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Oz wines get better and better

Published:  23 July, 2008

by christian davis

BRL HARDY red winemaker, Stephen Pannell is predicting a significant uplift in both quality and value-for-money for Australian wines from the 2000 vintage. Last year's Wine Challenge "Red Winemaker of the Year" told Harpers that the good harvest means that, while base prices for fruit went down - which inevitably will mean that there will be some very cheap Australian wines - the larger quantities have allowed blenders to be more selective on quality and BRL now pays growers a bonus depending on which brands their fruit is allocated to. The greater quantities will allow Hardy to further develop export markets such as Asia and Germany while also allowing the company to concentrate on the premium end of the US market. For the UK the company, which is based in Esher, Surrey, is investing 500,000 on a national advertising campaign for Banrock Station targeted at seven million people, while starting to roll out its roster of premium wines. Pannell has been in France for three weeks studying the French concept of "terroir" and seeing how it applies to the move by the major Australian wine companies to embrace "regionality". "Burgundy is probably the ideal model for terroir', yet the closest to our blending is Champagne, which is the most successful region in France financially. In Bordeaux, it is not so much the place as the person who is making the wine. The place is secondary." Pannell said Australia was still in its infancy when it comes to finding out which grape varieties are most suitable to the various climates and which "bits of dirt" could produce the equivalent of grand cru. "The French have been at it for hundreds of years whereas Australia has only been producing Chardonnay since the mid-70s - 25 years." Pannell sees lots of potential for varieties such as Barbera, Tempranillo, Sangiovese and Pinot Noir. Asked what is definitely Australian, Pannell said: "Shiraz, that is definitively an Australian style and everyone wants Shiraz". BRL Hardy is investing heavily in wineries in the different regions. It has approximately 11 and will soon have 15. Brett Fleming of BRL Hardy Europe, sees the next challenge for the company as promoting its premium end wines. "We believe our wines are as good, if not better, than some of the so-called premium, super-premium and ultra-premium wines around. Because of our strengths in the sub 6-7 sector, the perception is that our premium wines are not as good," he said. He said that its Eileen Hardy and E &E Black Pepper have frequently been voted ahead of Southcorp's legendary Penfolds Grange. John Duval, Penfolds' chief winemaker is the International Wine Challenge's Red Winemaker of the Year (see next week's