Australian Chardonnay has enjoyed the sector’s highs and weathered its lows with resilience, and it continues to hold a special place among Australian wine lovers. It remains Australia’s top white variety and is second overall behind Shiraz.
In 2018, 408,000 tonnes of Chardonnay were crushed across Australia, which made up 47 per cent of the total white winegrape crush. The second largest white variety was Sauvignon Blanc with 93,000 tonnes followed by Pinot Gris/Grigio with 76,000 tonnes.
Chardonnay thrives in a diverse range of climates across Australia. The three big inland wine regions of Riverland, Murray Darling–Swan Hill and Riverina accounted for more than 80 per cent of the Chardonnay tonnes and 60 per cent of the total value in 2018.
It is also grown in most cooler climate regions; from the classic richer styles of the Hunter Valley, to the cool crispness of the Yarra Valley, Adelaide Hills and Tasmania, to regions like Margaret River and Mornington Peninsula that play firmly between the two styles. It is also a significant component of classic sparkling wines. It is ideally suited to Australia where the taste is a remarkable reflection of the place in which its grown.
Australian Chardonnay exports on the rise
The volume of Chardonnay still table wine exported from Australia has been on the rise, from 149 million litres in 2011 to 185 million litres in 2018 (see Figure 1). The United Kingdom (UK) and the United States of America (USA) are the 2 biggest destinations, with each taking in more than 60 million litres of Australian Chardonnay in 2018.
Figure 1: Total volume of Australian Chardonnay still table wine exported (million litres)
Chardonnay is the second biggest selling wine in the UK behind Sauvignon Blanc and is Australia’s biggest selling wine in the market ahead of Shiraz. According to IRI Worldwide, in 2018, the sales of Australian Chardonnay in the UK off-trade market increased by 4 per cent in value. More than 90 per cent of Australian Chardonnay is sold at under £7 per bottle and sales increased by 4 per cent. The strongest rate of growth for Australian Chardonnay came at £9 or more per bottle, up 35 per cent, but only 0.4 per cent of total Australian Chardonnay sales were in this price segment.
In the USA, Chardonnay is the second biggest selling wine behind Cabernet Sauvignon and is Australia’s number one wine ahead of Cabernet Sauvignon. In the 12 months ended March 2019, sales of Australian Chardonnay in the US off-trade increased by 8 per cent in value, with the strongest growth rates coming at US$15 per bottle and above, albeit off a relatively small base (0.1 per cent share of Australian Chardonnay sales). Ninety-five per cent of Australian Chardonnay sales in the USA are at US$4.00–7.99 per bottle and sales increased by 5 per cent in the price segment.
Australian Chardonnay commanding a premium in the domestic market
According to IRI Worldwide, the value of Chardonnay sales in the Australian off-trade market was flat in 2018. Chardonnay is the second biggest selling white table wine behind Sauvignon Blanc. However, Chardonnay outsells Sauvignon Blanc at A$20 or more per bottle ($48 million in sales versus $37 million). The value of Chardonnay sales grew by 10 per cent at A$20.00–29.99 and by 8 per cent at A$30.00–49.99 per bottle. In contrast, Sauvignon Blanc sales grew by 4 per cent at A$20.00–29.99 but declined by 4 per cent at A$30.00–49.99.
An analysis of online wine offers in Australia illustrates the status of Chardonnay as a premium and sought-after variety, with around four times the number of listings as Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Gris/Grigio and more than double the average list price. The highest price for any Australian Pinot Gris/Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc was found to be between $30 and $40 per bottle, whereas for still Chardonnay the highest price was $189.99 and 15 per cent of listings were over $100 per bottle. The only variety to come close was Semillon, with 25 per cent of listings over $100 per bottle and an average listing price around $10 higher than for Chardonnay (but far fewer products).