Wine education kit

Judging by the number of high school, college, and university students ringing me for information, Australian winemaking and marketing is a fruitful (and fascinating) ground for research projects.

Answering all the questions is made easier (school, college, and university teachers and librarians please note) with the release this week by the Australian Wine and Brandy Corporation of a Wine Industry Education Kit.

In his covering letter with the kit, Chairman George Paciullo says the kit is available free on demand to senior high school and tertiary students, libraries, Austrade representatives and Australian Government officials serving overseas.

The kit won’t get you through a PhD, but it’s a good starting point for most Australian-wine orientated projects. And the wine enthusiast with no academic ambitions whatever will find it of interest.

There’s a brief overview of Australia’s wine history and its size and value today; a broad picture of exports; a glimpse of world wine trade and Australia’s share of it; a look at viticulture and viniculture in Australia; an outline of grape growing and winemaking’s value to the rural economy, the value-added nature of the industry, and the positve impact of exports and import substitution on our balance of trade; social issues are addressed but far too briefly in my view; an introduction to local and global laws and regulations; and the role of various industry bodies are outlined. Finally, there’s a glossary of reference material.

On a global scale, Australia’s wine industry is tiny. In 1990, we accounted for less than one per cent of the world’s wine exports and consumed only one quarter of a per cent of the world’s imports. But to optimists, that’s one reason to believe we can go on with our phenomenal export growth. Brian Croser, Chairman of the Winemakers’ Federation of Australia and head of Petaluma Wines, for instance, told me earlier this year he believes growth in absolute volume will continue (which means a lower rate of growth in percentage terms).

Indeed, the picture for exports and import substitution appears rosy when compared to the situation ten years ago.

In June, 1982 imports of wine to Australia outweighed exports. About 9 million litres worth $23.5 million dollars came in while 8.4 million litres worth $13.9 million went out.

A similar pattern continued through the early eighties, with import litres peaking at 13.1 million in 1985. Imports in those years were fuelled by a shortage of certain varieties in Australia, but more importantly, a very strong Aussie dollar. It’s no surprise that imports peaked in 1985, because that’s the year our dollar peaked against European currencies, reaching, for example, more than 8 French Francs to the dollar. It collapsed in the same year, which no doubt explains why 1986’s litre imports were down by 600 thousand while the value went up by almost $13 million.

If the collapsing dollar broke the back of imports in 1985, it was also the spur our exporters needed. And it took just two years to build up a big head of steam. In 1986, the year after our dollar fell, export litres grew by a quarter to 10.8 million. But the value, $20.5 million, was still dwarfed by imports of $53.1 million.

A year later our wine industry had become a nett exporter for the first time since before the second world war. In the twelve months to June, 1987 exports totaled 21.1 million litres worth $44.6 million. In the same period, imports dropped to 7.6 million litres valued at $41.6 million.

Exports continued to boom through the late eighties and are still going strong. In the year to June, 1991, we sent 54 million litres of wine, with a value of $177.3 million, overseas. Imports for the same period were 9 million litres, valued at $46.8 million. And the figures for 91/92 may a touch better. That’s a phenomenal turnaround for an industry that’d been beaten on its home turf for half a century.

Australia’s wine industry avoided the excesses of the eighties, investing solidly (about a billion dollars) in the plant and vineyards now delivering the goods. It employs 5,000 people, contributes $400 million dollars to Government coffers, and most important of all, delivers a terrific product to us drinkers.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 1992 & 2007