It may be wishful thinking, but a new study suggests that "barriers" to increasing Australian wine sales in America may be less formidable than feared.
While the U.S. is still the biggest market for Australian wine, recent times have been tough: Australian wine exports to North America have fallen steadily in recent years – a trend blamed on the global financial crisis and a high Australian dollar.
Exports now stand at just 1.82 billion Australian dollars ($1.7 billion), compared to a high of 3 billion Australian dollars ($2.81) in 2007.
In an attempt to stave off further decline, Wine Australia commissioned Napa-based research company Wine Opinions to survey major U.S. wine importers, distributors and wine trade professionals to find out what they really think about Australian wine.
According to the survey, the wine industry's "key gatekeepers" expressed a "very high regard" for Australian high-end wines, along with "growing trade recognition of the high quality and diversity of wines emerging from regional appellations across higher price points."
In addition, the perception that Australia produces only "jammy" wines that are high in alcohol is changing.
Those questioned said that while Australia's quality to price ratio is still "a top attribute," U.S. consumers are "looking for value in mid-priced wines where they feel more confident they will find quality." In other words, they may be ready to move upmarket, away from low-cost wines such as Yellow Tail, the Australian wine brand that is no.1 in the wine import charts.
Indeed, Casella Wines, the maker of Yellow Tail, this year posted a financial loss for the first time, suggesting consumers could be trading up or switching to other New World rivals. However, the average price of a bottle of Australian wine currently sells for less than $5.
Wine Opinions CEO John Gillespie told Wine-Searcher that those taking part in the survey were not questioned about specific price points, but overall their opinion was that there was growing interest in Australian wines at higher prices than the "bargain wines" currently found in supermarkets. A greater specificity of regionality and diversity was also important, he added.
Wine Australia's regional director for North America, Angela Slade, welcomed what she called "a positive shift in sentiment towards Australian wine in the U.S. market.
"These results demonstrate a very exciting validation of the trade's unanimous recognition for the potential of Australia's premium regional offerings," she said.
The Wine Opinions report comes hot on the heels of Treasury Wines' decision to oust its CEO, David Dearie, blaming him for "over-ambitious forecasting" that led to the company dumping $160 million Australian dollars ($145 million) worth of excess and old U.S. stock.
The write-down was seen as confirmation of the need for Australian exporters to rebrand their wines and target them at a higher section of the U.S. market.