Wine Australia CEO Dr Martin Cole sat down with TheShout at Vinexpo Asia, to discuss the show’s importance for Australian wineries in Asia, and the collective rebranding of the Australian wine industry.

Dr Martin Cole’s assessment of the first two days of Vinexpo Asia is that it has been extremely positive for Australian exhibitors, introducing their wines to new markets, as well as reengaging with China – Australia’s most important partner when it comes to wine exports.

“It’s been really good to see the level of interest in Australia. It’s been very busy, with really good feedback from the brand owners in terms of really good discussions and reconnecting with existing, previous relationships,” states Dr Cole.

The reconnection, of course, is in relation to Chinese buyers and importers, who are looking to re-establish trade with Australian wineries after the lifting of tariffs on Australian wine. Pre-tariffs, China made up more than a third of all of Australian wine exports, with a value of $300-400m and the hope is that with the rebuilding of relationships, wine exports to China can get back to those levels.

There’s plenty of excitement at Vinexpo from Chinese buyers looking for Australian wines, but Cole notes that the demands and tastes from the Chinese consumer have changed in the last few years.

“In terms of the positioning within China, I’ve gotten a lot of questions about pricing. We had the top spot in terms of premium wines, we had a 30 per cent share of premium wine in China, at 19 USD per bottle and right above that. But I think we’re seeing changes to the consumer demand for different products. What we’re hearing from a lot of importers is that there’s a lot of youngsters coming through trying wine, and some of what they’re looking for is perhaps lighter offerings or other styles. And we’re seeing that in every other market globally.”

Cole also credits the work that Wine Australia and various Government departments have done in the background in the last year or so to the re-establishment of cordial relationships with China.

Last year, Wine Australia received a very warm invitation from the Director General of China’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs, to lead a delegation at wine show in Ningxia, a Chinese wine region. In the end Wine Australia had the largest international delegation at the show.

“It was a great sign, and really helped rebuilding those relationships. It’s been an amazing joint effort from our ministers and embassy staff, across different portfolios in government, both at state and federal levels. AgTrade have also been fantastic as well,” explained Cole.

The Australia Pavilion has been incredibly busy across the three days at Vinexpo Asia 2024.

Diversification strategy still a focus

While rebuilding trade in China is a key focus for Wine Australia, engages with new markets is still a priority.

“We’re still going to maintain a diversification strategy,” stated Cole.

“Southeast Asia is made up of lots of very different markets. And some of them are off of a small base, but nevertheless, growing quite nicely.”

Cole points to Indonesia as one example, where Wine Australia recently participated in the Taste the Wonders of Australia trade show in Jakarta, which saw various F&B sectors participate.

“That was a fantastic event. That markets is predicted to double in three years. So it’s off of a small base, but it’s very exciting growth.”

Cole also suggested India was another market that Wine Australia would focus on, but that was more of a longer-term play.

Rebranding showcases Australian wine’s diversity

Wine Australia recently underwent rebranding, to really encapsulate the magnitude and diversity of Australia’s wine offer.

“I don’t think anywhere in the world, would you find the diversity that we’ve got in our vines. We’ve got 100 varieties, 65 wine regions. Look at our soils, our climates, the people that make our wine, they’ve all got a unique storyteller. So what we’ve been starting to think about is that we’re not a just a country of wine, we’re a continent of wine.”

Cole explained some of the talking points in the rebranding that are being well received.

“In our education, we really tried to cover the history, which is our old vines, traditional fantastic reds; we talk about the evolution, so some of the new varieties, but perhaps have been there for quite a while; And then we talk about revolution, which is some of the new biodynamic organic wines we’re seeing.”

“We’re trying to capture that amazing diversity. So think of, ancient lands with a modern approach. You’re able to go from earthy to elegant, from lean to lush, you know, so that we should celebrate that diversity and the quality of our wines, and the ability to service all sorts of different demands and markets in that space.”

Meeting face to face

In terms of getting that message across, meeting face to face at trade shows like Vinexpo Asia are crucial.

“Catching up with all of our winemakers, I think if you ask any of them, actually getting in market and meeting face to face –there’s nothing to replace that. Events like this allow you to reengage with those past relationships and grow new ones. That’s the basis of a lot of good business.”

Australian wines are certainly proving to be of huge interest to the buyers at Vinexpo Asia, with the Australian pavilion consistently being one of the busier sections of the expo this year.

Vanessa Cavasinni

Vanessa Cavasinni is the managing editor of Australian Hotelier and Club Management, trade publications for the pub and club sectors respectively. Vanessa has been at the helm of Australian Hotelier since...

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