Whither the wine industry? Or should that be “wither” ?

April 08, 2021
Whither the wine industry? Or should that be “wither” ?

Toast The Locals thanks Peter Leske for this frank and honest take on the state of our Australian wine industry. Published verbatim here, from the man himself.

With all the news of Chinese tariffs and other forms of silly buggers, drought, fire… is our glass half full, or the legendary opposite? It all depends on who you talk to; what region they are in, what varieties & amp; styles they make, and how and to whom they sell it. Oh yeah… I almost forgot a minor detail - for how much!

But all that is off to one side for a while. The way winemakers’ brains work, (if they are what I will call a ‘real winemaker’ – i.e. in and around the vines, tanks and barrels; not stuck in the board room) all we really focus on when the fruit is ripening and being picked, is… well…the FRUIT. And all reports reaching me from around the country are that the weather is at worst favourable and actually mostly fantastic. Crop levels are good to very good and the quality is excellent. Pristine fruit, good numbers, (winemaker speak for good natural acidity) and the colour and flavours are consistent and intense. So Vintage 2021 looks like being one to watch drink with confidence.

** The one blip on the Australian wine landscape, was the bushfires and smoke issues in the broader Perth region, as those communities battled serious fires some weeks ago, and affected far more than vines of course. However, having suffered this same trauma in the Adelaide Hills little more than a year ago, we feel for those whose lives and businesses were touched by the recent tragedy. **

Ignoring the 2021 vintage; what’s the Big Picture? Well, a year ago there were predictions from industry leaders of a third of Australian wineries going broke in the medium term. This hasn’t happened, it may yet fall that way but I don’t see the signs.

[For the moment; a digression. Please read on… What were these industry leaders referring to when they said “Winery”? This term includes those people who have a wine label, but do not necessarily operate what the public think of as a Winery. They are a ‘Virtual Winery’ who have their wines made with, or, for them, using the expensive fancy toys in other peoples’ bricks and mortar Wineries. Yes, they have a brand and a label, and frequently crackingly good wine, but no vines/tanks/barrels of their own. For these wine businesses, which are relatively easy to establish – if you ignore the pain of ceasing doing something you have probably invested your money, heart and soul into, it’s actually also easy to exit; ie; sell the stock; create no more, clear any debts, put the website to sleep and take it easy.]

If, however, you have invested in a bricks and mortar Winery and, or, vines, ceasing operations is another and very different level of pain and complexity. You almost certainly have significant debts and someone will want their money back. Do you sell? Mothball? Lease? Sack people? “Re-deploy” ? You can see the dilemma.

** Back to the Big Question; Will we all go broke? **
... My answer. We’ll see.

The impact of Chinese displeasure with our politics won’t be felt seriously for a while, but if the millions and millions of litres that we were sending there, can’t be sent elsewhere overseas and end up in the domestic market, it’s going to be a lot of fun for consumers but not much for producers. Add the worry of that, to the yo-yo that has been the Australian restaurant and café market, (“on-premise”) as COVID restrictions have bitten then eased again, and there’s uncertainty to burn. Distributors are edgy, producers are nervous. We DON’T want the on-premise market affected again by the virus. We DON’T want the dollar to appreciate and reduce our attractiveness to foreign buyers. We DON’T want our mates in Canberra to anger their mates in other seats of power. We DON’T want fires and smoke and we DON’T want a dry winter. What we DO want, is the support of our local Australian market.

So, it’s a good thing that the weather is fantastic, and the fruit likewise. It makes forgetting about the world out there much easier. If you are worried about it: Step 1: Get yourself to Toast The Locals online marketplace and buy directly from numerous small independent Australian owned winemakers. They profit share the majority of every sale straight back to us, so its a win-win for our local economies. Or find a good local independent wine retailer who stocks interesting and good local wines. (Please be aware that many brands that you see on the shelf at the supermarket-owned mega-bottle shops are not ‘real’ wineries, but labels created by those supermarkets to increase their profits, at the expense of sales of wines from the real wineries). Step 2: Purchase and then open a bottle of wine, and Step 3: Enjoy it responsibly with your family and friends. We’ve all actually got lots to celebrate.

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