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Nick Ryan: ‘Look to the classics when promoting Australian wine internationally’

By Thursday 1 June 2017September 15th, 2018No Comments

When discussing fickle businesses with short attention spans, the fashion industry invariably gets a good run. After all, the clue is in the name.

But the rag trade has serious competition from the wine business when it comes to the promiscuity of its affections.

When David Bowie sang in his early 1980s hit ‘Fashion’: “We are the goon squad and we’re coming to town. Beep, Beep,” he was quite possibly making a more subtle reference to how wine and fashion mix than we previously thought.

Like fashion, most of the trendsetting is done at the pointy end.

Top-line restaurants and cutting-edge wine bars are the boutiques of booze, seeking out the next hip trend to which they can apply some margin.

Wine writers differ from their fashion writing peers in body shape and dress sense, but share damaged livers and an awareness that the ‘next big thing’ is an easier story to write than the old campaigner quietly going about their business.

And never underestimate a wine writer’s willingness to go for the easier option on a yarn.

Meanwhile, in the real world, people buy their socks and jocks at Target and the wine in boxed bladders.

Much of the work being done to promote Australian wine internationally by Wine Australia is focused on the ‘hip and happening’ winemaking movement producing a diverse range of wines that all somehow squeeze under the broad umbrella branded ‘the new Australia’.

The Ochota beard has replaced the Merrill moustache as the follicular symbol of Australian wine.

It’s easy to see why.

This new breed of ‘artisan’ winemakers, with their lo-fi lifestyles and wispy wines, provide valuable contrast to the unfortunate, and often unfair, stereotypes that had been applied to Australian wine in vital export markets.

The first wave of international success for Australian wine back in the 1980s was built on technical proficiency and bang for buck but ‘clean and commercial’ eventually became ‘boring and technical’ in the eyes of influencers.

The second wave came in the late ’90s and was worse. Seduced by the power of Baltimore Bob, the Australian propensity to take good things and turn them into huge caricatures – think The Big Pineapple, Big Prawn, Big Banana – was applied to shiraz, and before too long, an entire winemaking nation was dismissed as purveyors of alcoholic jam.

An entire industry was getting crucified for the sins of a few.

It’s not surprising to see industry body Wine Australia attempt to reinvent itself in foreign markets and there’s no doubt these wild and woolly band of winemakers have good stories to tell and exciting wines to pour.

But what about the dags of the wine business, those who are about as hip as a knee, the ones who keep quietly producing really good wines in much the same way as they always have?

It would be a shame to lose sight of those who are like slabs of granite when it comes to floating on the fickle winds of fashion.

Classicism and fidelity to tradition is never going to be as sexy as rooting around at the edge of the envelope, but we should never forget that those who might be considered old-fashioned must have been doing something right for a decent length of time for them to be considered so.

The most old-fashioned winery I know is a little place called Wendouree… and they seem to go alright.

And we should never forget that fashion habitually mines its past and often recycles trends of the past and packages them as the way of the future.

When a small army of the world’s best sommeliers was in Australia recently in conjunction with the World’s 5o Best Restaurants circus, some interesting insights emerged.

Yes, they were interested in the lo-fi and natural, but they felt they already knew those wines pretty well. It was the more classic styles many were asking to see – the Wendourees, the Mount Mary’s, the ancient fortifieds of Rutherglen.

The wines they’ve read about but never get to see.

Maybe we should look backwards for the next wave of Australian wine promotion internationally, focus on those classics that never go out of style.

Probably not a bad way to communicate with a group of people who go to work every day in great restaurants around the world dressed beautifully in well-cut suits and elegant little back dresses.

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