Australia may be the world’s preeminent producer of bulk wines but its regional wines can and will rival the old world, veteran winemaker Brian Croser said this week.

Speaking at the Wine and Spirit Education Trust Annual Lecture at Vintner’s Hall in London on Monday, the Petaluma chairman told an audience of wine professionals that there is no reason Australia should not become world-renowned as a producer of the highest-quality regionally-differentiated wines.

Croser – whose address was entitled ‘Brand or Authenticity?’ – said he had become disillusioned by his country’s seeming obsession with ‘feeding the maw of the market with wines…marketed and blended to eliminate any attribute worthy of thought or conversation other than “it’s good value for money”.’

But, with ‘premium regions which are not much different to vast areas of the French vineyard’ Australia can compete with the finest regional wines.

Croser, an avowed disciple of the concept of terroir, said Australia could be a bulk producer, as well as a source of terroir-driven wines.

‘Domestic consumers accept the co-existence of both premium and branded commodity wine producers in their own back yard in California, Australia and even France,’ he said.

The secret lies in consumer knowledge, and globalisation. While the mass market is often seen as anathema to smaller producers, Croser suggests the opposite is true: ‘regionally differentiated premium wine and branded commodity wine can not only coexist but consumption of one can lead to consumption of the other in an expanding market.’

Quoting Kym Anderson, economics professor at Adelaide University, he suggested consumers initiated into wine by brands such as Jacob’s Creek, graduate onto ‘superior and more varied wines’ and learn to ‘differentiate between not just countries of origin but regions within them.’

And Australia’s dominance of global markets should give it the incentive to exploit its ‘regional wine treasure trove’.

That, Croser said, is his mission: to convince the world that Australia’s premium terroirs should not be obscured by its success with commodity wines. In fact, ‘therein lies an opportunity.’

Croser went on to say Australia had to be much more forward in promoting its regions and its varying terroirs. Taking the audience on a whistle-stop tour of the terroirs of his country from Margaret River in the west to Hunter Valley in the east, he lamented the complacency that often stalled ‘the restless search for excellence’.

‘No amount of international wine show success can justify the … lack of will to optimise the great potential of some Australian regions through investment in viticultural excellence.’

The lecture concluded in apocalyptic tone, with Croser invoking ‘the big march south’ of wine production, caused by climate change, population pressure and soaring land values. The old world would not lose out, but the new world would come into its own.

‘There is little doubt that Australia will fully develop its abundant potential as a supplier of some of the finest wines of the world as well as the reliable supplier of …commodity wine.’

picture courtesy Wine and Spirit Education Trust

Written by Adam Lechmere