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Looking back on 2016 and ahead to 2017: Laura Jewell MW, Wine Australia

Published:  23 December, 2016

Laura Jewell MW talks Artisan Australia, tackling the on-trade, the delights of Hunter Semillon and avoiding Turkey

What were the highs and lows for you and your business in 2016?

Highs included the Australia Day Tasting back in January. This was my first ADT since joining Wine Australia in February 2015. We set a new attendance record and feedback was excellent, with key trade figures asserting that Australia is more exciting than ever. We're busy preparing for ADT 2017, which is set to be even bigger in a new venue, and we hope to emulate the success of 2016.

Another high was partnering up with The World's 50 Best Restaurants 2017, which will be held in Melbourne in April. It's a big project, but is a fantastic opportunity to show off Australian wine - quality, diversity and versatility with food - to a global audience.

Lows [include] currency fluctuations and the uncertainty after Brexit and concerns among the trade that cheap Australian wine will flood the market.

What were the most significant things that happened or issues and trends that occurred in 2016?

We hosted a brand new event in September - The Artisans of Australia tasting - a very different style of event, held in a nightclub and focusing on a small number of artisan producers. The tasting showcased innovative and experimental winemaking, which more Australian producers are embracing.

There is growing interest and demand for premium. There have been numerous reports demonstrating that consumers are drinking less but better. This is what we're seeing. Australian wine exports are seeing strong growth and it is our finest wines that are most in demand - in the UK, exports priced between $5-$7.49 per litre FOB and $10 and more per litre FOB are up 38 per cent and 20 per cent respectively.

What trends do you predict for 2017?

Sparkling Australian wine from cool climate regions; alternative grape varieties in Australia, with growing interest in Italian and Spanish varieties. Looking at the ADT 2017 catalogue list, the diversity of wines and array of grape varieties is astounding.

Growing interest in the people and the story behind the product. Finding out about the people and the story, rather than having someone tell us that it is 'craft'.

What are likely to be the biggest opportunities for the trade in 2017?

For us, there's a lot of opportunity in the on-trade, despite the slight decline in volume sales. Fine dining restaurants are definitely taking an interest in new style Chardonnays and cool climate Pinot Noirs. Our challenge is to put more of these wines in front of sommeliers and work with them to increase their knowledge and inspire consumers to choose Australia.

The image of Shiraz and Chardonnay from Australia is still stuck in the big bold category. Whenever we do tastings with sommeliers, they are generally surprised and delighted by the change in styles of these two varieties over the last few years. 2017 will be an opportunity to further challenge and change perceptions.

What are the biggest challenges facing the trade in 2017?

Dealing with the uncertainty after Brexit. Despite this, we mustn't stop testing and learning, we must keep innovating. At Wine Australia, we're scaling up events, trying new approaches and new partnerships, and we're just about to launch a new website.

Who are the people, companies or retailers to watch in 2017?

For Wine Australia, we're watching Indigo and Les Caves de Pyrene. They continue to offer a fantastic, diverse range of quality wines and continue to innovate. Having worked with them at our recent Artisans of Australia tasting, I'm looking forward to seeing what they get up to in 2017.

It's also an exciting time for Australian wine at Virgin. They're seeing increased demand for premium Australian reds, with customers keen to trade up to boutique reds in the £15 - £20 category.

The WSET - it's not just the trade; more and more consumers are taking the qualifications. With more consumers developing their knowledge and passion for wine, this must have a positive impact on the wine industry as a whole.

What are you most looking forward to drinking over Christmas and New Year?

I have some older vintages of Hunter Valley Semillon, which we will pair with a variety of seafood and fish dishes - and avoid the turkey!

What would you like from Father Christmas?

I'm hoping for a couple of days of spa treatments to unwind.

If you were granted one wish for 2017, what would that be?

That more people drink fantastic Australian wine - there are so many styles, varieties and regions to discover.

And your New Year's resolution?

To make sure the team, including me, get out to more tastings to broaden our wine knowledge and network more.