|Knee deep in A+ Australian wine|
They're questions that Australia's wine industry 'statutory body' - Wine Australia - has had to ponder recently, driven by domestic consumption figures which reveal that Australians are increasingly turning to imported (particularly from NZ) wines over locally made examples. Wine Australia has particularly had to answer these questions as they're funded by Australian winemakers themselves, so the heat has come from what is effectively their own membership...
One of the (possible) answers to such questions is officially underway now, coming in the form of a month of Australian wine events known as the A+ Australian Wine Celebration. This nationwide Australian vino month includes over 100 wine themed functions being held all around the country (though not in Queensland I noticed. Sorry Queensland) during April, with the whole shebang kicked off in serious style (with 150+ wines, poured largely by the winemakers, from 25 wine regions) at a giant launch party/tasting at Sydney's Ivy ballroom last week.
As usual I took one for the team and attended the launch celebration, largely to taste the wines and eat cheese (both of which were rather good. A+ cheese indeed) but also to understand how the gig itself had come to be.
What I found was actually a rather well run evening (putting the A+ program itself aside for a second) that cleverly used symbiotic relationships to achieve success. A sold-out event that, whilst it was billed as a Wine Australia event, was also a Gourmet Traveller Wine event and a Merivale event. An event that cleverly leveraged relationships to make things run smoothly, bringing almost 700 wine drinkers together to taste many of Australia's finest wines with the makers themselves.
Breaking it down further, the impressive scope of this whole launch party actually started within the walls of the office of Gourmet Traveller Wine editor Judy Sarris via a meeting between Sarris and (recently appointed) Wine Australia Australian Regional Director Aaron Brasher. At this meeting, Brasher and Sarris realised that the event could be beneficial for both parties - Gourmet Traveller Wine could help with promotion and coverage (as well as providing goodie bags) and Wine Australia could provide a cost effective way for the magazine to engage with a highly targeted, wine loving audience. Win-win scenario.
It didn't stop there however, with the pair (I say pair, but obviously they were backed by their respective organisations) then using their connections with Merivale to get Franck Moreau on board (who is the Merivale Group Sommelier). Fortuitously, Franck was already looking to stage a large wine fair as part of the 'March into Merivale' program of events, so the idea of making this a marquee Australian-only wine event, backed by Wine Australia, seemed a rather fine opportunity indeed.
The benefit of having Franck also on board the project was two-fold - the working party thus had access to some of the finest venues and event staff that NSW (and perhaps Australia) has to offer, as well as having an opportunity to tap into the marketing support and database of well heeled drinkers that Merivale has to it's name. Throw in the support of Riedel glassware - whom gave each attendee a fine Riedel stem to take home - as well and you've got yourself the beginnings of a top event.
To cap off all of this group-hugging action, Franck also helped out with the invited wineries too, drawing up a shortlist of top class producers that he then leaned on to make sure they attended, pushing winery principals to turn up themselves (rather than just sending a rep or underling). The net result was impressive to say the least - in one line of Victorian producers alone you had Julian Castagna pouring his Castagna Syrah, alongside Keppell Smith splashing out generous samples of his (firm and intense) 2009 Pinot Noir, just up from Mac Forbes giving (slightly smaller pours) of his rather beautiful 2010 Woori Yallock Pinot Noir. It was winemaker spotting of the highest calibre, of a magnitude not often seen in one place (and great to see).
|A few early A+ tasters. That's Jeffrey Grosset talking Riesling on the right, then (right to left) Aaron Brasher,|
Dan Coward, Louise Radman and Katrina Holden
Suffice to say that for the attendees themselves this was well worth the $25 entry price. Hell the glass alone would have been worth that, not to mention the magazine, voucher to the Ivy bottle shop (another crafty Franck inclusion) and the mountains of fine cheese on offer. It was a winning formula indeed, evidenced by how quickly the night sold out and also for the generally frenetic level of activity within the ballroom post 6pm kickoff time. Grand wine celebration for sure (even if it was a little too jam packed for my tastes).
The level of success that an event like this can achieve though also begs the question - can this A+ Australian Wine Celebration be a success in long term? Is it via these boozy winefests that people might rediscover that there is more to white wine than just Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc? And is it really the answer to the aforementioned questions about the best way to market Australian wine to Australians?
What do you think?
A few highlights from the night
Curly Flat Chardonnay and Pinot Noir 2009 - Perhaps the finest Curly Flat Pinot since the 2006 vintage (and cast in a similar juicy and round mould). Phillip Moraghan believes that the 2010 (and potentially the 2012) will be better again. I'd still get into this luscious and intense Pinot regardless. The Chardonnay is perhaps even more impressive and may well be the best in the line to date. Buy with confidence.
Tyrrells Vat 1 Semillon 2005 - I've banged on about this wine before and again it looked glorious here. A ripe year Vat 1 for sure but that just means more power and weight. Please pass the soft shelled crab. Wonderful stuff. Australia's Grand Cru Chablis.
Xabregas Artisan Syrah 2009 - I'm not always the biggest fan of Great Southern Shiraz but this was pretty clever. Medium bodied, savoury style cast in a medium bodied yet rich and generous style. Northern Rhone-ish aromatics but with that dark black olive and blackberry Great Southern fruit on the palate. Big fan.
Postscript: In retrospect I also need to ask another question about the nature of these events - is it appropriate that a government-tied wine industry body pushes events that have such a commercial leaning? Does it not promote at least a minor notion of bias? I'm just playing devils advocate here but it's probably a question worth posing too.