In the old world of wine, regionality is everything – it is the style of the wine, the varieties used, the outlook of the producers, the crucible holding centuries of tradition together. Customers roughly know what they are paying for when they put their hand in their wallet for a Chianti, Burgundy or Rioja – a large degree of trust has been built through decades and even centuries of wineries in each region pumping out relatively consistent styles of wine using roughly the same varieties vintage after vintage.
In contrast, The New World upstarts have been breaking unwritten wine rules from the very beginning and regionality is no exception. Whilst each Aussie wine region has a reputation of making a certain varietal or blend better than others, wineries do not limit themselves (and are not limited by appellation laws) to only a handful of styles. The opportunities are endless and in the pursuit of commercial success (‘they more different wines you make the more chance of sales’ mentality), the urge to let a winemaker’s creative juices run free and often just to ward off boredom and to try something new, wineries big and small end up with a large stable of wines with styles and blends unsuited to the style of winery and reputation of the region. The wines might be good and offer value for money – but is producing this endless stream of non regional wines a self destructing habit wineries need to get out of?
Lets skip to the other end of the sales chain: a distributor’s sales force is armed with a portfolio of wines from all around the country, a mid size distributor might represent 2o wineries and 200 wines. Given each state has plenty of these distributors on the road, your average retailer and restaurateur might have an ongoing choice of over 3,500 wines in price catalogues sitting in their desk drawer. Putting together a new wine list involves balancing customer needs, food matching and price levels, never an easy task. The staples that will go on the list are regional wines at the right prices – Margaret River SSB, Marlbourough SB, Barossa Shiraz, Yarra Pinot etc etc, with relatively little or no space for that Coonawarra Sauvignon Blanc, Barossa Valley SSB, Margaret River Merlot or Yarra Valley Verdelho. Yes, those wines might be excellent, yes they might offer excellent value for money but unfortunately, yes, the average customer will overlook them because the region and variety/blend does not endear trust.
Every distributor in the country will have wines in their portfolio which can only be classified as dogs, practically unsellable and a lingering issue of discontent between the distributor and the winery. Take it as fact: 9 out of 10 of these wines will suffer from lack of regionality, be a variety or blend with next to no consumer demand or be stupidly overpriced. Price can be changed, styles with little inherent demand are niche products that will always struggle but offer a point of interest/difference to both wineries and distributors; lack of regionality is simply a winemaking blunder, a wine produced for the wrong reasons.
Wine Australia has been advocating ‘Regional Heroes’ for some time now but it seems the message has not sunk in. Perhaps the need to reduce Australia’s wine production is the perfect time to weed out those non regional wines. Somehow I doubt it, especially with the unceasing Sav Blanc demand lighting up winemakers eyes. Shame though, it would be nice to reduce the number of dogs sitting in distributor’s warehouses.