The dynamically evolving, most thrilling wine producing country in the world

The now and the future of Australia
5 minutes

There is no question that Japan is an economic heavy-weight. Japan is the third-largest economy in the world, worth almost US$5 trillion in 2013, and Australia’s second-largest export market. Two-way trade between Japan and Australia stood at $70.8 billion in 2013, more than ten percent of Australia’s total trade. Japan is an important and highly complementary trading partner for Australia.

Drilling down to Australian wine exports to Japan there is a clear trend towards premiumisation of Australian wine in the market. Australian wine exports at $10 per litre FOB and above have been growing steadily, increasing by around $1 million every year since 2013.

Our latest story, a translation of a piece by esteemed Japanese wine journalist Makiko Morita, that looks at Australian wines in the Japanese market. Makiko recently attended our ‘New Australia’ masterclass in Tokyo and saw first hand how perceptions of Australian wine are being challenged for key influencers in tha Japanese trade. Makiko believes there is great potential for the “New Australia” in Japan, encouraging others to leave the past behind to join her on a new journey of Australian wine discovery.

Like a rollercoaster ride

“It was just like a rollercoaster ride.” One of my friends said rather excitedly after attending the “New Australia” Masterclass by Kenichi ‘Ken’ Ohashi MW, sponsored by Wine Australia in May, at CLASKA in Meguro, Tokyo. My friend is a wine marketing director of a major brewery which imports and distributes Australian wines.  In his company, consistent quality (and style) is very important; therefore, the wine selection by the authorities of ‘modern’ Australian wine must have been pleasantly shocking.

The tasting started with Jauma’s Pet Nat, which Ken admired as “the pinnacle of natural wines”, followed by Swinging Bridge #003, an orange wine from co-fermented aromatic varieties; Mayer, a refined, whole-bunch Cabernet Sauvignon from Yarra Valley; Big Cats by Jilly, a blend of Portuguese varieties from a cool climate region, then rustic Express Winemaker Tempranillo. The line-up was certainly expressing the sense of dynamically evolving Australian Wines. The exciting, rollercoaster-like ride also took us to what Ken praised as “the finest Australian Chardonnay” made by Virginia Willcock at Vasse Felix in Margaret River, then safely landed at Rockford Shiraz, a classic example of Barossa Shiraz.

Punk and Rock, Pop and Funk, Classic yet Hip-Hop!

Last winter Ken visited Australia with the invitation of Wine Australia for the first time in 18 months. “I was surprised that Australian wines had made such a dramatic transformation,” he said, looking back at the visit of the featured wine regions, influential restaurants and retailers and interviews with Australia’s Master Sommeliers and Masters of Wines. Hiroshi Ishida, Japan’s leading sommelier also said “There is no other wine producing country like Australia, which is never afraid of changes. Australia is the most dynamic and diverse wine producing country.” His eyes shone.

The United States, another “New World “country, in which new trends are born one after another still seems under the spell of France. Compared to that Australia looks completely free range. Not so many people believe Australian wines are too rich and heavy any longer. According to Ken, Australia is actually “the country that produces the lightest Chardonnay in the world.” In addition to biodynamic and orange wines, “Grizz Fizz” gluggable Pet Nat is also a trend.

In Australia, producers with different backgrounds are aiming for “wines that only I can make” without being restrained by traditions or law, nor concerning about competition or Mr Parker’s reviews. This is such a pleasure, almost like borderless music. There’s the punk that destroys stereotype, the rock full of rebellion, the exciting pop and rather sexy funk. There is also the classic that interprets the tradition freely, as well as hip-hop that takes anything fun.  

In this masterclass, the part which I found most stimulating is ‘Pushing the Envelope’, which talked about the innovative winemakers who defy stereotype and keep challenging from varietal composition, winemaking to packaging. I myself visited Australia two years ago and still remember one winemaker who said, ‘We all used to use oak; after a while, no one used oak; but now everyone is pursuing his or her own philosophy.’ To me, Australia is the ‘third wave’ of wine. Once you know the excitement and joy of Australian wine, you can’t turn back!

Dynamic evolution in the world of wine that the Japanese should know

Australian wines in the Japanese market are steadily growing with the Economic Partnership Agreement between Japan and Australia as the tail wind. Although the age of cask wines ended long ago in Australia and now it has shifted to the age of middle to high price range, the dynamic evolution of Australian wine has not yet been transmitted to the Japan market, which is still strongly oriented to traditional countries.

Japan is regarded as a mature market for the wine, and it was low-priced wines especially from Chile that led the "seventh wine boom" in Japan. Japan is Australia’s ninth largest wine export market, accounting for over $45 million in value in 2016.

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