Waitrose ring the Australian wine changes

By Australian wine buyer, Alexandra Mawson

Australian wine buyer, Alexandra Mawson, hit the UK wine trade headlines recently when she revealed she was revamping its Australian wine selection.  She will be replacing 25 of Waitrose's Australian wines – almost 45% of their high-distribution offering across the core and fine Australian wine ranges - by mid-July.  Alexandra, who spent 4 years living and working in Australia, is determined to use her inspirational experiences of life in the country to introduce wine buyers at the UK's upmarket supermarket to something new and take them on a journey through Australia's wine regions.

We caught up with Alexandra and asked her about what Australian winemakers are doing to inspire her new range of wines, and how she sees the potential of Australian wine in the UK off-trade.

Waitrose: the UK's 'destination retailer' for Australian wine

The Drinks Business recently reported that Waitrose's sales of Australian wines were growing at 4% ahead of the wider wine market and that, as a company, they are now focusing on an ‘even more premium’ offering.

‘My aim is for us to become a destination retailer for Australian wine,’ said Alexandra. ‘I want to showcase some of the charismatic and talented winemakers and their appealing, vibrant, top-vale wines, many of which have never been sold in the UK before – certainly not in the off-trade – and are therefore exclusive to Waitrose’.

‘Living in Australia opened my eyes to the diversity of wines on offer. I could not believe the representation of regions from across the country and the range of grape varieties and styles produced. It staggered me back then and knowing that this variation continues to grow is exciting.’

Defining a new era in Australian wine

The new wave of Australian wines, as heralded by the likes of Jancis Robinson, is a theme that is hard to define. Fresher, less-oaked Chardonnays seem to be the current preference, but many customers still want what, ‘drew them to the category in the first place’ and Alexandra talks of fruit-driven wines which are ‘bright, pure and instantly charming in the glass’.  She went on to say that, ‘Within this framework, new varieties should be explored and celebrated. Quality always triumphs; if the wines deliver, the customers will come’.

Australia's enviable position

Australia remains the number one category in the UK off-trade, with a loyal following of wine consumers. But it’s not just the big brands that are attracting attention to the Australian category as Alexandra explains.  ‘Australian wine is an enviably unique category which can offer the UK customer a well-loved branded wine, which has often inspired loyalty for years and known to deliver quality, as well as something more niche.’

Alexandra: a woman on an Australian wine mission 

When Alexandra returned to the UK she was disappointed by the lack of personality and regionality on the shelves of the leading wine retailers and was left feeling that Australia's wines were not be adequately represented.

‘I was disappointed that the UK supermarket customer was not receiving the true potential of what I know can be found,’ she says. 'At Waitrose injecting regionalty and personality into the shelf fixture has been my key aim. I want to take Waitrose customers on a journey through Australia’s regions, giving them ‘classic' varietal styles so they can begin to gain knowledge of Australia as a place.  I hope that new wines from McLaren ValeCoonawarra, Orange, Wrattonbully, Adelaide HillsTasmania and Yarra Valley among others will start to engender this aspiration.’

Australian wine: the future's premium

According to the Australian Grape Wine Authority's (AGWA) figures, 2015 saw a rise in demand for premium Australian wine with wines above Aus$7.50 having a value share of 27%, despite only having 5% of the total export volume.  This is reflective of a general trend within the Australian wine market for more premium wines as consumers become more educated and more curious as to what Australian wine can offer them.  As Alexandra puts it, ‘Australia is still the most shopped UK wine category; we already know that customers love it. I hope that introducing my personal passion for the wines and the people behind them will further add to its popularity and I am excited to see the reaction and feedback.'

That Waitrose is taking such an interest in Australian wine is at once telling and exciting.  Waitrose have a well-deserved reputation for listing an impressive range of quality wines that give their customers something new and which can lead them to new discoveries. Their new flight of Australian wines sees them continue this fine tradition and will doubtless lead to even greater interest in the Australian wine story.

Alexandra Mawson: wine buyer - New Zealand, Australia, US and Rosé

This year Alexandra is celebrating her 10th year in the wine industry.  Having returned home to Britain after spending 4 years in the wine trade in Australia, she was thrilled to join the award-winning wine buying team at Waitrose.  Alexandra says she looks forward to delving into the exciting regions in her categories and bringing new and interesting wines to Waitrose customers.



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