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A Look Back On Twenty Years In The Australian Wine Industry

By Tuesday 9 February 2021No Comments

With an iceberg sinking exports and TWTW feeling like the band on the Titanic, it’s a good time to reflect on the bed of roses that has been the Australian wine industry for the past 20 years or so.

It’s 2000, Australian wine exports are booming and Barmera growers are overnight millionaires. It’s easy. Wine sells itself. You go for a ride on Popeye during the day and drink Shiraz with peanuts at the Universal Wine Bar at night. Bosses are generous and the parties lavish.

WFA goes to dinners in limos like Bono and wine critics get two samples of each wine just in case one is corked. Some stands at trade shows have so many storeys they have wind socks on the roof.

Clare winemakers put screwcaps on Riesling. Like olive oil. Grosset even puts them on reds. He’s screwed. It’ll never take off.

Paul Clancy gives me a job and lends me his black suit and bow-tie for a dinner in Bordeaux. I’ve heard of it. Anywhere near Pirie? It all comes back. Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick.

Southcorp and Rosemount merge. Then an even more sinister event: 9/11. The new National Wine Centre is also a pile of ash and rubble.

As Clancy predicted, no one turns up when it opens. People enjoy wine but not enough to rush to a building and pay $10 to push a rubber button for a whiff of Riesling. It’s a white elephant but Yellow Tail is like a bull in a China shop.

Constellation buys BRL Hardy for $1.9 billion.

We have a duopoly.

There are warning signs. Trouble is on the way.

There’s an oversupply, droughts, water restrictions, bushfires, heatwaves and compressed vintages along with major concerns about Wolf Blass continuing to butcher the English language.

The mighty Murray is mighty crook but the vineyards keep coming.

We’re getting sophisticated. Goodbye XL5, hello Riedel. Shaw + Smith charges for tastings. Snobs. Includes a bit of cheese. That’s alright then.

Sad day when you can’t get free shit and half-pissed on Michael Hill Smith. The MW has gone to his head. Bald greed. It’ll never take off.

S+S holds firm on the price of its ‘expensive’ Sauvignon Blanc as Aussie bogans sit in beanbags watching Schappelle Corby on TV and snorting Lolly Gobble Bliss Bombs and New Xi-Land Sauvignon Blanc.

WBM is born. A reader asks what an SME is. Perfect. A year later, The Week That Was. We are heartened by the response. “Rude.” “Crude.” “Rubbish.” It’ll never take off. Someone cancels his ad. To borrow from Clancy, the sun hasn’t set on that prick either.

The digital age is here and people are buying wine online, mainly via Get Wines Direct. Our team of expert columnists at WBM give advice on IT including if you have trouble with your computer, switch it off and then switch it back on again and see if that helps.

We have a new toy: Twitter. A dream come true for bullies, psychopaths, Heinrich Himmler and anyone else still bitter about their father not being there to watch them play cricket as a kid. Twitter sells wine, they say. No it doesn’t, says Lockshin. There’s a pile-on.

We go to Instagram and post pleasant photos of sunsets, cheese platters, Myrtle the turtle and the snake whose head you chopped off with a long-handled spade.

IT is expensive. Wineries must choose between a BMW or a new website. Joe Grilli goes with an Alfa Romeo but most others choose a website. The sites win awards but don’t sell a bottle – not even a Pinot Gris.

Hello cheeky little salmon rosé. It’ll never take off.

Wineries don’t update News sections for nine years.

Wine experts become full-time bloggers but get sick of fish fingers for breakfast, lunch and tea and get a real job.

Those 98 Parker points you get for your Castrol Ebenezer Engine Oil makes the fax machine in Tanunda run out of paper at four o’clock in the morning. Rosemount comes in a diamond-shaped bottle. It goes the way of Farah slacks, carpet bag steaks, plastic corks, wine pouches and aluminium bottles.

Zork is still much loved by wine drinkers who can’t get enough of peeling apples.

In 2007 our exports hit $3 billion for the first time.

The world wine press falls in love with Australia.

Then quickly out of it.

Tesco big wig Dan Jago tells the Outlook Conference: “I urge you to make your wines lighter and more refreshing.” Wears a bullet-proof vest like John Howard at the gun rally. Get him off the stage. The Sydney Morning Herald screams “Sour Grapes from Tesco”.

Australian winemakers are long overdue for good news.

Then the GFC.

Exports crash and grape prices too.

There’s talk of a vine pull.

Bill Moularadellis says don’t be ridiculous, have a chill pill and a Kingston biscuit – good times will come again. They do.

We chalk up $100 million of wine exports to China.

They start buying our farms.

The establishment finds natural wine unnatural. We fight about it for 10 whole years. Cloudy wine. WTF. Is Basket Range insane? Yes, I can see clearly now the brain has gone.

Robert Hill Smith cruises through Uraidla in his Bentley and throws a hand grenade out the window: says natural wine will die a natural death. Waiting, waiting. Die hard with a vengeance.

The hippies and dreamers and dreadlocks and square pegs in round holes help shift the conversation about Australian wine. Sustainability is where it’s at. McLaren Vale owns it.

Tasmania is so cool, people look up to it like a Southern right whale.

Croser started the conversation about fine wine in 1879. The penny drops. He’s right. The future is premium. Bruce Tyrrell culls the beloved cheapies. His business is probably more profitable than it’s ever been.

That terrible day at Draytons in 2008: Trevor Drayton and Eddie Orgo die in an explosion.

William Rikard-Bell, 27, jumps in a dam and lives to tell the story. He later starts his own brand. The kid’s all the inspiration we’ll ever need.

Yarra Valley fires destroy vineyards and wineries and claim 181 lives.

Then that vintage – 2011. One day it started raining and it didn’t quit for four months. Little bitty stinging rain, big old fat rain, rain that flew in sideways and sometimes rain even seemed to come straight up from underneath. Like today.

Penfolds dresses up like Snoop Dog and goes on a luxury bender starting with a $168,000 Ampoule.

Now you can just Google stuff like ampoule and bordeaux. It’s blatantly targeted at billionaires in Haiti and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Then the g3 for a piss poor $3,000. I’ll have 56. One Ampoule or 56 of the g3; no brainer.

Wellness is a thing and big fat Chardonnay goes to Byron and comes back too skinny for my liking. The flavour returns eventually.

Crusty Adelaide businessmen with cellars packed with Penfolds, warm to Pinot.

A Pinot wins the Jimmy: Yabby Lake 2012. South Australia hasn’t won it for six years. With global warming, will it ever win another one? Yes, a year later with SC Pannell 2013 Adelaide Hills Syrah.

Wine is the new black. And gin.

Small wine bars pop up like f-bombs in a lawyer’s office with Dave Powell.

We have a tax fight.

They close the loop holes and give us $50 million to spend on lawyers, consultants and feasibility studies. There’s even some left over for a wine tent at the Whyalla Hot Rod Spectacular.

It’s playtime in the sandpit. Chester builds The Cube and Warren builds The Slug. China is our first billion-dollar market.

Women rise up. They have nothing to complain about. Since 1992 WFA (now AGWA) has had 29 patrons and life members – 29 penises and an estimated 58 balls.

Hello again, wine in a can – after a false dawn 15 years ago it’s here to stay. I’d prefer mine in a diamond-shaped can.

We cry over terrible fires on the east coast. The Adelaide Hills and KI cop it too.

Then a sense of relief knowing nothing else could possibly go wrong – 2020 will be our year.

Then Covid-19 and China.

Then something truly bizarre happens.

Down for the count, Australian wine exports reach a record $3.1 billion. In just eight weeks we lose $210 million of that. The events of the past 20 years didn’t sink us and neither will Covid or China, though admittedly it’s starting to look like a warzone.

TWTW will keep playing.

Stay calm.

And the band played Waltzing Matilda. We buried ours and the Turks buried theirs, then we started all over again.

• This article first appeared in our weekly e-bulletin The Week That Was.

Photo by L.Filipe C.Sousa on Unsplash


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