THE FOLLOWING ARTICLE by Tom Marquardt and Patrick Darr was published on on 4 December 2013. They spoke to Wine Australia’s North America regional director Angela Slade who recently polled distributors to learn more about Australia’s wine image.

The Australian wine industry certainly has had its ups and downs.

There was a time — not really that long ago — when it couldn’t miss.

Everyone was touting its jammy Shiraz, then its oaky Chardonnays and finally its clever wines named after some cute critter known only to Australians.

Sales were going so well that there was a new label born every week and pasted on wines made from garages.

It was as if a marketing genius was coming up with some new fad to keep the industry going.

The boom was not because Australians were drinking more wine but that people in other countries were taking to the land Down Under.

Between 1990 and 2004, the value of Australian exports went from $180 million to $2.7 billion, according to a 2012 report by Australia’s Alcohol Research and Education organisation.

The number of producers doubled and the amount of wine produced quadrupled.

It didn’t take long for supply to outstrip demand.

By the end of 2009, Australian wine producers were dealing with a serious glut of unsold inventories of their wine.

To rebalance supply, a lot of wine was dumped and vineyard acreage was slowly reduced through government incentive programs.

Although Australian officials argue the glut is over, retailers and distributors say Australian wine is not moving fast enough to clear their shelves.

It’s not time for another marketing gimmick. It’s time for Australian producers — all of them — to make better wine.

Angela Slade, North America’s regional director for Wine Australia said the dilemma is more complex than overproduction.

She feels there was a confluence of storms: higher production, global recession and a money exchange rate which inflated the Australian dollar.

Her organisation recently polled distributors to learn more about Australia’s wine image.

The distributors said Australia offers diverse regions for wine and they are still good value — but it is known for jammy, high-alcohol wines.

Shiraz — unlike Syrah grown in the Rhone Valley — is not considered a refined grape variety when sold in the $10 to $20 range.

However, premium Shiraz — like that made by Penfolds — has a better image.

Slade feels Australia needs to promote its mid-level wines in the $15-20 category if it wants to improve its image.

She said these wines have always been made in Australia, but not always exported to the US.

“We’re feeling the energy and excitement in the market for boutique, esoteric wines,” she said.

“This is what the trade is saying we need to know more about.”

Slade points to cool-climate Shiraz, Semillon grown in Hunter Valley and small-production wines from Victoria.

It is easier to sell something new than it is to repackage a tired brand.

Once an image is tarnished, it’s just hard for consumers to give it another chance.

Is there any chance Cold Duck could re-emerge from its 1960s success as a sweet American sparkling wine?

Australia’s battle for market position won’t be won overnight.

They are on the right track and quite frankly we’ve been impressed with some of the moderately priced wines we’ve discovered recently in Slade’s sweet spot between $15 and $25.

Here are some Australian wines a little more expensive but representative of the quality price ratio which Slade is talking about:

Glaetzer “Wallace” Shiraz-Grenache 2010 ($26). We were stunned by the dense, complex profile of this blend of Shiraz (84 per cent) and Grenache from the Barossa Valley. Ripe and hedonistic cherry, strawberry flavours with a healthy dose of pepper and a dash of toffee.

Charles Cimicky Invisible Man Cabernet Sauvignon-Shiraz 2010 ($28). Cimicky is a recluse, hence invisible, who prefers to concentrate on making good wine rather than meeting the trade or even consumers. Who cares if we ever see him if he’s making stellar wine? And he is. This blend of 65 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon and 35 per cent Shiraz from the floor of the Barossa Valley is concentrated with cherry, coffee and herbal aromas, followed by rich blackberry and cassis flavours.

Imprimata Grenache 2012 ($30). Using grapes from the fertile McLaren Vale, the producer has a winner with this fruit-packed Grenache. Luscious strawberry and red berry flavours.

Spring Seed Wine Co. Scarlet Runner Shiraz 2012 ($24). From the McLaren Vale, this Shiraz is sturdy with fine but prominent tannins, full body, good acidity and apparent alcohol. Black berry and chocolate notes abound.

Massena The Surly Muse Viognier 2012 ($28). Typical of Viognier, the aromas of apricots and honeysuckle sell the wine before it hits the palate. The rich tropical fruit flavours and creamy texture remind one of a great burgundy even though this isn’t Chardonnay. This is a gorgeous white wine.

Moss Wood Ribbon Vale Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc 2011 ($27). Passion fruit and lychee notes dominate this luxurious white blend dominated by the underappreciated Semillon grape.

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About the authors: Tom Marquardt is the retired editor and publisher of Capital Gazette Communications and Patrick Darr works in the local wine retail business. To contact the authors visit their website at