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SpotLight: A question of export quality.
By Sarah Muxlow ~ weekly column exclusive at 4Hoteliers.com.
Wednesday, 5th July 2006
 
The Global Wine cellar offers a satisfying worldwide taste of vintages; the new and the old, expensive and very reasonably priced, bought by the dozen or a rarity . With such variety and mass of choice, discerning tasters are straining to keep up with producers trends.  

The great competition in terms of sales and mass production is running alongside the challenge to improve quality of production. The glut of wine on the market however, is keeping the prices of the already inexpensive, low.

In response to this, over the past 10 years, there has been a need to raise the wine buyers educational base. Familiarity of grape types, distinguishing whites and reds by regional characteristics, identifying subtle flavours and knowing the varying degrees of quality, takes more learning as the vineyards expand further a field. Identifying wines by country, is a task in itself, never mind region. Wine connoisseurs are further challenged when different grape varieties are produced into very different tasting wines according to their country of origin. Pinot noire in Australia has quite a different reputation to that in Europe.

When 200 years ago, the first vines from France and Germany were shipped to Australia, they were planted in a climate with soil conditions different to their lands of origin. Much was unknown about the Australian land, it's fertility and extreme climates. However, whilst viniculture is expanding geographic boundaries it still operates within certain conditions. Climate of warm dry summers and mild winters are essential, too much humidity is a problem for pests, soil types and fertility effect and enable different vines types to produce fruit.

Trial and error and the training of new strands of vine, in Australia and much of the new world success, have enabled mass planting. However, in the not so distant past many viniculturalists have fallen short of their expectations in quality. It is known to take several years and harvesting seasons as well as experimenting with traditional or new manufacturing techniques to really master the art of producing quality wines. In addition to techniques, wines need grapes of high quality. In spite of vigorous efforts, until recently, New world wines, particularly those from Australia were reputed to have high levels of alcohol and acidity. Chardonnay grew a reputation of tasting woody and few reds really had a full character.

The countries exporting the largest volumes of wine are: France, Italy, Spain, Australia, Chile, the United States of America and Germany, accounting for 79.8% of total world wine exports. For the New World countries, having such a high exporting business means a lot of work to create sustainability. The production of clean vines that are pathogen and virus free isn't easy and the pressure is on to mass produce.

In a recent bid to curb the worldwide over supply of wine, worldwide there have been discussion of pulling up sections of vineyards. Governments are offering financial compensation to stop the glut. However, the response by many a vineyard owner in France is that, rather than keeping the cheaper wines cheap, the over supply of wines to the market means that only the quality will be bought and sold. Viniculturalists will only produce from their best grapes and the very poor quality will naturally be disregarded over time.

The French philosophy of quality winning the day relies on the consumer knowing the taste of what wine connoisseurs rate as quality and being willing to pay more than for a standard bottle of table wine. It is true to say, people are a lot more savvy about what wine they drink and have a taste for beyond the immediate. Having travelled, visited wine cellars, sampled and tasted there is a greater chance of the average consumer developing an educate palette. However, the bottom line for many is value for money.

In this scenario, mass sales doesn't necessarily mean increased sales in quality. Similar to the increase number of casual dinners frequency and quality and not necessarily linked. An increased ability to wine and dine, doesn't necessarily mean more haut cuisine or 30$bottle bottles of red, it simply means an increased number of people are willing to drink wine as an alternative to beer or spirits.

However, France has in the past had the reputation for only exporting their very average wine and keeping the good for their domestic markets. Now, purchasers are comparing a bottle of Chilean sauvignon blanc with a second rate French export and wandering what all the fuss about French wine is. Has France shot itself in the foot? Whilst the increased production in high quality wines in France should bring the price of good vintages down, they are competing will the lower prices of the new world exports.

France isn't alone with a difference between export and domestic wines. Buying abroad and at home is rarely the same, even when the label is. Jacobs Creek was a classic Australian wine in the 90's. It varied greatly in taste and quality depending where purchased and drank. The export and domestic product simply wasn't the same and Jacobs Creek is defiantly best drank off shore.

SpotLight is the weekly column exclusively written for 4Hoteliers.com by Sarah Muxlow, it is highlighting the challenges and issues which the global hospitality is facing today.

Sarah is writing for hotel and restaurant owners, hotel chain managers, producers/growers/sellers of food & beverage, restaurant associations, governing bodies and hotel schools. She is looking at the problems they face...competition, trends of branding, staff shortages, unskilled staff, turning out students who are looking for good in-house management training schemes with hotel chains, what makes a good quality training course at a hotel school and more... 

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