You can judge a good party by how long people stay. At the Australia Day Tasting in London on Tuesday, no one wanted to leave, leading to queues to get in. A bit like waiting to get on Wendouree’s mailing list. Consummate global wine traveller Sam Temme gave me a Wirra Wirra beanie, but Jancis Robinson probably deserved it more because, unbeknown to Wine Australia, she was one of the people waiting outside in the queue. Laura Jewell MW, Wine Australia’s regional director for the UK and Europe, bumped into Jancis in the toilets. “Jancis was very gracious about it,” Laura said. No biggie. Anyway, Australians aren’t known for preferential treatment, especially on Australia Day. Big beautiful posters of Toby Bekkers, Anna Pooley, Brendan Keys and others adorned the walls of grand old Lindley Hall, adding warmth and personality. Fifteen winemakers attended, compared with three last year. Give Mike Rann’s Australia Day gong to Future Leader Andrew Calabria, who flew into Heathrow at dawn and took a taxi straight to the venue, before flying home 10 hours later for vintage! Wine Australia’s kangaroo logo is dead; it’s now all about promoting Australian producers rather than the generic body. It’s also about sophistication. Two UK distributors representing an Aussie brand wore cowboy hats and sunglasses with flashing lights. “We’re attracting attention,” they said. No shit.
Hazel Murphy was there, Matthew Jukes worked the room tasting furiously, David Bowley was the coolest person there, Peter Barry was the loudest, and Tim Wildman MW opened his latest wines, one of which was begging to be sued with a Darth Vader image on the label. Fast-talking Dan Jago, ex Tesco guru and now boss of Berry Bros & Rudd, said he loved WBM and TWTW and urged us to promote them more in the UK. We will. The #ADTwine hashtag started trending and activists swamped it with terrorist-related messages, forcing Wine Australia to take down a screen showing live tweets.
Ruddy-faced Alexander Downer, the High Commissioner of Australia to the UK, dropped in for 10 minutes; he had his own party to host. The roadshow moved to the Royal Hibernian Academy in Dublin the next day. Wine Australia chair Brian Walsh and John McDonnell ran a masterclass for the Irish trade, a quiet bunch who sat where they sit on Sundays – in the back rows. Ireland has had a hard time. Like many, John McDonnell, the boy from Ballyvaughan, lost his job (with Wine Australia) a few years ago; he tried his hand at sales for a while. He’s working the midnight shift on the production line at a medical device facility in Galway. Said he hadn’t imagined doing that kind of work as a kid, but it’s putting bread on the table. He’s thankful. Respect. What an inspiring man. Ireland is on the move; there’s a shillelagh under its arm and a twinkle in its eye. An Australian winery will surely snap up John. I met local identity Jean Smullen, who knows everything about everyone. Ok, what about U2? She told me exactly where Bono and The Edge buy their wine. “And Bono drinks at Finnigan’s,” she said. “But we don’t bother him. We don’t bother celebrities in Ireland.” The cavalcade rolled on to Edinburgh – Wine Australia’s first visit for seven years.
The upbeat London tasting was preceded by a downbeat Accolade Wines breakfast briefing to media. Never again, I suspect. The Drinks Business ran this headline: “Australia ‘not fit for the future’ in the UK.” Whoever wrote that is not fit to write headlines. Never leave the party early, guys, because you miss the best bits. Decante said the ADT vibe was that “2016 could be Australia’s year”. Many exhibitors at this event felt the same way.
Laura Jewell took me on a rush-hour tour of supermarkets and wine stores via the dark, loud tube. The Russian-owned Hedonist wine shop is a showcase of large-format bottles. There’s a 27-litre bottle of Torbreck The Laird 2006 signed by Dave Powell; yours for £29,942.70. The woodchopper was one of the first in the modern era to charge a decent premium for good booze, adding to the legend of Torbreck overseas and ensuring prominent representation in a magnificent store like this. The shelf space for Australian wine in London is regrettable. But something’s not quite right. It’s a world away from what happened in London on Australia Day – the buzz of more than 1,200 Australian wine allies in that room gladdened the heart. It was like a big loud Irish wake for a loyal old friend who died and was reborn again. A landmark day. Credit to the Wine Australia team in the UK, who got the job done 18 months after a tragedy that affected them all: the death of Laura Jewell’s predecessor, Yvonne May. She would have loved it. Jancis, the next time you find yourself in a queue, you have our permission to push your way to the front. Then again, I like the symbolism of a headline reading ‘Jancis Robinson Queues for Aussie Wine.’ And yes, our wines really are that good.
Were you there? Did you have a few too many? Or did you do some whopping deals? Let us know in the comments!