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Bangers and bash

Published:  18 January, 2007

The new Wine Australia export promotion campaign launched at the London International Wine & Spirit Fair (LIWSF) this week is, at its core, timely, well-intentioned and refreshing in its approach.

In particular, there are many grass-roots events, tastings and initiatives planned for the UK and the US that will undoubtedly put better and more interesting Australian wines into some influential mouths.

But the campaign has been so over-focus-grouped, is so bogged down in mission statements and marketing-speak and is so bland in execution that it is in danger of failing to attract the very people it needs to attract if it has any hope of succeeding. And I'm not talking about overseas trade, media and consumers here - I'm talking about Australia's 1,800 small winemakers.

You see, this isn't just a promotional campaign aimed at extending Australia's brand footprint' in key export markets. This is also a recruitment drive. The big companies realised that many overseas commentators feel they have outstayed their welcome, and they want to encourage the innovative small producers to become part of the promotional programme to help revive some interest in Brand Australia.

The key phrase in the glossy Wine Australia brochure is this one: Consolidation of the global wine industry makes the continuing unity of the Australian wine sector vitally important.' Wine Australia general manager Jonathan Scott almost succeeded in decoding this jargon when he launched the campaign in Sydney a couple of weeks ago. We have had some phenomenally successful brand champions in the UK and the US,' he said, referring to Jacob's Creek and Rosemount. But they have created a success shadow. We need to show people that there's more to Australia than the 5-6 [commercial] wines. We need to put some sizzle back into the sausage.'

So, are the sizzling small players excited at the prospect of being wooed by the brand champions? Well, no, not really. Almost every winemaker I contacted for comment had either not seen the PR material, or had glanced at it and discarded it. One even admitted to having thrown it in the bin.

It all sounds fine,' said Rick Kinzbrunner, winemaker at Giaconda, arguably Australia's best Chardonnay vineyard. Pushing the smaller, high-quality producers is definitely a good thing. But to be perfectly honest - and I know this sounds selfish - I don't really need the help. I admit I'm lucky - I already have good distribution. I can imagine if I were just starting out, I might feel the programme had something to offer. But then again, now that small producers can claim the WET (wine equalisation tax) rebate, they're better off selling their wine at home than exporting.'

Stephanie Toole, of the excellent Mount Horrocks winery in Clare, echoed Kinzbrunner's sentiment: The ideas are fine,' she said. It is definitely getting harder to make your wines stand out, with all the new labels. And the industry has to be seen to be doing something, I suppose, with the increasing global competition. But when I read through the material, I just thought it didn't really apply to me.'

Dean Hewitson, who makes some delicious wines from old vines in Barossa and McLaren Vale, was more sceptical: The campaign is telling the world nothing they don't already know. That's why they have been buying Aussie wine anyway: because they like us and they find the country strangely exotic. What the brochure doesn't do is tell people about the many regions and subregions. It mentions in passing that we have them, yet the major impression is of Australia as a continent, as a whole, as just one big wine producer. Oh, and that Aussies are fun and have personality. Didn't the Paul Hogan campaign already do that a decade ago?'

And Brian Prof' Lynn from leading Coonawarra vineyard Majella took a similar view: The Australian Wine and Brandy Corp describes this as the most important marketing initiative in the past 15 years, but I've been trying to work out what's different to what we were already doing before. The commentary coming out of the UK that Australian wine is boring has some validity, and we definitely need to step away from generic Brand Australia and focus on regions - like we do with our Coonawarra Roadshow, which we aim to take to the UK this year. But we were already doing that, before the boys in Adelaide dreamed up this Wine Australia campaign.'