The chairman of trade body Wine Australia, Brian Walsh, believes his country's wines can reach a point when they are no longer automatically compared to the 'Old World', but it may take a generation and a greater focus on 'terroir' to achieve it.

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Vines in Eden Valley, Barossa

Speaking to Decanter.com on the sidelines of the annual Wine Australia trade tasting in London this week, Walsh said the country had more work to do to promote its fine wine image.

His comments follow some promising signals for Australia in export markets. Total exports rose by 1.9% in volume and value in 2014, to 700m litres and A$1.82bn.

‘It’s encouraging to see the value of Australian wine exports in positive growth for the first time since 2007, and increasing demand for our premium wines was a major contributing factor to that growth,’ said Wine Australia’s chief executive, Andreas Clark.

Walsh said he wanted to build on the signs of recovery by working harder to put more Australian wines on the same pedestal as top wines from the so-called ‘Old World’ producer nations of Western Europe.

In the UK, a central market for Australian wine exports, he said there was too much focus on Old World wines in top restaurants.

‘We’re not going to change this perception in the short term,’ he said. ‘We have to take a generational view.’
Asked how that success can be measured, he said, ‘I think we’ll know intuitively when we get there, but we’ve done some work about brand awareness.’

More generally, he added, ‘We need to talk about wine in a less comparative way. We refer to the Old World, but we have to give our wines an Australian interpretation.’

He said that part of this meant talking more openly about ‘terroir’, as well as varietal-based wines. Several research projects are already underway in some of the biggest Australian wine regions to examine the soil and geology of particular sites. Walsh helped to found one of those, known as Barossa Dirt.

‘Terroir is a global word,’ he said. ‘The French have got a good mortgage on words but our challenge is to overcome that, that’s where the future lies. Your piece of dirt is the only thing that can’t be copied. Your own piece of land is what gives you your character.’

See the March issue of Decanter magazine, out on 4 February, for a debate with top experts on whether the terms Old World and New World are still relevant.

Written by Chris Mercer