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Henschke manages fire woes while bolstered China and Armenia get a look in at Liberty tasting

Published:  15 January, 2020

Liberty Wines returned to The Oval for its annual shebang yesterday with a number of new stars to brighten up what turned out to be an exceptionally dismal afternoon weather-wise.

The tasting is always held in January, when the London-based supplier shows its wares for some of its 3,200 customers across the UK’s premium on and off-trade.

Among the star exhibitors were Adelaide producer and Liberty newcomer, Henschke, which joined at the very start of the year from Enotria, boosting Liberty’s Aussie portfolio by around ten new wines.

The Henschke wines are examples of what Liberty MD David Gleave calls a growing number of ‘esoteric’ addtions to the portfolio over the past year or so, with wines from China’s Kanaan Winery and Armenia’s Zorah following suit.

The weather was particuarly stark given that Henschke was in attendance. The producer has overcome a trying couple of months due to the devastating fires which have been ravaging Australia since September, leaving New South Wales and Victoria worst affected. Since spreading to Adelaide in December however, the Adelaide Hills, Eden Valley and Barossa producer has had to contend with high winds fanning the flames into the area, with the Hills the most affected. 

“Of course, it’s nothing compared to the number of houses and animals that have been lost," said winemaker Johann Henschke, who was attendance yesterday. "But 90% of the our vineyards in Cudlee Creek were destroyed. That’s all of our crop from that part of the Hills for 2020 gone and we’re still calculating the cost of long term damage. Climate change in action,” he said.

As firefighters continue to battle the flames and communities come to terms with the losses, Gleave turned to the future of Australian wine here in the UK.

“Oz is often viewed as one country. We don’t do that with Italy, France or Spain. So we need to be saying, ‘Oz is very different’. Even in the Eden Valley, there’s so much diversity. There are a lot of younger consumers and a new generation of somms and wine buyers that are viewing Australia in a new light. They’re not looking for big, bold reds. Tempranillo white blends, Grenache – that’s exciting,” he said.

Gleave counts regional Oz as some of the more ‘esoteric’ wines that have helped to boost engagement and interest over past couple of years and that have led to a number of niche wines being added to Liberty’s list.

These include a Riesling from Kanaan Winery in Ningxia and Vayots Dzor's Zorah, which is due to launch its Heritage range in the UK via Liberty in the next few months.

Leave added: “Armenia shouldn’t be esoteric. Along with Georgia, it’s the cradle of the vine and one of the oldest places for wine in thew world. There are so many varieties that can only be found in that region. But it requires a hand sell and telling that story. We all love a narrative.”

While Australia is being given a boost via the listing, France now represents the biggest number of wines at the supplier for the second year in a row thanks to last year’s additions.

Italy remains the breadwinner in terms of sales.

As Liberty continues to expand its stall however, there is a notable absence of some more experimental or ‘niche’ categories in the sector – particularly low and no.

This has been a conscious choice, says Gleave.

“Yes, we get asked for low and no and CBD,” Gleave said. “But our philosophy, whether entry level or not, is to focus on particular areas and express the best of those areas. The low and no products on the market are usually made by removing something, either by spinning cone technology or reverse osmosis. It just doesn’t fit.

“If you look at the on-trade as a whole, it’s lost 44 million bottles in past five years, whereas our sales have grown dramatically in that time. That’s us focusing on what we do well and not trying to be all things to all people”.







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