Never Tear Us Apart? Wine Australia’s new strategy

Listening to INXS on the way to the Australia Trade tasting, I remembered the moment when Michael Hutchence turned up at a premiere for the first time with Kylie Minogue, who had chopped off her hair in to a pixie cut and looked like she had been doing a lot more than the locomotion. Something had changed, we all whispered, but what???

There is a whiff of the 90s about Wine Australia. Things have been good. Australia has had phenomenal wine success for the past 20 years. Why change it if it’s not broken? But now the cute Kylie, sunshine-in-a-bottle image is no longer working. Wine Australia was here today to tell us about “A brand new conversation; a new brand conversation.” Which made me wonder: something was different, but what had changed?

The signs weren’t promising. Although Yvonne May is the new Director, the ex-Director, Paul Henry gave the speech (despite having left and now working for an organization called “Wine Intelligence”). Not much of a change there. We had a PowerPoint presentation and a 2-minute video of Australian landscapes. Paul Henry said – a few times – this wasn’t just marketing sleight of hand. And there were, of course a few sporting-slash-marketing clichés: they were game changers, moving the goalposts….

And then, something interesting.

The Music Industry Model

Wine Australia has been looking outside of the wine industry for inspiration: the music industry. Here is another industry who has faced a lot of change. It has moved from being a bricks and mortar business, with huge dips in sales and distribution, with new demands on the artists interactions with their listeners. Henry argues, customers are listening to each other more rather than relying on specialist reviews. Of course, not only would Wine Australia like to see this happen, after the squeezing of margins by retailers and loss of control of the stories of the wine, but they would like to be directly involved in the conversation via social media (#apluswines on twitter) and local internet “portals” to connect wineries directly with consumers.

“Retailers will always move boxes rather than build brands – unless it’s their brand.” Which is why Henry argues there will never be another Jacob’s Creek or Yellowtail to come out of Australia in the future: these models of “big brands” just don’t have the ability to move around and adapt to the audience.

When the presentation was over, the presentation was over. I had to ask if there were going to be any questions: not much of a conversation. All this social media conversation is a great idea, but if Wine Australia is not focused on distribution, and the wine is not available in the country, how do you have a conversation?

Paul Henry responded that new media is not just about purchasing opportunities but also engagement with the customer. This was about customer to customer interaction. When someone comes back from Australia after the Ashes, for example, they can talk about the wine. But what if they want to drink the wine? There will be ways to find the distributor through the “portal”.

Australia has always been at the forefront of wine marketing. This new approach could be the way of the future…. Or, it could be a way of avoiding the difficulties of having one marketing body, such as Wine Australia, when international distribution is diminishing due to a strong Australian dollar. Either way, the quality of the wines showing today were high and there were some exciting new voices amongst the ruins of the corporates (hello, new haircut Kylie?). To paraphrase Michael Hutchence in Never Tear Us Apart, for those involved in the margin squeeze by the UK retailers, hopefully these new ideas by Wine Australia will “turn these tears into wine” for smaller winemakers. Or something sexier, darker, new and… a bit more cool.


Link: Wine Australia kindly responded to this post by sending this post, The Day the Music Died



Link: Video interview of me on day of Australia Trade Tasting



Link: Never Tear Us Apart video, INXS





  1. Thanks for the great analogy. As you mentioned, strange that Paul Henry gave the presentation as I thought that it would have been an excellent opportunity for Yvonne to launch the 'new era'.

    I agree that it would be great to see a new, sexier Wine Australia. Aplus is an interesting start, I am looking forward to seeing where they take it. I am not sure that Yvonne will be the proverbial Pixie Cut though…

  2. Skippy says

    Agree with Lisa, it was a tad strange that Yvonne was not given the opportunity to address the industry at what is Australia's key trade day of the year. I'm sure there will be plenty more opportunities…

    That said, I'm a little perplexed by all this navel gazing that is going on at the moment – sure the Australian industry has issues but show me a wine producing country that doesn't have some problem or another. Now Australia has always, and will continue to, produce a diverse, interesting and high quality range of wines at differing price points – it just seems we are trying too hard to overcomplicate the message and are on the search for something to latch on to to give us a direction, some meaning perhaps. Maybe it is a throw back to the colonial era, but all this upheaval, bickering and soul searching is, in my opinion, driven by the market conditions of the UK. Does Australia need the UK? Does the UK need Australia?

    Of course we need each other, but we just don't know which horse to back – commercial sized wineries with a large presence in the multiples, or small, on trend sexy little wineries with no volume but the 'right' image? Here lies the root of the issue, at least from where I sit…

  3. Cathy H says

    I really enjoyed reading the post,and the link to Paul Henry's blog. After reading both, it both the music and wine industries have striking similarities … I have been living and working in the Australian wine industry for 18 years, and the industry is going through a painful re-evaluation of itself in recent years, which I think is very healthy for the industry, as long as sound decisions are then reached and acted upon by various sections of our industry which will move us forward and out of this navel gazing stage. Being a small wine producer near Margaret River, we don't have large volumes, and we probably cant be called sexy, but we are passionate, which is kind of sexy I suppose, and we are trying to do something different with our wine styles. APlus is a good start, and I agree with LisaJ there. It's not perfect, and it really hasn't produced immediate results for us as a small wine producer, but we are part of it and have our story on the site. If only the Australian Wine Industry's issues were as simple as a concern about export sales to the UK, and our former colonial ties. Water, bushfires, drought, (now floods), climate change, rising cost of production, grape and wine surpluses, over investment by some of the larger wine companies, all are contributing. The Australian wine industry is tough, resilient and adaptable like rural producers everywhere are, and we are now saying "Watch this space …"

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