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14/10/2008

Victorian grower response to Paul Clancy's over-supply analysis

Laurie Martin, owner of Ancient River Vineyard in the Goulburn Valley region of Victoria, has contributed his thoughts on the Australian wine industry’s over-supply situation, in response to Paul Clancy’s article published as last week’s Daily Wine News Friday Forum.

I read Paul Clancy’s article with great interest and was struck by his grasp of events and ability to summarise various issues – particularly around the issue of leadership.

The wine industry has begun to meander while taking on some of the countenance of large corporations (be they commercial enterprises or Government departments) where decisions seem to be made slowly by people remote from day-to-day operations. With a strategy for the industry focussing on regional heroes, are these heroes to be found in the CBD’s of our State capitals or in vineyards coping with the realities of nature or wineries where collars and ties are viewed with suspicion?

Paul quite correctly points out that, with over-supply, wine producers have concentrated on the lower end of the market like the sales person who is happy to take orders from existing clients (no matter what price they are offered) rather than risk being found lacking in the cut and thrust of winning new accounts. And while we concentrate on that end, Argentina, Chile and South Africa get better at producing quality wines, closer to export markets and with lower labour rates.

So what of these regional heroes? Are they to be found in the warmer climes or might they be in those areas where the cost of production is traditionally higher? When the Americans (the largest wine consuming market in the world) say they want to see the personalties behind the wines and the French say we are excellent producers of industrial wine, are we to be collectively represented by corporate ‘suits’ or characters with more direct involvement in the product of all our efforts?

It seems to me that we have an over-supply of cool climate fruit if we wish to pursue the export of bulk wine at the cheapest possible price. However, if we wish to pursue a strategy based on regional heroism, we will, as a consequence, need to be exporting wines at higher price points with sufficient variation between labels to announce that we are producers of fine wines of immense character and we will need to have more individuals taking more active part in the marketing of these wines.

Perhaps some of the problem lies in an industry that is happy to have levies collected and handed over to a national body that concentrates on research rather than active marketing. Our American cousins seem to be far more democratic and advanced than that. Looking at various wine commissions in California, for instance, they have compulsory levies that are set and collected at the local level for use in accordance with local imperatives. If the locals are interested, say, in researching the best methods of growing grapes sustainably and selling the resultant wine, they can spend their money accordingly with the likelihood of matching Government grants for research. With levies being used for local priorities, these wine commissions (or regional bodies) are well supported by local growers who take an active interest in how their money is employed. Perhaps we should look at this roots-up approach to leadership instead of our current top-down practices.

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