My kind of progressive alliance: Australia’s First Families of Wine

Volcanic ash got in the way of judging in Portugal this week, but there was a silver lining to this particular cloud.  It meant I could make it to dinner last night with members of Australia’s First Families of Wine (AFFW):

  • Brown Brothers (Victoria)
  • Campbells (Victoria)
  • D’Arenberg (South Australia)
  • De Bortoli (NSW)
  • Henschke (South Australia)
  • Howard Park (Western Australia)
  • Jim Barry (South Australia)
  • McWilliam’s (NSW)
  • Tahbilk (Victoria)
  • Tyrrell’s (NSW)
  • Wakefield (South Australia)
  • Yalumba (South Australia)

Oh and yes, despite this official photo from AFFW’S website, there are, perforce, women in AFFW!

Re-building brand Australia

The moniker Australia’s First Families of Wine (AFFW) may sound presidential, even pompous, but its members are reassuringly Australian.  No bull dust here.  More like lots of straight talking about the vicissitudes facing the Australian wine industry, combined with a strong sense of common purpose aimed at, as Tahbilk’s Alister Purbrick put it, “re-building brand Australia.”

Speaking on behalf of AFFW’s members, Purbrick explained, from “a platform of credibility and excellence,” the group came together to quash the notion that “Australia only makes sunshine in a bottle and Australia and fine wine don’t go together…we want to bring perception and reality together.” And, in case you thought only the big guns (the likes of Fosters, Constellation, Orlando and Casella) call the shots, think again.  Between them, AFFW account for some 20% of Australia’s turnover, with a collective turnover in excess of $AUS 1 billion.     What’s more, there’s strength in diversity – this is not a corporate animal.  It’s a group of strong-willed individuals, whose combined portfolios, vision and experience (over 1,200 years) has much to offer in terms of shifting perceptions about Australian wine.  Good onya!

Soundbites

“Australia needs more wines of charm and interest – there are too many Bronze medals in the show system…[The strong Aussie dollar] is a good thing, because it’s helping the wine industry raise its game and change its focus [away from commodity/big volume wines].” Steve Webber, De Bortoli

“If winemakers want to get too involved in Semillon, they get fired…[Chardonnay] winemakers should have been sent on holiday for eight months to leave the wine alone!” Bruce Tyrrell, Tyrrell’s speaking in praise of De Bortoli Estate Chardonnay 2008, a model of low intervention winemaking.

“It’s useful shock treatment – prices are high for good grapes and low for not so good grapes, so growers are now doing whatever they can to grow good grapes. For some sites, it doesn’t matter what you do, the grapes will never be great – we’ll lose the sites we don’t need…it’s a healthy adjustment… At d’Arenberg we’ve picked up lots of old vine fruit so it’s possible to trade up without spending more money – Stump Jump is still a $AUS10 wine but it’s getting better.” Chester Osborn, d’Arenberg on Australia’s grape glut.

“We’re at a stage where we’ve grown as much as we need, arguably too much, so we’re in a period of re-structuring and consolidation ready for the next phase built around higher price points and regionality…There’s a growing realisation that number one in volume is not the best place to be – the best place is number one in value – even the big guys can’t sustain price points.” Alister Purbrick, Tahbilk on the Australian wine industry.

“Our fathers took us on an aspirational pyramid.  We didn’t know it until we’d collaborated [on AFFW], but we’d all had the same lesson about making aspirational wine…we won’t let you down because it’s our name on the label.  People let you down who worry about the balance sheets.  We just worry about our name on the label.”
Peter Barry of Jim Barry on a shared philosophy.

You can read more about AFFW here, including the group’s criteria for membership.  And tomorrow, I’ll be attending an AFFW tasting of flagship wines, so watch this space for my tasting notes.