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The Australian Wine Industry
The Changing Taste of Wine 1984 to 2010
Wednesday, 12th January, 2011  - David Farmer

Comparing two lists of the top selling bottled wines 26 years apart tells us much about how consumers have both changed their tastes and how little they have changed. These shifts have in turn created many commercial challenges for wine producers. It’s tempting to take this record and project it forward and a later article gives a few thoughts about what may happen next.

The 1984 list represents a snap shot of the remarkable embrace by Australians of table wine that began in the post Second World War years. From the 1950s, coinciding with an influx of European migrants, Australian began to turn away from fortifieds and if one wine can be used to illustrate this movement it would be Barossa Pearl, released in 1956. In 1950 about 3% of the wine made was table wine, the rest being fortifieds which by 1984 were in a strong decline. Coincidentally the 1950s is also the time when we began our fascination with coffee which heralded the decline of tea as out favourite hot beverage.

Experiments with a wine casks in the 1960s saw them became a standard consumer product by the mid to late 1970s. Interestingly buying a cask was embraced across all levels of society as it had a different quality impression than today. In 1984, 74% of wine sold was in casks and flagons, and for a few more years this trended higher. Hence the 1984 list is perhaps distorted particularly in the white wine category as casks made up a large proportion of white wine sold. By 2010 wine casks are in a serious decline, below 40%, a trend which appears to be accelerating and the bottle figures in turn are distorted by ‘cleanskins’ replacing some of the cask market.

Here are the two years:

The Top 24 - { 1984 } - Total Cases
1 Kaiser Stuhl Summerwine 430,000
2 Seppelts Great Western Champagne 420,000
3 Lindemans Ben Ean 310,000
4 Leo Buring Leibfrauwine 240,000
5 McWilliams Bodega 215,000
6 Wynns Seaview Champagne 210,000
7 Penfolds Minchinbury Champagne 195,000
8 Wolf Blass Rhine Riesling 150,000
9 Houghtons White Burgundy 150,000
10 Miranda Golden Gate Spumante 145,000
11 Wynns Seaview Rhine Riesling 130,000
12 Orlando Jacobs Creek Claret 125,000
13 Woodleys Queen Adelaide Rhine Riesling 120,000
14 Stock Gala Spumante 100,000
15 Black Tower Moselle (Germany) 100,000
16 Orlando Carrington Champagne 90,000
17 Leo Buring Rinegolde 85,000
18 Orlando Starwine 85,000
19 Kaiser Stuhl Rose 80,000
20 Don Camillo Spumante 75,000
21 Kaiser Stuhl Champagne 75,000
22 Hardys Siegersdorf Rhine Riesling 75,000
23 McWilliams Mount Pleasant Riesling 75,000
24 Wyndham Estate TR2 Traminer Riesling 60,000

The Top 25 - { 2010 } - Total Cases (see below)
1 Yellowglen Yellow Non Vintage 355,000
2 Oyster Bay Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 255,000
3 Jacobs Creek Pinot Chardonay Brut NV 235,000
4 Cleanskin Chardonnay 225,000
5 Cleanskin red blends mostly shiraz cabernet 185,000 - 190,000
6 Jacobs Creek Chardonnay 185,000
7 Yellowglen Pink 150,000 - 155,000
8 Golden Gate Passion Pop 150,000
9 Cleanskins of the Classic Dry White style 145,000 - 150,000
10 Giesen Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 130,000 - 135,000
11 Houghtons Classic Dry White 125,000 - 130,000
12 Brown Bros Moscato 125,000
13 Brown Bros Crouchen Riesling 125,000
14 Cleanskin Sauvignon Blanc 105,000 - 115,000
15 Cleanskins Shiraz 105,000 - 110,000
16 Riccadonna Asti Spumante (Italy) 105,000 - 110,000
17 Stoneleigh Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 105,000
18 Evans and Tate Classic Dry White WA 95,000
19 Wolf Blass Eaglehawk Chardonnay 90,000 - 95,000
20 Houghtons Sauvignon Blanc Semillon WA 90,000
21 Montana Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 85,000 - 90,000
22 Yellowglen Bella 85,000 - 90,000
23 Wolf Blass Red Label Chardonnay 70,000 - 75,000
24 Wyndham Estate Bin 555 Shiraz 70,000
25 Yellowglen Jewel 65,000 - 70,000

In 1984 the top 24 wines totaled 3,665,000 cases. As noted in the review of the Top 25 for 2010, see The Top 25 Wines Sold in Australia from AC Nielsen, the actual cases sold do not have the same degree of accuracy as significant quantities are not captured by A C Nielsen data, the source of the list. To make a meaningful comparison I have made a guess by doubling the A.C. Nielsen figures which gives the top 25 wines a total of 6,860,000 cases.

Comments and comparisons are made under the following headings:

The Changing Mix of White and Red
The Lesson of Sparkling wines
The Changing Tastes of White Wines
The Changing Tastes of Red Wines





The Changing Mix of White and Red

From the Top 24, 1984
Lindemans Ben Ean
Leo Buring Leibfrauwine
Wolf Blass Rhine Riesling
Houghtons White Burgundy
Wynns Seaview Rhine Riesling
Orlando Jacobs Creek Claret
Woodleys Queen Adelaide Rhine Riesling
Black Tower Moselle (Germany)
Kaiser Stuhl Rosé
Hardys Siegersdorf Rhine Riesling
McWilliams Mount Pleasant Elizabeth Riesling
Wyndham Estate(TR2) Traminer Riesling

From the Top 25, 2010
Oyster Bay Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc
Cleanskin Chardonnay
Cleanskin red blends mostly shiraz cabernet
Jacobs Creek Chardonnay
Cleanskins of the Classic Dry White style
Giesen Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc
Houghtons Classic Dry White
Brown Bros Moscato
Brown Bros Crouchen Riesling
Cleanskin Sauvignon blanc
Cleanskins Shiraz
Stoneleigh Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc
Evans and Tate Classic Dry White WA
Wolf Blass Eaglehawk Chardonnay
Houghtons Sauvignon Blanc Semillon WA
Montana Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc
Wolf Blass Red Label Chardonnay
Wyndham Estate Bin 555 Shiraz

In both lists white wines far outnumber red wines. New varieties have appeared such as sauvignon blanc and chardonnay to replace riesling and the last of the European terms White Burgundy and Moselle. Five sweet styles have dropped to two though it’s doubtful if our preference for sweeter styles is much different today.

While the taste shift to table wines in the 1950s and 1960s began with red wines by 1984 white wines had far bigger sales than reds. However by 2010 reds had increased sales over white wines yet that has not transferred into strong red brands entering the top 25 list. This means that red wine buyers while they do buy Jacobs Creek and Koonunga Hill purchase a wide range of lesser known brands. Indeed there are a great number of red wines from small to medium sized companies that have strong sales such as; Taylors Clare Shiraz, Wirra Wirra Church Block, Peter Lehmann Shiraz and St Halletts Old Block.

The Lesson of Sparkling Wines

From the Top 24, 1984
Kaiser Stuhl Summerwine
Seppelts Great Western Champagne
McWilliams Bodega
Wynns Seaview Champagne
Penfolds Minchinbury Champagne
Miranda Golden Gate Spumante
Stock Gala Spumante
Orlando Carrington Champagne
Leo Buring Rinegolde
Orlando Starwine
Don Camillo Spumante
Kaiser Stuhl Champagne

From the Top 25, 2010
Yellowglen Yellow Non Vintage
Jacobs Creek Pinot Chardonay Brut NV
Yellowglen Pink
Golden Gate Passion Pop
Riccadonna Asti Spumante (Italy)
Yellowglen Bella
Yellowglen Jewel
Yellowglen Vintage (1st substitute)
Brown Bros Zibbibo (2nd substitute)
Killawara Dusk (3rd substitute)

In 1984, 12 sparkling wines made the top 24 and in 2010, 7 made the top 25. If we exclude the 5 ‘cleanskin wines’ from the Top 25 which we can argue are cask substitutes and thus we are not comparing like with like, then three of the next five wines promoted are sparkling wines and these are marked as substitutes 1,2,and 3. This makes our numbers 12 and 10 respectively. Not dissimilar and shows the consumers continuing enjoyment of sparkling wines. Australians still like a sweeter, fruity style and if anything perhaps a tad sweeter in 2010.

The famous historic names have faded with Seaview, Minchinbury, Kaiser Stuhl, Leo Buring and Seppelts Great Western replaced by Yellowglen with Orlando Carrington now repackaged as Jacobs Creek. It is not that these famous names got tired but rather it is the failure of marketing executives over many decades to innovate. I’m not a believer in the idea of brands having a life cycle. They suffer because of lack of imagination and poor marketing.

These figures also show sparkling wine sales are driven by brand loyalty as there is not much of a tail outside of say the top 50. Why are sparkling wine buyers so brand conscious; and even with gross marketing ineptitude, why weren’t the famous brands of old able to hold on to smaller sales?

The Changing Tastes of White Wines

From the Top 24, 1984
Lindemans Ben Ean
Leo Buring Leibfrauwine
Wolf Blass Rhine Riesling
Houghtons White Burgundy
Wynns Seaview Rhine Riesling
Woodleys Queen Adelaide Rhine Riesling
Black Tower Moselle (Germany)
Kaiser Stuhl Rose
Hardys Siegersdorf Rhine Riesling
McWilliams Mount Pleasant Riesling
Wyndham Estate(TR2) Traminer Riesling

From the Top 25, 2010
Oyster Bay Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc
Cleanskin Chardonnay
Jacobs Creek Chardonnay
Cleanskins of the Classic Dry White style
Giesen Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc
Houghtons Classic Dry White
Brown Bros Moscato
Brown Bros Crouchen Riesling
Cleanskin Sauvignon blanc
Stoneleigh Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc
Evans and Tate Classic Dry White WA
Wolf Blass Eaglehawk Chardonnay
Houghtons Sauvignon Blanc Semillon WA
Montana (Brancroft) Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc
Wolf Blass Red Label Chardonnay

From the 1984 list there are 11 whites while from 2010 there are 15. Again not a great deal of difference and take out the cleanskin affect and they are similar. In 1984 there were 5 wines which are fruity to sweet styles though some of the riesling’s would qualify as semi-sweet. This has decreased to two by 2010 suggesting a move to drier wines though the popular wines are very fruity. When you examine the sparkling wines and white wines that cluster just outside the top 25, many of which are sweet, the case weakens that there has been any movement to dry wines. Still the 6 dryish whites in 1984 expanded to 13 in 2010.

In 1984 the planting of chardonnay was in full swing though it would be a few more years before tonnage was sufficient to meet demand. Most whites ended up in casks or flagons. Including reds, the cask and flagon market was to peak at 80% of sales in I recall the late 1980s. The 1984 list shows a popularity for riesling that was not to last.

Looking back I think it was not that consumers then preferred the taste of riesling but rather the lack of alternatives. When alternatives became available sales collapsed. The early experiments to make delicate whites in this warm country began with riesling and an assumption was made that this should translate to consumer acceptance and I refer here to the Orlando Rieslings of the 1950s as the start. It was also a time of great hope for Hunter semillon reflected in the attempts of Rothbury Estate and the aged releases of Lindemans to popularise this variety and region. It also was not to be.

By the second half of the 1980s the white of choice was chardonnay and this variety reigned supreme until the late 1990s. From the early 2000s the range of flavours offered by New Zealand sauvignon blanc became the new favourite. Rather like the chardonnay era in Australia it took a while for plantings to translate into ample supply. This in turn ushered in the consumer search for simple, fresh, crisp, fruity styles; those that offer primary flavours and are not an acquired taste. This was covered in length at Wrong Directions on the Taste of Wine.

The Changing Tastes of Red Wines

From the Top 24, 1984
Orlando Jacobs Creek Claret

From the Top 25, 2010
Cleanskin red blends mostly shiraz cabernet
Cleanskins shiraz
Wyndham Estate Bin 555 Shiraz

One red entry in 1984 goes to three in 2010; though take out the cleanskins as substitutes for the cask decline and the conclusion is that big brands reds do not have the same appeal as for sparkling and white wines and the customer is happy to wade through hundreds of competing products. Why is this? Buried in this fact will be a profound insight into the wine buyers behaviour.

Later I will give my views on what might lie ahead.

Note: The 1984 Top 24, is data I compiled which was published in the Australian Financial Review or the Bulletin. It predates AC Nielsen surveys.

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Holding up Well – All Things Considered

Tuesday, 10th May, 2005

One for the Brave Investor

Sunday, 8th May, 2005

We Talk with U.S. Importer Peter Weygandt

Friday, 29th April 2005

Ned Kelly Rides In

Wednesday, 27th April 2005

More on that Disappearing Wine

Tuesday, 26th April 2005

Wine Investment Takes Another Knock

Friday, 22th April 2005

Let the Hard Work Begin

Friday, 22th April 2005

Will a Desperate Company do a Desperate Thing?

Wednesday, 20th April 2005

Nearly Half are Yellowtails

Tuesday, 19th April 2005

The Smell of Death

Thursday, 7th April 2005

Fake Medals to Go

Thursday, 7th April 2005

An Update on Australian Wines in the U.K.Market

Saturday, 2nd April 2005

A Peep Behind the Wine Show Door

Thursday, 17 March 2005

Downward Wine Price Pressure Continues

Thursday, 17 March 2005

Make Me Some Clean Skins

Wednesday, 16 March 2005

The Foster’s-Southcorp Game of Bluff

Thursday, 10th March 2005

Greg Norman Back on the Winning List

Tuesday, 8th March 2005

Bridget Jones Enters the Wine Marketing Lexicon

Saturday, 12th February 2005

Mine is Bigger than Yours

Friday, 11th February 2005

Bridget Jones Enters the Wine Marketing Lexicon

Saturday, 12th February 2005

No Surprises from Foster's and Southcorp

Wednesday, 9th February, 2005

Jacob's Creek and Wyndham Estate Feel the Pressure

Saturday, 5th February, 2005

A Wine Merchant’s Warning

Monday, 31st January 2005

Drinkers Will Smile and Investors Frown

Friday, 28th January 2005

Great News For Southcorp Shareholders - the Bid is for Cash

Monday, 17th January, 2005

A Record to Inspire Confidence?

Friday, 14th January, 2005

A Terrible Botch at Takeovers

Thursday, 13th January, 2005

AUSTRALIAN WINE INDUSTRY ARCHIVE 2004
Doctors Keep Pressing for Increased Wine Tax

Saturday, 25nd December, 2004

Wine Comes to the Big Screen

Wednesday, 22nd December, 2004

American Journalists Must be Wine Drinkers

Tuesday, 14th December, 2004

Memories of 1905

Tuesday, 14th December, 2004

ABARE Report Shows Meagre Returns for Grape growers

Monday, 15th November, 2004

The Value of a Brand

Tuesday, 9th November, 2004

What Governments Give...

Thursday, 28th October, 2004

Hot Weather to the Rescue

Tuesday, 26th October, 2004

The Battle for Pubs

Tuesday, 19th October, 2004

Back to Being a Cash Cow Good News for Investors

Tuesday, 19th October, 2004

Another $70m of Embarrassment for Foster’s Group

Wednesday, 13th October, 2004

A Good Idea at the Time

Friday, 1st October, 2004

How do You Grow a Wine Company While Cutting Vineyards and Stock?
The Answer is:

Tuesday, 2nd September, 2004

Glug visits the Adelaide Wine Show

Friday, 8th October, 2004

The Price Of Being One Industry

Tuesday, 29th June, 2004

Cork Amnesty – The Move to Screw Tops Continues Apace

Thursday, 16th October, 2004

Coming to a Bar Near You?

Wednesday, 8th September, 2004

Andrew Garrett Goodbye?

Tuesday, 24th August, 2004



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