% ABV sector following more than a decade of crafting lower-alcohol wines.

The brand’s standard Sauvignon Blanc expression comes in naturally at 10.5% ABV and has sold 50 million bottles in the UK since 2010. “We’ve been making it since the 2010 vintage so no one can say we’re reacting to the duty changes,” La Nauze adds.

Oxford Landing has plans to release a Pinot Grigio in 2024, also naturally at 10.5%, which La Nauze says will be achieved through “clever winemaking and good picking decisions.”

“The duty rises are definitely going to make trading more challenging,” he adds. “But the one good thing is that it’s a level playing field. Everyone is affected.”

Would Oxford Landing consider moving to a bulk model and bottling its wines in market to keep costs down? According to La Nauze, while it might well be “financially advantageous at some point”, the switch is highly unlikely.

“We’re a family-run winery and the family feels really strongly about its commitment to the local community in our home town in Australia in terms of jobs. They take that responsibility seriously,” he says.

The producer’s decision to launch its SunLIGHT wines in the UK is partly down to the openminded UK consumer. In Oxford Landing’s domestic Australia market, even though no-and-low sales are increasing it is “from a really small base. Australia is far from being a mature market for low-alcohol wines,” says La Nauze.

Getting the new range into UK pubs may also be a consideration in the future. “Our strategy as a brand has always been retail but you never know,” says La Nauze.

With the China market looking likely to reopen to Australian winemakers in early 2024, will Australian producers have to straddle two opposing ends of the market? Lower-alcohol wines to circumnavigate UK duty charges, and higher-alcohol wines to cater to Chinese consumers’ preferences for bigger, bolder reds?

“I think China will be a priority for a lot of people, even though it won’t be the same market as it was before [the tariffs kicked in],” says La Nauze. “But producers will need to have one eye on the opportunities that lighter alcohol wines present.”


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