Murray Street Vineyards from Greenock in the Barossa Valley has been exporting wines to America with mixed results over the past five years or so. The wines have been sealed primarily with screw cap for that particular market, but after conducting some “due diligence”, MSV is looking at switching to quality natural cork for the US.
“The persevering perception in the States is that the screw cap still equals cheap,” says general manager Anthony Grundel.
“We’re hitting price points at $30 to $35 – and at that level the message is clear: it needs to be under cork.
We have not achieved our self-imposed targets in the States. We strongly targeted that market in 2008 and 2009 without the desired level of success we required, but in fairness we encountered the GFC and we’ve also been busy developing other markets. However, now that push is back on in America, and after doing some due diligence and a lot of tastings with the trade and consumers over there, and getting solid feedback from the people on the ground, we’re strongly entertaining the return of cork.
To put it in perspective, we’re not talking massive volumes, but it’s a big step for us. Another interesting angle, and one we hadn’t consideredis that feedback from the marketing channels is consistent in that, if it’s screw cap, the wine is probably scrutinised more closely.”
The eventual decision to switch to cork will be made by the California-based owners, Bill Jahnke and his daughter, Janai Brengman, who are now playing a greater role in the running of the business and are perhaps not as “predetermined” about using screw caps at all costs as many Australians are.
Anthony says the probable decision to move to natural cork is also based on recent WineTech conversations including Amorim and other producers starting to talk about “99.9 percent guarantees against TCA”.
“The developments with the cork companies has given us confidence to go down this track and use products that hopefully do what they say they can do,” he says.
“So the worlds are aligning, if you like. Mind you, there are some interesting and exciting things happening with screw cap innovation as well. We will also be investing in some of that technology. The level of printing quality and embossing and things are seeing massive jumps in quality in terms of presentation.”
Anthony believes decisions on the various closures need to be made with reference to the styles of wine people are producing and where their intended market is. “As for
Murray Street Vineyards, we are not in the enviable position of being able to dictate to the market, but rather the market still influences us and our decisions,” he says.
“In the past we have been production-driven, now we’re more market-driven. So when Bill and Janai told us they wanted to revisit cork, everyone at the winery took a deep breath.”
Anthony says MSV is seeing new opportunities in the US for red blends rather than straight Shiraz. “The Shiraz category is still full,” he says,
“but there seems to be an opportunity for blends, which adds a new equation to the mix. Shiraz Cabernet definitely seems to be a favourite, along with GSMs. But if you’re over there pushing just a Shiraz, good luck!”
Murray Street Vineyards has been selling a lot of wine in China through a dedicated website.
“In terms of using screw caps in China,” says Anthony, “the mantra seems to be ‘well, you’re a premium wine using screw cap – but you’re Australian, so we understand’. But we are offering both screw cap and cork at this stage.”
Anthony says MSV tried a distribution model in China with limited success.
“We are seeing more successful growth in the online market in China,” he says, “We’ve been online for 12 months now, and they are consistently ordering from us, and are respectful of prices.”
“We’re seeing some growth there and it’s working nicely. As for screw caps, the consumers don’t necessarily pick up that the wines are sealed with screw caps when they order the wine, and we’ve had no real negative feedback. At the price points we’re talking, they just want to buy it and drink it – not cellar it. With collectors in China, quality cork is the quality parameter, and the French are leading by example in that area.”
MSV, which has traditionally used a proprietary bottle, is also reviewing its packaging.
“I love our bottle, but is that the answer to selling more wine?” says Anthony.
“I’m not completely convinced, so we’re looking at everything.”