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Paul Schaafsma attacks Wine Australia's "flawed" strategy

Published:  22 October, 2010

Paul Schaafsma, Australian Vintage's general manager for UK and Europe speaks out against Wine Australia's export strategy and calls for a change in direction following Paul Henry's resignation as general manager for market development at Australian Wine & Brandy Corporation.

Schaafsma in this week's Harpers Wine & Spirit said:
"It's been well documented that Australian Vintage has been somewhat at odds with the recent Wine Australia strategy in the UK. My argument has always been, and remains, that Australia needs a balanced, considered approach in order to continue to be the number 1 country by volume and value in the UK market.

"What I'd like to see is all encompassing strategy that not only pushes Australia's regional credentials, but also takes into account our more commercially minded offer.

"After all, 92.6% of all Australian wine sold in the UK is sold below £6, so for Wine Australia to be allocating the majority of its budget to regional wines over and above £7 or £8 seems, from my point of view, to be slightly flawed.

"Australia has forged its reputation on delivering wines with flavour, appropriateness and consistency at highly competitive price points - so why ignore a key part of our success because its no longer considered 'sexy' by the powers that be.

"We need to remember that wine is a drink for many consumers - we want to show we are good value, still appropriate and on trend.

"Australian wine needs to communicate the innovation in the industry, the excitement - our McGuigan Semillon Blanc is a prime example of a product at the commercial level that is wowing the UK consumer. We've sold nearly 15,000 cases through Tesco in the first eight weeks since launch - we need more of this type of approach to remain relevant, fresh and enticing to the UK consumer.

"The UK consumer doesn't necessarily need to know about regionality, it's about style, how we've changed our wines to be more elegant, restrained and sophisticated. It's about our ethos, our culture - I think we've become a bit stuffy and taken the enjoyment out of Australian wine.

"The interesting fact in my whole argument is that no other Australian producer would benefit more from a 'regionality only approach' than Australian Vintage. We have vineyards in the most premium regions throughout Australia producing top end wines. We were IWC White Winemaker of the Year in 2009, and our premium portfolio has been awarded numerous trophies and gold medals at all major wine competitions in the UK.

"Majestic lists our Handmade Langhorne Creek Shiraz at £20, as well as our award wining Shortlist range. We, more than any other large Australian producer, have the wines to play at the top end, but lets not forget the bread and butter, the reason we are here in the first place, the sub £6 category.

"Focusing on wine at about £7 to £8 and above in terms of regional wines is to be applauded if its part of a plan, but not if its the only plan.

"So where to from here?

"Wine Australia's new recruit needs to understand all segments of the UK market, and represent all producers large and small - not just throw its weight behind small scale boutique producers.

"We need leadership and to put the personality back into Australian wine. We need someone that will recognize that Australia needs a balanced approach to what it presents to the consumer, and a strategy that emphasizes the positive aspects of Australian wine at all levels.

"Appoint someone with real horsepower and grass roots knowledge of the industry, someone with energy and a fresh approach that will put Wine Australia firmly back on track.

"I'd also like to lobby for producer involvement. There used to be an advisory council of large and small producers in the UK, who would talk to Wine Australia about what needed to be done. Why don't they ask us what's important to us rather than telling us? Its not rocket science after all."