I’m back from Australia, where I spoke at Savour Australia 2013 (click here to view my presentation). The purpose of Savour Australia was to re-launch Brand Australia wine on the global market by bringing together about 700 domestic and international delegates and rolling out an integrated marketing plan that combined Australian food, wine and tourism.
Savour Australia was quite an intense and impressive global gathering and I am still trying to process all my experiences both at the conference and in independent travels (scroll down to see a brief list of extreme wine moments). I’ll be analyzing what I think I’ve learned over the next several weeks.
Food Stars, Porn Stars, Rock Stars
“Restaurant Australia” is the proposed new brand and you can perhaps best appreciate how its elements connect by clicking on the image above and watching the short video that appears. The basic idea is that food and wine have become much more important tourism drivers. Nature (think Grand Canyon) and culture (think Italian Renaissance art and architecture) are still important draws, but increasingly travelers seek out fine wines, great restaurants and cult foodie experiences. Then they become brand ambassadors, spreading the word across the internet and around the world.
This sea change should not come as a surprise. As I wrote in Wine Wars, this is an effect of the growing popularity of foodie television shows and networks, like the insanely popular international Top Chef and Master Chef series and the rise of foodie celebrities such as Jamie Oliver, Nigella Lawson, Anthony Bourdain and so on. Seriously, food stars get more exposure than porn stars and are sometimes more popular than rock stars (“rock star” being the gold standard for pop culture status).
The food’s the thing, don’t you know? The Australians are smart to realize this and to try to recast their image around it.
Shrimp on the Barbie
But they don’t start the process of re-branding with a clean slate (or clean plate, I suppose). For many people here in the United States, Australian cuisine is defined by Crocodile Dundee and Outback Steakhouse. Paul Hogan, the actor who portrayed the famous Crocodile Dundee character in the films, was featured some years ago in an Australian tourist campaign that generated the memorable line “throw another shrimp on the barbie.” Australian food (and culture generally) is warm and generous, if not particularly sophisticated according to this approach. A good image then (and Australians sure are warm and generous), but not especially useful now. The game’s changed.
For better or worse, Outback Steakhouse’s popularity has reinforced this idea of Australian food culture. Outback is a meat and potatoes kind of place, although I see they now also feature grilled chicken “on the barbie.” It’s signature menu item is a “bloomin” deep fried onion appetizer. Tasty, I bet, but not really haute cuisine.
So the Australians have their work cut out for them and the videos we saw at Savour Australia (and the great food and wine we enjoyed there) suggest that they have both great raw materials to work with and a sophisticated understanding of the story-telling necessary to make their strategy work. Click here to view videos from Savour Australia, including four stunning chef-centered “Restaurant Australia” themed videos.
Terroirist Revenge Strategy
I’m a big fan of this approach, as I told my Adelaide audience, because it fits very well into the analysis I presented in Wine Wars. I didn’t have Australia in mind when I wrote that book, but its argument fits the great land down under very well. Australian wine has experienced the double-edged sword of globalization and the problems of over-simplified marketing messages (these are the “Curse of the Blue Nun” and the “Miracle of Two Buck Chuck” of the book’s subtitle).
Now, I think, they need to channel their inner terroirists and tell a more sophisticated story that draws upon, to use a catch phrase of the Restaurant Australia campaign, the people, places and produce of their land. (People, place and produce is not a bad definition of terroir).
Will it work? Will “Restaurant Australia” be able to launch Australian wine on a new path? Come back next week for more analysis.
Australia 2013: Memorable Moments
Herewith a few memorable moments from our trip, some of this will be featured in future Wine Economist columns.
- A festive wine dinner with Australia’s First Families of Wine, an association of Australian producers who are doing their level best to change the way the world sees Australian wines.
- A fabulous tasting of Australian wines from the Yalumba Wine Museum (I guarantee you will be jealous when you hear about the wines we sampled).
- Wine writer and broadcaster Michael Hince and his wife Amanda invited us to a dinner in Melbourne where they showed off wines from Victoria. It was a really spectacular demonstration. Wow! You can read Michael’s account of the wines and the dinner here.
- Great hospitality during our time in the Barossa Valley, with memorable visits to Rockford, Torbreck, Hentley Farms and Charles Melton.
- My wine economics colleague Kym Anderson gave us a memorable tour of his Adelaide Hills region (highlights: Ashton Hills Vineyards for the Rieslings and Pinot Noir and Hahndorf Hill Winery for Gruner Veltliner and Blaufrankisch) and sent us to Seppeltsfield winery in Barossa, where we happily immersed ourselves in Australian wine history.
- Tasting and talking with Peter Althaus at his Domaine A winery near historic Richmond, Tasmania (and staying at Tara’s Richmond Farmstay).
- The fabulous family-style long-table winemaker lunches at Savour Australia. Outstanding food, wine and conversation.
- Working (not just attending) the Wednesday “Grand Tasting”. Prue and Stephen Henschke let me pour their fabulous wines (including Hill of Grace) for about 90 minutes so that I could see the conference and the delegates from the other side of the table. What a treat!