As new figures reveal alcohol consumption down across all segments, including wine, Craig Hawtin-Butcher discovers the inside story on what’s really happening with wine on-premise.

With the apparent consumption of alcohol per person in Australia falling to levels not seen since the 1960s, according to data released recently by the Australia Bureau of Statistics (ABS), should the industry be concerned by what’s happening?

Speaking about the data, Louise Gates, ABS Director of Health Statistics, said: “This is the lowest annual figure since 1961-62 and it continues the recent downward trend which started around 2008-09. Over three-quarters of alcohol consumed was from either beer (39 per cent) or wine (38 per cent). And while alcohol consumed from wine has declined recently, the drop in beer consumption has been the main driver for falling alcohol consumption with an average decline of 2.4 per cent, per year over the last 10 years.”

While that data shows wine consumption down by alcohol volume, the sommeliers and industry leaders Australian Hotelier spoke to see the state of the market quite differently.

“[Sales for us] are definitely up!” says Franck Moreau, group sommelier at Merivale and one of just five of the highly-acclaimed Master Sommeliers in Australia.

“Our venues are still very strong and our wine business is very consistent and growing year on year,” he says. While he admits there has been some downside in certain bar areas where some of his clientele have been “changing their habits and moving in a different direction,” his sentiments echo the many we heard about the state of on-premise wine right now.

“[Wine consumption is] up in my opinion,” says Giulia Mengoli, sommelier at The Crafers Hotel in the Adelaide Hills, and a finalist for Best Wine List in this year’s ALIAs.

Doing battle with Giulia for the same award is James Hird, sommelier at The Dolphin Hotel in Sydney’s Surry Hills. “Wine is definitely on the rise across our venues,” he says, attributing the rise in food service as the primary reason. “More people use pubs as a dining alternative [so] wine sales are on the up,” he believes.

It’s a trend that appears to be consistent for Australian winemakers also. “Certainly we’re seeing steady growth in the wine category… albeit slowly,” says Tony Battaglene, Chief Executive of the Winemakers’ Federation of Australia (WFA). “There’s absolutely no doubt that people are starting to trade up, which is great news, as we can’t really continue producing lower price wine. We’re seeing a shift from quantity to quality across the board,” says Battaglene.

Prosecco fizzing

“It’s no secret that prosecco is the phenomenon, like it has been internationally, particularly with Australian prosecco,” says Battaglene. “We’re predicting very good growth for the next three or four years with Australian-produced prosecco, from a $60 million industry to four or five times that if the international trends continue,” he says. Reflecting consumers’ love affair with bubbles, Battaglene also says “imports are still strong, particularly champagne.”

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