Independent, small and family wineries: a few stray thoughts …

It is no secret that many independent, smaller and family wineries in Australia (and there are a lot of them) are struggling.  The source of their struggle is perhaps a combination of lack of scale, over-production in parts of Australia reliant on irrigation, low prices for grapes due to excess supply, a high Australian dollar impeding those those lucky enough to export, a highly competitive domestic market (where much wine is sold for $15 or less), high costs of production, a powerful duopoly controlling a significant chunk of retail wine distribution in Australia demanding low prices and scale and, until the last two years, drought (and then last year of course, rain and disease).  Oh, and complicated wine taxes.

The result of this (or even independently of this – the point I’m about to make is the same) is that I don’t get to see, let alone, taste a lot of these smaller producers’ wines.  Yet, I would like to … And I have more than a couple of friends who would like too …  Hell, if you’ve read this far, you’d probably like to too.  The closest I often get is touring the various Australian wine regions, and following signs blindly down dirt tracks.  My definition of fun.  This state of affairs seems a great pity (not the fun bit), as I have a lot of sympathy for small business operators and the wine dream that many of these people are pursuing.  Many do, I suspect.  I would like nothing more than to taste great or regionally typical wines that have been overlooked.  I think many local wine reviewers would enjoy doing the same.  For example, I recently tried a Syrahmi syrah from Heathcote, that was smashing.  Yet Syrahmi, despite its small production, but perhaps because of the efforts of its winemaker and his careful growers, is well known in Australia and so has hardly been overlooked.  In fact, I’d say there has been so much looking, the label has a “vibe”.  Jamsheed is another one.
And so perhaps there is an element of self-help available here to wineries.  There is a great deal of wine information available now on the internet, and wine reviewing is no longer the carefully cultivated turf of a few, even in Australia.  I routinely Google wines.  I know I’m not alone, because that’s were much of the traffic to this website comes from.  One traditional means of promoting wine in Australia – entry into wine shows with the hope of adorning wines with a medal, seems open to debate as wine consumers ask more questions about how wine shows work.  I also read recently a note by well known local wine writer Jeremy Oliver to the effect that, I think, there are more wine shows in Australia than there are days in the year.  I am happy to be corrected if I’ve overstated this.  I’ve posted some thoughts on wine shows separately here.

Perhaps the challenge for such producers is to throw their hats into the wider ring of the internet aka the blogosphere and twitter.  There may be little to lose, even if opinion is perhaps more forthright and haphazard than being hidden in a maze of wines at a wine show, lost in encyclopedic tomes, or perhaps even overrated due to the apparent local “points inflation” (pointed out by an overseas writer), and anecdotally observed by a few others locally.  So, there is a potential negative side.  But I see that as a good thing: it’s probably a bit closer to what consumers actually think; and frankly, knowing what they actually think could be kind of useful.  Hell, it might even help.

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