Anatomy of Australia’s New Wine Strategy

Click on the image to view one of the Restaurant Australia videos.

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In my last column I talked about Australian wine’s plans to re-brand itself on the global market through an integrated food-wine-tourism campaign called “Restaurant Australia.”  Delegates to Savour Australia were treated to four specially produced videos  (click on the image above to see one of them) that introduced the concept and, not coincidentally, also introduced the chefs and purveyors who would be providing some of our (delicious) meals over the next few days.

Beyond Sensory Overload

The audience seemed to pause, slightly stunned, after each video. At first I thought that it was just sensory overload. And it was. The stunning images presented on the big screen with rich surround sound was an intense experience, to be sure. The fact that we experienced it all again later, meeting the chefs, tasting the produce– that was intense too.

But now that I am back home and reflecting on the experience, I think that perhaps we also paused for a different reason. The whole purpose of our gathering was wine. We had journeyed long miles to Adelaide to see and hear Australia tell its wine story. But where’s the wine?

Yes, wine and a winemaker appeared in each video, but they seemed a bit of an add-on rather than the featured element of the message. What would happen if you left out the wine ? Nothing much else would change. Is that the way we want people to think about Australian wine — an afterthought in the grand “Restaurant Australia” concept?

Now There’s Your Problem

Obviously not — and it would be a mistake to judge the marketing campaign by a few introductory videos. But, as I thought about it, I began to recognize that it was related to a bigger problem.

One of the chapters in Extreme Wine is about wine and modern media — I call it Extreme Wine Goes to the Movies — and it concludes in part that wine’s inherent sensuousness seems to be difficult to translate to video. Yes, wine famously unlocks all the physical senses and a few of the mental ones, too. But it is an experience good. Like fly fishing and some other things you might be able to think of, its more fun to do than to watch someone else do.

That’s why there are surprisingly few films where wine plays a really central role. There are a few excellent ones (Sideways fans please put down your pitchforks!) but you’d really expect there to be far more than I found in my research. Food, on the other hand, seems to be something that video can capture very well. Does watching someone drink wine in a movie make you thirsty? Maybe. Does watching a celebrity chef eat a delicious dish make you hungry? You bet it does!

Hungry?

No doubt about it. Wine’s magic is difficult to capture on the silver screen (or that little screen on your tablet or smartphone). That’s why we have Master Chef but not Master Enologist.  There are rock stars in wine, but they don’t generally transcend the wine category the way the foodie celebrities increasingly do.

Wine Porn versus Food Porn

My foodie friends are always taking X-rated “food porn” photos of the the plates they are served at fancy restaurants. But my wino buddies generally don’t bother to snap “wine porn” images of their glasses (although I admit to some G-rated bottle/label shots myself).

Assume that I’m correct about this for a moment (or, better yet, grab a copy of Extreme Wine and read a more detailed account, which uses Sideways to show why really powerful wine films are so rare). Given video’s undeniable importance in communications today, what is wine to do? Well, one answer is to do what Australia wine seems to be doing, which is use what works (the foodie side of the campaign) to drive the message.  They call it “Restaurant Australia,” but I have a better name.

Strongest Brand in the World?

I call it The Italian Way. What region has the strongest generic wine brand? Well, here in the United States I would say that it is Italy (although France can make a claim because of Champagne’s powerful brand). Americans love everything about Italy — the food, the people, the art, the scenery, the food again, and now with the new Fiat 500, even the cars.

Americans love Italian (or sometimes Italian-style) coffee. And they love Italian wine. Just the fact that it’s from Italy gives it an automatic advantage at supermarkets, restaurants and wine shops.

It seems to me that “Restaurant Australia” aims to get Americans to love warm, friendly Australia in the same way that they have always loved warm, friendly Italy. A good idea? Yes. But not easy to do. If it was easy to achieve Italy’s reputation, everyone would do it. But it is worth trying. Australia has authenticity in its favor — it really is warm and friendly and the food and wine you can find there really are great– and that’s worth a lot.

Is it the only way to re-brand Australian wine? No — tune in next week for my report on another approach to this problem.

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3 responses

  1. Appreciate you perspective Mike – in part “Restaurant Australia” is a reaction to Aussie wine’s old image of commercial (industrial) “sunshine-in-a-bottle”. For practical reasons the bulk of wine assessment, judging and criticism revolves around wine in isolation; not wine being rated as an accompaniment to food, or in tandem with food. Over the last decade Aussies have started to appreciate and enjoy the symbiotic relationship wine and food (and food and wine) bring.

    An example of this (albeit isolated) is Fowles Wine (Strathbogie Ranges, Victoria) making wine specifically to pair with game under the “Ladies Who Shoot Their Lunch” and “Are you Game” labels.

    Australians are highly urbanized and there is little understanding or appreciation of recreational hunting and fishing in the cities.

    In regard Champagne and sparkling wine; there is a embryonic appreciation that these wines are both aperitif and food wines, not just celebratory ones – hence late disgorged bubbly that’s been on yeast lees for years is becoming popular, a good example of which is the Macedon Late Disgorged Hanging Rock Cuvee Eight and the Seppelt Show Reserve 2004 Sparkling Shiraz!

    And yes the Italians have a long history of making wine to go with their various regional foods.

    Cheers

    Michael Hince

    • Thanks, Michael. I agree that Restaurant Australia fills a gap in the image and understanding of Australian wine. I’ll have more to add in next weeks’s column.
      Thanks again,
      Mike

  2. The Italian Way, Italianicity, call it what you will — Italy the country is a brand unto itself.

    Drinking wine in Italy is definitely part of living the experience. Perhaps no other country does it so well, or so naturally. Tasting it with a producer in his wine cellar after eating a Barbera grape; sitting outside for an aperitivo in a medieval village; lingering over the bottle(s) with friends after the food is gone: Italian wine is more than analyzing it, rating it.

    Your perspective on the videos was really interesting. Were it not for the title I would’ve thought it was about fisherman! It’s clear that Australia wants their own folk to start living, not just drinking, wine (but could the video have gone a little over the top?). Good article!

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