If you find yourself inundated with my social media updates, transmitted from some back-country Australian town over the next two weeks, here’s why.
I’ll be touring the world of Aussie wine, led by Mark Davidson, with six or seven other sommeliers from the west coast of North America. I’ll mostly be on cruise control. Besides two free nights, we’ll be following a tightly curated itinerary established by, and on the tab of, Wine Australia. Wine Australia is a promotional body, which among many other things, is involved with marketing Australian wine in export markets like Canada. I’m excited to have a veteran like Mark as our tour guide. If the number of times I’ve heard him reference pairing a wine with breakfast is any clue, I’ll also need to bring plenty of Advil and milk thistle. I’ll also be bringing several hundred flash cards and practice essays to fill my time sat on a bus or a cramped airplane seat with studying for my final WSET exam, which has unwelcomely crept onto my horizon (June 13th is D-Day). It is convenient, however, that this trip and my study are, you know, somewhat related.
It’s no secret that the Australian wine market is in the depths of a shambolic mess. The truly cool and terroir driven wines are suffering from being grouped into a market drowning largely at the hands of the bulk producers who have saturated exports with entry level wines. I’ll admit that I’ve been dismissive of Australian wine over the last few years. Wines that once excited the hell out of me – and Grosset Clare Valley Riesling is one great example – had all been relegated to the same pile: a continent that I generally didn’t want to hear about or discuss. That’s changed over the past year – I’ve started to talk about and sell the kind of Aussie wines that I enjoy, even if that category has almost entirely been made up of Riesling, Pinot Noir and wines from Tahbilk.
These styles of wine-and-dine trips aren’t used as liberally in most industries as they are in the booze business (in fact, they’re illegal in many). In the wine trade it exists, but not nearly as intensively as the spirits business when you consider vodka producers who rely on massive marketing budgets to be successful (it takes a lot of marketing to sell a product that strives for having as little flavor as possible). The wine producers that make the kind of wine that most of us like to drink would never be able to afford to fly a group of people across the world to visit them (DRC maybe?). However, groups like Wine Australia, Wines of Chile and the Wine Institute of California, while still representing many little guys (and big guys alike) do have the collective marketing budgets. This trip is about demonstrating the quality and diversity of Australian wine regions and that means much more about meeting the smaller farmers making kick-ass wines and less about touring through industrial parks of giant stainless steel tanks. I welcome that.
I know the reason I am being included in this trip is because I run a wine program at one of the busiest restaurants in Vancouver, giving me a direct line to influencing what a tiny segment of the market drinks, and I do have a voice in the wine trade. I don’t think I’m immune to the kind of perception swaying that is inherently involved with a trip of this nature. Regardless, my posts won’t be shameless plugs or blind cheer leading – no post on this site ever has been. I’ll simply be commenting on stuff that I think is cool, or uploading dark and blurry bottle shots of wines that I enjoy and I may even commit the odd indiscretion I associate with culinary paparazzism. I’m hoping I’ll get a chance to chat with and post profiles on some of my fellow sommelier travelers from LA, SF, and Seattle. I know I’ll learn a ton and hopefully you’ll enjoy reading.