A Joint Show of Strength

Wines from the New World have long since established themselves on almost all major wine markets. Australia, California, South Africa, Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and New Zealand will be presenting their wines at ProWein 2010 with immense dynamism, many ideas and a great willingness to innovate. For the first time at an international trade fair five of these countries are now grouping their activities together with joint presentations and seminars.

The New World is mobilising itself for ProWein: California, Argentina, Chile, South Africa and New Zealand have announced they will, for the first time now, be drawing attention to the benefits and possibilities of the new wine nations under the motto “New World @ ProWein” with joint seminars, tastings and workshops. Terms like climate change, innovation, cool climate viticulture and sustainability will be at the focus of the events at their own seminar and tasting centre. A presentation of the New World nations of this kind has never been seen before. Michael Cox from Wines of Chile believes this kind of collaboration is particularly suited for demonstrating the terroir, complexity and variety of the New World – aspects that Old Europe likes to claim for itself. Commenting on this Su Birch, in charge of Wines of South Africa, says: “This is an opportunity to approach retailers and the media at ProWein – in a highly competitive environment – and a chance demonstrate our performance.”

And the moment has been well chosen: despite the crisis the New World nations have been able to further improve their position internationally. On average, over 2008 and 2009 almost all countries were able to not only maintain their market shares on the major markets but also increase their exports in absolute terms.

Obviously, in addition to the joint event centre the fair will feature the usual joint stands with a variety of exhibitors and their wines. Beyond this, major companies like Concha y Toro, Espiritu de Argentina/Chile, Gallo, Santa Rita, Trapiche and Montana will also be represented at the stands of their importers.

Argentina: Malbec on Everyone’s Lips

While other New World nations were already exporting modern wines Argentina focused for several years on its own large domestic market. Today Argentina is the international shooting star on the international wine scene. For several years now this, the world’s fifth largest wine-producing country with some 200,000 hectares has been exporting with double-digit growth rates and has landed itself an international hit with the grape variety Malbec. And now the country is proceeding to set a second iron in the fire with the white variety Torrontés. Malbec and Torrontés are also likely to be centrestage at ProWein in Düsseldorf.

Argentina’s current success in the quality market is perhaps not so astonishing considering the vast changes in the country, the considerable basic quality improvements plus the very good currency ratio. Aside from wine tourism and export promotion oenologists across a broad front are perfecting quality wines that no one dared to even dream of a few years ago.

After strong growth in 2008 this year did see a 34% drop in exports in the first half of the year. However, the market is split. Argentina’s bottled wine exports continue to flourish with a plus of 15% while the albeit important but rather unpopular cask wine and must business has fallen drastically. Like in the previous year, Argentina had a rather small harvest in 2009. Spring frosts and heavy hailstorms caused considerable losses for must and cask wine specialists in the east of the Mendoza province and in San Juán. The more precious sites on the periphery of the Andes saw a warm summer and were able to harvest ripe, deep-coloured grapes.

Australia: Going its Own Way at ProWein

Of the key New World nations Australia will not be participating in the joint “New World @ ProWein” programme. Commenting on this Paul Henry, Head of Marketing at the Australian Wine and Brandy Corporation, said: “We did not feature with our own joint stand at ProWein in 2009. In 2010 we will be attending again but as we are newly returning we want to present ourselves separately.”

The country of Shiraz – this old Rhone variety being grown on over a quarter of the country’s vineyards – is now leaving its youthful “here-I-come” image behind and on the way becoming a serious wine nation with regional specialities and small terroirs, even though three quarters of its production are in the hands of large companies like Constellation, Foster’s, Pernod Ricard and Australian Vintage. Many producers see the future of Australia in the medium to high-end market. “Bulk business with big brands will not disappear,” says Paul Henry. “But other countries can produce simple wines more cheaply than we can.”

In the current year (the 12 months to September 2009) Australia was able to increase its exports by 8%. The US and Great Britain remained its most important export customers although there were also increases in exports to China, Hong Kong and Germany. The 2009 harvest produced some 1.6 m tonnes of grapes, just under 10% less than the year before. The weather was very variable but still produced good quality grapes. Those looking for substantial but not over laden 2009 wines should not miss a visit to Australia’s stand at ProWein.

Chile: Exports are Flourishing

Given its rather small domestic market the huge development of the Chilean wine industry is the result of the country’s export successes. For two years Chile suffered a high Peso exchange rate. Only from the end of 2008 did the currency rate allow profitable and good business again. If people drink not less but rather just cheaper wine in the world economic crisis then the Chileans are to be seen as specialists – although they do not like to be reduced to just “nice and cheap”. Chilean export revenue rose in 2008 by almost 8% to $1.16 b. While key export markets like Canada, the Netherlands or Japan saw double-digit growth in 2008, the USA and Great Britain accounting for over one third of total export revenue, remained Chile’s largest customers for bottled wines. The USA bought a little more and Great Britain a little less than in the previous year. In the first half of the year Chile managed to post positive figures again worldwide. Key export nations for bottled wines contributed to this very evenly.

As ever, Cabernet Sauvignon is still the most important grape variety in the Andean nation. However, Syrah planting is increasing noticeably and producing good results both at traditional sites in the Valle Central and in the cool coastal regions. It is particularly in the newly developed cool regions that Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc are gaining increasing importance. 2009 is one of the hottest and driest vintages of the last 15 years. Amongst its very highly rated red wines the Valle Central, in particular, boasts well-contoured wines with somewhat reserved acidity.

California: Record Sales

For many years now California has been a model not only for other countries in the New World but also marketing experts and oenologists in Europe. In the rest of the world they eagerly follow current trends like the tendency towards Pinot Noir produced in cool conditions, sustainable wine cultivation or high-quality bag-in-box wines. In terms of grape varieties it is Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot that are by far the most important here. However, Pinot Noir, Syrah and Pinot Grigio are enjoying considerably higher growth rates.

The USA’s growing wine market accounting for some 80% of sales remains the linchpin of Californian wine growers who are currently not selling less but cheaper wines. Recently exports also rose more rapidly in quantity than they did in value – but both figures are pointing upwards. Almost half the wines exported go to Europe. Commenting on the quality of the 2009 vintage winery spokesmen were extremely positive although several days in mid-October saw rainfall. However, ripeness, colour and aromas are described as ideal.

New Zealand: Aiming for Upper Price Segment

New Zealand caused a stir in the 90s with its fresh and aromatic Sauvignon Blanc that set the standard for this variety worldwide. However, now the country’s cool and fruity varieties like Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon are also appreciated worldwide. Here New Zealand has not only positioned itself in the top 25% of the market on its two most important export markets Australia and Great Britain. It also wants to stay there and put high-quality wines centrestage at ProWein.

South Africa: On the Wave of Success

South Africa’s 330m2 ProWein stand boasts a third more exhibitors than last year. This demonstrates the importance of the fair as well as South Africa’s commitment to exports where continuing success is fuelling motivation. “We will obviously be highlighting the World Cup in South Africa and focusing our activities on this,” says Petra Mayer in charge of the German Information Bureau for South African wines. It is also planned to launch the new consumer-oriented wine seal at ProWein. High-quality red wines are likely to be in focus here as will the very successful South Africa whites Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc.

In the first ten months of the current year South Africa’s export figures did drop slightly but only due to lower cask deliveries to countries like Rumania or Russia. Bottled wine exports continue to rise, especially in key export nations like the US, Germany and Great Britain which together buy over half of South African wine exports. An excellent vintage was also noted in the Cape in 2009. A hot summer only increased potential alcohol content surprisingly little while acidity remained at a good level. For the reds this produced soft, elegant tannins with a fairly low alcohol level while white varieties displayed delightful freshness with a harmoniously rounded and long finish.

The author Jürgen Matthäß has been working as a journalist for over 20 years and writes exclusively about wine. After completing his studies (in economics) and gathering experience in the business field he began writing on business topics. After working as editor-in-chief at the wine business journal "Weinwirtschaft" (1986-1992) he now writes exclusively about wine as a freelance journalist and wine consultant.