Aussie rules: A team from Down Under tackles terroir

By Jim Boyce

Three things impressed me at a recent Landmark Australia event in Beijing:

  • The inspired Australian approach to promoting wine in China (which partly explains why that country, and not Italy or the United States, is the number two exporter to China).
  • The notable Australian ability to seem even-handed – and even humble – when telling someone to bugger off.
  • The superb Australian wines that covered numerous grape varieties and regions.
  • Let me set the scene: Organized by Wine Australia, the event kicked off at 10:30 AM at Green T. House, a trinity of art gallery, restaurant, and event space in Beijing. Writers from Shanghai and Beijing trickled in and mingled. Everyone then gathered at long tables, with each person facing eleven empty glasses that a place mat indicated would soon hold wines from Henschke, Penfolds, and Leeuwin, among others.

    It looked like a typical event, if in slightly fancier digs and at an earlier time. Except that Paul Henry, GM of marketing development for the Australian Wine and Brandy Corporation, took center stage to talk about… tea.

    Huh?

    Message 1: There are similarities between Australia’s wines and China’s teas. Henry’s key point: A particular tea’s taste is influenced by the region from which it hails due to the unique combination of soil, weather, and other factors – what the French call “terroir” in the case of wine. This is a useful concept for both China and Australia, given their size and regional diversity. Anyway, after tasting tea, relaxing to traditional music, and enjoying some China-Australia harmony, we moved to …

    Message 2: While Australia is known as a maker of good cheap wines, it also has first-rate ones. “We have a reputation as makers of easy-drinking wines, and we are proud of that, but we also have a story about our history, our older vines, our better wines,” said Henry.

    True, Barossa Valley Shiraz is well-known, but the country has regions as diverse as Margaret River in the west, Yarra Valley in Victoria, and Tasmania in the far south. And what makes them special?

    Just as with Chinese tea, it is the terroir. And by using this argument, Australia feels somewhat like a watchful rugby team that has taken the Old World’s signature move – “we have terroir” – and put up a defense that threatens to jar loose the ball.

    “It’s odd that the French refer to us as ‘new world’ when the soil we are growing the grapes on is 600 millions years old, while some of the most famous vineyards have soil that is only 5 million years old,” said Henry. (The only way he could have looked more thoughtful would have been by chewing the end of a pair of glasses and gazing into the distance.) The message is clear. You want old dirt? Australia has it. You want old vines? Australia has them, too. This puts Australia on a par with France and others in the fine wine talk, which is exactly where it needs to be to win more of the premium wine share. And that leads us to…

    Message 3: You want superb wines? Australia makes them. We sat down to eleven that were chosen, says Henry, “because we feel they are representative of the very best [that Australia makes].” Unfortunately, my copious tasting notes are in another city (long story) and I will post them later, but I’ll say for now that the 2005 Henschke Mount Edelstone Shiraz is a stunner.

    While this event felt a bit scripted at points and was delivered only in English, it gets high marks for the effort to relate Australia to China (wine and tea), the well-crafted message (we have terroir, too), and the diverse array of wines (in terms of varieties and regions). The team’s attention to detail ranges from the tasting notes, labels, and other details provided on a handy CD, to the excellent presentation of the teas, wines, and ensuing lunch during the event, to the organizers providing reminders to invitees both a week and a day before to ensure attendance. Given my experiences with other countries’ wine promotion efforts, this one stands a cut above.

     

    The wines tasted:

    Whites
    – 2007 Grosset Polish Hill Riesling (Clare Valley, South Australia
    – 2005 Leeuwin Estate Art Series Chardonnay – Margaret River, Western Australia
    – 1999 Tyrrell’s Winemaker’s Selection Vat 1 Semillon – Hunter, New South Wales

    Reds
    – 2006 Yering Station Reserve Pinot Noir – Yarra Valley, Victoria
    – 2006 De Bortoli Reserve Release Pinot Noir – Yarra Valley, Victoria
    – 2004 Taylors St. Andrews Cabernet Sauvignon – Clare Valley, South Australia
    – 2001 Domaine A Cabernet Sauvignon – Tasmania
    – 2005 Brokenwood Graveyard Shiraz – Hunter, New South Wales
    – 2002 Peter Lehmann Stonewall Shiraz – Barossa Valley, South Australia
    – 2005 Henschke Mount Edelstone Shiraz – Eden Valley, South Australia
    – 2003 Penfold’s Bin 95 Grange Shiraz – South Australia

    From Wine Australia’s Australia: World Class CD:
    “Landmark Australia wines invariably begin with special vineyard sites. A combination of unique microclimate and soil, and the most appropriate choice of grape variety to express the potential of this site, the wines made usually have their homes in established regions of Australia. They tend to be produced from the classic varieties of Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Riesling and Chardonnay, as these varieties have had some of the longest viticultural heritage in the pedigree regions. The age of the vines can help their cause, and it is often low-yielding or dry grown old vineyards that produce grapes with the required intensity of flavour and concentration to make Landmark wine.”

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    1 Comment

    1. Hi Jim,

      Thank you very much for the supportive commentary. Glad you enjoyed the tasting and look forward to the next opportunity. Keen to work with you on what the subject matter and wines could be! Best regards,

      ph

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