Kym Anderson (with the assistance of Nanda Aryal), Growth and Cycles in Australia’s Wine Industry: A Statistical Compendium 1843-2013). University of Adelaide Press, 2015. (Available as a free pdf download — follow the link above.)
Kym Anderson’s new book on the five major boom-bust cycles of the Australian wine industry is a landmark wine economics study. Like all of Anderson’s work, it is data-driven and provides both the casual reader and focused student with a wealth of information. A detailed Executive Summary is followed by 73 pages of analysis (and ten more of references), 86 revealing charts and more than 450 pages of tables.
Answers and Questions
I’m not sure I have ever seen such a detailed account of what happened to a wine industry, when, where and how. The data span the decades, regions, grape varieties, international regimes and economic cycles. Such a wealth of information is valuable both for its ability to answer questions and for the way that it provokes them.
I won’t attempt to summarize Anderson’s big volume here (Andrew Jefford did a great job of this in his Decanter column) but I thought I might illustrate the sort of focused analysis that the book makes not just possible but convenient. We are always looking for lessons from history and I think Australia’s wine business cycles are useful in this regard, especially the fifth cycle, which began in 1986 and continues today.
Exchange Rate Effects?
Anderson describes the recent collapse of the Australian wine industry as the result of a “perfect storm of shocks” including drought and rising irrigation water prices, the global financial crisis, the rise of the Australian dollar (driven by mineral exports to China), increased competition from other wine-exporting countries, and China’s austerity policies (which have reduced demand for luxury wine products). He could have added vineyard heat spikes, wildfires and the gradual but significant effects of global climate change to the list of challenges. Perfect storm, indeed!
Since we are currently experiencing a period of major exchange rate realignment, with the U.S. dollar on the rise and the Euro seemingly in free fall, I thought it would be useful to tease out the many ways that the Aussie dollar impacted its wine industry in recent years. According to news reports currency instability was the hot topic at the ProWein wine fair this year, so analysis of the possible effects is timely. Here are some brief points taken from the Executive Summary.
- The 1986 boom began, Anderson tells us, as a response to the historically low value of the Australian dollar (hereafter abbreviated AUD), which encouraged exports by reducing their price to foreign buyers. The AUD’s low value was due to falling prices for mineral exports.
- Wine exports boomed, rising to 2.3% of all Australian exports by 2004.
- Wine prices increased, stimulating vine plantings, higher production and more exports but higher prices also limited domestic wine market growth making Australian producers more dependent on export markets.
- Rising exports increased the incentive for investment in developing overseas markets for Australian wine, both through generic marketing and private brand promotion. Meanwhile, other countries also began to expand wine exports, too, contesting key market spaces.
- The AUD began to rise in 2001 (driven by Chinese mineral demand). Competition in export markets made it difficult to pass through rising foreign exchange costs to export customers, so much of the burden was passed back in the form of lower AUD export receipts and, in due course, lower wine grape prices.
- Meanwhile, the strength of the AUD made imports cheaper, including wine imports, which increased dramatically. Especially affected were Sauvignon Blanc imports from New Zealand and Champagne imports from France.
- New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc became the best-selling white wine in Australia. Not the best-selling imported white wine. The best selling-white wine, period!
- Wine grape prices collapsed and the value of vineyard land fell, in some cases to the same low value as unimproved farm land. This is the bust that the Australian industry is still recovering from.
Lessons for the U.S. Today?
The exchange rate isn’t the whole story of Australia’s fifth wine cycle by any means, but you can see that it had important effects. The long term instability in the exchange rate translated into booms and busts in wine exports, imports, wine prices, grape prices, land prices and so on.
Anyone who thinks the current rise of the U.S. dollar won’t impact the U.S. wine industry or have global repercussions should take a look at Anderson’s study of Australia. The U.S.story will be different, and the impacts less just because our domestic market is so much larger, but there will be significant impacts.
This is just one of the analytical threads in Kym Anderson’s important new book. I invite you to dig and see what questions his work raises and what lessons you can learn.