China pulls the cork

By Philippe Perez

Strathbogie wineries in Victoria are looking to alternative methods to sell their products in response to tariffs imposed by the Chinese Government on Australian wine imports in the last week.

The tariffs of up to 200 percent were imposed this past week after findings of an ongoing anti-dumping investigation by China into Australian wine exports had accused local producers of selling wine for below the cost of production.

Local producers say the tariffs will be a blow to the industry at a local level, but plans are afoot to circumnavigate them.

One of those plans includes an influx of local wine into the Australian market, according to treasurer and secretary of the Strathbogie Ranges Wine Association, Owen Bobeldyk.

“We are already seeing it now – where South Australian wine producers are advertising a case of wine for $120 with free delivery, so every wine producer in Australia will be trying to find a place  for all this inventory,” said Bobeldyk.

“It will be challenging to re-label it all and push it to the local market at almost cost price, to get the inventory off the books, but it’s what I think will be happening here too.”

Bobeldyk also said one particular challenge for the Strathbogie region will also lie in recognition in upcoming months.

“The Association was rejuvenated last year with new members joining to understand what we stand for and the uniqueness around the Strathbogies to promote our region’s wines,” said Bobeldyk.

“Other regions, like the Clare Valley is well known for Riesling, have organically been able to create a reputation for that, but Strathbogie has this challenge of being spread out, a variety of climate… and so our first step is to work through strategies for the region,”

He pointed to online sales as key to a growth strategy for the region in response to the tariffs.

“It’s about getting the recognition, but also the follow up for both the small and large producers with that online presence,” Bobeldyk said.

“Places like Mitchelton have more or less replaced their cellar door with online sales as well.”

Local winemaker Sam Plunkett from Wine X Sam said it was not all doom and gloom for his cellar door,

“In our case, we are lucky that the USA and UK are our biggest export markets, and through an online retailer (Naked Wines), COVID has us busy; so I think we can redirect wines we were planning to send to China, to other parts of the world.”

Seven pallets of wine which are on the water now are expected to be the last wine his cellar door will ship into China for the foreseeable future.

Plunkett said that China’s claims of wine dumping are unfounded and that the average amount of wine shipped there “is much higher than into the UK or USA”.

“This is a blow for local growers and makers. It’s also a blow to our Chinese customers who have worked hard to build businesses promoting Central Victorian wine in their home markets,” Plunkett said.

While the tensions between the two governments are causing some local concerns, Plunkett said at a business or individual level, many good relationships have blossomed through the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There is something else going on, a message being sent, but there is a disconnect between the aggressive government we see bringing in these tariffs, and the good Chinese people we have worked with,” he said.

“Many of our Chinese customers have become friends.

“At one time we sponsored a 457 visa for a Chinese girl to come and work with us… so she could learn about Victorian wine, promote it through her family hospitality business in Northern China, and so we could learn something about Chinese culture.

“And I currently have a Melbourne University agricultural science student as a mentee – Henry who got stranded at home in China due to COVID, but would otherwise have worked the 2020 vintage with us.”

Plunkett also said it was morally boosting to see an online video of politicians from the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China encouraging people to have a glass of Australian wine to show support for the local industry.

This article first appeared in The Euroa Gazette.

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