Wednesday, February 20, 2013
The New South Wales wine conundrum
With such a meagre representation, and no obvious broad pick up in consumption of NSW wine in the past couple of years, does this mean that this NSW wine campaign is failing, or perhaps more disconcertingly that NSW wine on the whole just isn’t very good? To my mind it’s neither, but below are some thoughts on the conundrum of NSW wine and the efforts of those trying to promote it.
NSW is the least parochial state in Australia. We might fire up around State of Origin time, but otherwise we’re much more relaxed about all that sort of stuff when compared to the other states. It comes through in the wine choices people in Sydney and elsewhere in the state make. We’ll buy what we like, and there’s virtually no state based bias in this decision. So while people in NSW will likely appreciate the efforts that are being made by the NSW Wine Industry Association and others over the past couple of years to highlight the depth and breadth of wine here, they won’t drink or choose a wine just because it is from NSW. It has to be a wine they would want to drink regardless. Hopefully the continued campaign and events maintain the largely positive tone it has struck, and doesn’t lurch into parochial hectoring, as I think anything like this would be counter-productive.
I’m of the belief that the NSW Wine Festival and other events will have to be run for a decade to really bear fruit. Efforts over the past couple of years have undoubtedly raised awareness and attracted new consumers, but in the main wine drinkers would still associate the Barossa, the Yarra, the Margaret River etc. with quality wine more so than they do most NSW wine regions. These regions from other states have got the track record and identifiable wine styles that consumers can more readily and easily select from when in a bottleshop or restaurant. These elements however, are still evolving and yet to solidify for a number of NSW wine regions, at least from the consumers perspective. To build these positive and more concrete associations are undoubtedly what the NSW Wine Festival is about, but only a sustained effort over time will achieve this.
Every wine region benefits hugely from a great wine, a benchmark wine. Such a wine helps define a region’s identity, brings hype and interest, and perhaps serves as a guiding light for other winemakers. The issue with NSW wine as I see it, particularly when compared to other states, is the lack of iconic wine. The Hunter Valley certainly has wines such as the Tyrrell’s Vat 1 Semillon and the Brokenwood Graveyard Shiraz. The one other region that has emerged in line with the lionising of a benchmark wine is the Canberra district, and the wine of course is the Clonakilla Shiraz Viognier. It has become a perennial favourite of many wine critics in Australia, and no doubt this praise, along with the its popularity at the top-end of the market, has contributed in part to the emergence of other quality Canberra offerings and the broad success that the region has enjoyed in recent years. This is the only other region in NSW however, that can say this. When I think through the offerings of regions like the Hilltops, Mudgee, Orange, and Tumbarumba, I can think of many wines that I really like. Arguably a few wines that may become icons in time. But no one wine really stands out just yet. No one wine has really helped shape or define any of these regions identities. Campbell Mattinson, arguably Australia’s best wine writer, says that the Clonakilla Shiraz Viognier is the wine he looks forward to tasting the most each year. Is another critic saying something similar about the wines of these other regions? Not yet as far as I can see.
This of course is not a criticism. Becoming Orange’s or Mudgee’s Clonakilla will be no mean feat and it is not a given that it will happen, but I’ve no doubt that the emergence of a benchmark wine for any of these NSW wine regions would be a game changer.
Of course this is the thing that the people promoting the state's wine have the least control over. If it happens for any of these evolving NSW wine regions, then I’ve no doubt that 4% type representations on Sydney wine lists will quickly become a thing of the past. Until this happens, however, persistence and a long term approach to this NSW wine campaign will be necessary.