Tesco's wine head honcho Dan Jago recently went Down Under to talk to the Winemakers' Federation of Australia, and found himself ruffling a few feathers. One of his comments was that "Wines with 13 or 14% alcohol just aren't exciting any more and customers are currently looking to the Old World for more refreshing wines. If you don't change, others will change faster."
How you unpack such a comment depends on what you read into it. Is Jago saying that there is nothing exciting or refreshing at such alcohol levels? I don't think so. But his point is that the reliable, fruity, easy drinking fruity wines for which Australia has developed a huge following can now be found in other countries. Moreover, wine drinkers who cut their teeth on such styles are now asking what's next? And since they feel they've 'done' Australia, then they're looking elsewhere for their wine kicks.
While Australia has plenty to offer higher up the scale, it currently doesn't have vast amounts of wine in significantly different styles at supermarket price levels with which to win back such people. Yet with drinkers in other countries still discovering Australian wine for the first time and being prepared to pay more than we stingy Brits, you have to wonder whether the Aussies need to be too concerned about a whinging Pom.
But as soon as winemakers start responding to criticism from major customers in the sort of language used in the Age piece by Bruce Tyrrell and Rick Burge, I get a bit worried. Such a head-in-the-sand, 'the customer is always wrong' approach is not what earned Australia its place in UK wine hearts. In fact, it's more reminiscent of views expressed by many across the Channel in France - and look what's happening to their wine sales...