by Ashley Ratcliff, AAVWS President, Director of Ricca Terra Farms and 2015 Viticulturist of the Year
This year I have travelled twice to the USA to showcase our wines. This somewhat daunting challenge has opened my eyes to a market that seems to be wanting more from Australia. Let’s face it, we are known for Shiraz. We have also been known for ‘critter’ wines (which still exist but fortunately they are heading for extinction). But what we are not known for, well not yet, is the array of alternative grape varieties & wine that are emerging from our country. The best ideas require significant change. They fly in the face of the status quo! To make change someone needs to move first.
Twenty years ago the Australian Alternative Varieties Wine Show started a movement. At the height of the Australian wine boom, a small group of individuals made the first move and challenged the norm. They planted grape varieties that were widely unknown among grape growers and winemakers. A very brave move considering the greatest challenge was convincing the consumer that these new grape varieties were an important chapter in the future of wine. You can’t fake it! You need some talent to be successful. There is significant patience (there is no such thing as overnight success). One has to have the guts to be quirky (looking and being the same will drown you in the crowd). For me this is the DNA is all of us who have and will continue to be ambassadors of change for Australian wine. There is a special trait in those people who believe in alternative grape varieties. They seek true fans and avoid the masses. Those who grow, make & sell alternative grape varieties & wine choose customers who want to hear genuine and interesting stories, love our wine and seek to be a part of an evolution. What does all this mean and why is it so important! Well, there are a growing group of consumers in the USA that are seeking more from Australian wine. Whether that be alternative grape varieties, natural or low alcohol wines, there is a greater expectation of us as a country to be more than Shiraz. Our wines must come with stories. Stories of innovation. Stories about places. Fun stories. And of course, stories that resinate with Australia. Most importantly, the stories need to come from real people.
The number of times during my travels in the USA I was told ‘these are not Australian wines’ after showing a white field blend that consisted of Fiano, Vermentino, Greco and Arinto was almost countless. While this in some ways are concerning comments as an Australian, the flip side was these wines were opening doors to restaurants, sommeliers and boutique bottle shops that would have possibly given me a wide birth if my offering were stereotypical Australian wines. I am no expert on the American wine trade. My experiences are limited to a few trips and visiting a handful of states. But what I do know is the Americans love Australians & they love good wine. Unfortunately, many view Australia as making a particular style of wine, using a particular grape variety, that falls within a certain price range. Problem, maybe. Opportunity, certainly. My synopsis is, those involved with growing, making and selling wines made from alternative grape varieties have been granted a gift from those who challenged the status quo twenty years ago.
We all now have an amazing opportunity to feed a potential consumer demand for a new Australian offering. I can’t think of a better positioned group of wine produced to meet this demand than those associated with the Australian Alternative Varieties Wine Show. The Star & Stripes are waiting.