(A version of this first appeared in October’s LattéLife Magazine. I’m reprinting it here as Hunter Valley Uncorked is on this weekend in Sydney)
How do you rebrand the oldest wine region in Australia? More to the point, why would you need to rebrand a region at all?
That’s a question that the wine (and tourism) producers of the Hunter Valley recently had to ask themselves, after market research revealed that the perception of this most celebrated location is of a somewhat outdated and old-fashioned region that is ‘out of touch with modern life’.
Now such a statement seems as a slap in the face for what is such a well loved piece of the Australian wine landscape. A surprise to for a destination that is second only to Sydney in it’s popularity (in raw tourist numbers) nationwide. Moreso, it came as really something of a surprise to anyone who has been to the Hunter recently, or enjoyed one of the region’s wines.
Personally, I think the Hunter Valley has never seemed as dynamic as it has in recent years, with a whole new generation of Hunter winemakers, restaurateurs and tourism operators serving to transport the Hunter from a museum piece to a genuine wine and food destination.
Yet how do you communicate that to a new generation of consumers, many of whom value new over old (or at least that’s the perception) and believe that the Hunter is simply a place to go for drunken hens parties?
For said Hunter producers/operators/businesses the answer has been to start again: To literally look at the Hunter Valley as a brand, a brand that might have a very solid reputation (particularly here in Sydney) yet one where perception remains one step behind reality.
The resultant rebranding process – that is now well under way – has meant a whole new approach to the way Hunter wine is ‘sold’, an approach that has seen winemakers embrace pop-up Sydney wine bars, a tweetup called #semsational that was focused purely on the glory of the new styles of Hunter Semillon and even some winemaker speed dating!
|Mike De Iuliis.
Needs a haircut in this photo.
Of course this process is hardly going to produce instantaneous results, and as fun as these events have seemed (to me at least) the public hasn’t always embraced them (with one #semsational function unfortunately cancelled due to lacklustre ticket sales). Yet that’s discounting one of the (not so) secret weapons of this rebranding exercise – wines that have never looked better. You only need to look at some recent wine show results to see how many awards that Hunter wines are taking out (including NSW Wine of the Year and World’s Best Semillon in the past few weeks alone).
Behind these new award winning wines too is a new generation of winemakers, including talented youngish names such as Andrew Thomas of Thomas Wines, Mike De Iuliis of De Iuliis wines, Sarah Crowe at Bimbadgen, Chris Tyrrell at Tyrrell’s and Sam Connew at Tower Estate.
Now whilst it is still going to take more time for the message to sink in, when you taste these wines and meet these makers you realise that the Hunter really is back baby! That beyond the Semillon and Shiraz, the history and the mini-buses, there lies one of the most unique wine regions in Australia.
To meet these Hunter winemakers and try their wines don’t miss Hunter Valley Uncorked at Balmoral on Sunday 6th November. More information at huntervalleyuncorked.com.au