Australian wine in the United States: Setting the scene
Australian wine has been enjoying a period of recovery in the United States in recent years. As Wine Australia’s export report of September 2016 clearly showed, a small decline in U.S.’ import volumes was offset by an increase in value – a shift towards rebalancing Australia’s fine wine offering in the U.S. for a sustainable future in a highly competitive market.
Australia remains the second-largest exporter of wine to the U.S., but less than 10% of that volume sells for above $10 AUD per litre. This, coupled with a relatively small brand set (roughly 500 brands: just ahead of Chile but well behind Argentina and only 1/3 as many as Spain), means you could say that Australian wine is still an emerging category in the U.S.
As in the rest of the world, perceptions of Australian wine in the U.S. are changing, and changing fast. Memories of the once so popular ‘sunshine in a bottle’ Chardonnay and Shiraz are fading and American wine lovers are getting to know and love the ‘new’ face of Australian wine; one that is based on premium wines that favour balance and elegance over power.
To get an insider’s view on the Australian wine scene in the U.S. we asked Kate Webber, Wine Director for the Webber Restaurant Group in Massachusetts, to give us her assessment. And as you’ll see, Australian wine is cool once more…
Australian Wine: Cool climate, cool wines
It’s an exciting time for Australian wine in the United States. With a diverse offering of wines on the rise, now is the time to explore all fine Australian wine has to offer. From wine regions, to grape varieties and winemaking practices, there is so much to discover. While some producers continue to experiment with innovative varieties and modern winemaking techniques, others have decided to focus on what they believe is best for their land and climate. Such is the story in the Yarra Valley and Mornington Peninsula where Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are claiming their rightful places on the international stage.
What makes Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from these regions so successful is the cool climate, and what we’re also hearing more and more from the artisans behind them are words like ‘single vineyard’. ‘Wild ferment’. ‘Whole bunch’. ‘Unfiltered’. These techniques are producing Pinot Noirs with bright acidity and deft restraint which earned Australia a place as the featured country in Oregon’s 2016 International Pinot Noir Conference, and Chardonnays that are lean and elegantly structured.
Yarra Valley’s rolling hills, cool temperatures, altitudes up to 1,300 feet, and pockets of different climates leads to wines with varying layers and textures. At Giant Steps, Phil Sexton and Steve Flamsteed use vineyards at different altitudes to create their strikingly flinty and spiced 2015 Yarra Valley Chardonnay. Mac Forbes, known as one of the most exciting winemakers in Australia, travels all over Victoria matching soil and elevation with variety and clone - his 2015 Yarra Valley Pinot Noir is linear and focused, backed with nervy tannins. Similarly, Timo Mayer has created a masterpiece in his savory Dr. Mayer Pinot Noir made from 100% whole cluster grapes from vines planted 75cm apart. All of these wines are strikingly pale, and this is intentional: these winemakers are not looking for extraction or weight, but rather backbone and a dialogue between the wine and the vineyard.
Just 55 miles south of Yarra Valley, Mornington Peninsula juts into Port Philip Bay, and is only 12.5 miles wide. The temperature here is moderated by the Bay winds and the Bass Strait, creating low vine stress, sunshine throughout the summer, and a soft autumn. The result is wines with perfectly ripe fruit balanced with naturally high acidity. This is exhibited beautifully in the stunning 2015 Stonier Reserve Chardonnay, tart and minerally with glowing citrus and a delightfully long finish. The 2015 Kooyong Estate Chardonnay follows suit with more weight on the palate but the same hint of tension that rings throughout. Meanwhile, Moorooduc Estate’s emphasis is on gentle fruit handling and natural wine making methods, leading to wines such as the stunning 2013 Moorooduc Estate Pinot Noir.
These wines from Yarra Valley and Mornington Peninsula are just a small taste of the exciting offerings coming to the U.S. from Australia’s diverse wine regions. As the category grows, so too does the opportunity for discovery of the wines, regions, and styles of Australia’s fine wines. Taste them, buy them, share them, and explore the fine wines and modern face of Australia today.
Australian wine in the United States: Second time around…
There’s genuine and growing excitement in the United States for Australian wine – something that can only be a good thing for all concerned. The U.S. has always been an ultra-competitive wine market, and for Australian wine to continue its ascendancy will take work and patience. As Kathy Marlin, Managing Director of Negociants USA told Wine Australia recently, wineries need to, ‘Know where you want to be in the USA in the long-term…. If you want to have a sustainable and equitable brand for the long-term, make sure to keep that in view. We need brands that are more than just a passing trend to rebuild the category.’
Such an approach should come easily for many of the players in Australian wine who have experienced the highs and lows of the U.S. market and are now looking to build sustainable, long-term presences. As new regions and wineries enter the U.S. market, together they paint a picture of the diversity of Australian wines, regions, and styles. That is the message that trade and consumers in the U.S. are rallying behind as they continue to discover the many faces of Australian wine today.
It will be fascinating to see how Australian wine’s renaissance plays out in the United States. We’ll be sure to keep you posted…
Kate Webber is the wine director for the Webber Restaurant Group in Massachusetts, www.webberrestaurantgroup.com
This information is presented in good faith and on the basis that Wine Australia, nor their agents or employees, are liable (whether by reason of error, omission, negligence, lack of care or otherwise) to any person for any damage or loss whatsoever which has occurred or may occur in relation to that person taking or not taking (as the case may be) action in respect of any statement, information or advice given via this channel.