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Treasury’s French connection with Chinese drinkers

theaustralian.com.au by ELI GREENBLAT13/03/2017  

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Michael Clarke says Treasury’s range of French wines will be sold in China by November. Picture: Eugene Hyland

Quelle horreur — an Australian winemaker run by a South African wants to create a French wine portfolio from scratch and then sell it to drinkers in China who view any wine labelled “made in France” as a regional “trust mark”.

The fusing of new and old world wine sensibilities is the latest idea from Treasury Wine Estates chief executive Michael Clarke, who from his new temporary head office in Napa, California, unveiled his cunning plan to beat the French at their own game. The prize is huge.

France is comfortably the No. 1 wine-producing country for imports in China, with the French wine category 2.5 times bigger than the Australian category across Asia and five times the size of the Australian category in Japan. Experts believe French wine sales to China — where the nation already has a 35 per cent market share — will grow by 10 per cent a year to 2021.

But investors needn’t panic over the thought of Mr Clarke buying up dozens of historic and expensive chateaus to source his grand ambitions. That won’t happen, as Treasury Wine will outsource all its grapes and won’t own a single vineyard. Treasury Wine has already created new French wine labels and branding, applied for trademarks and is bypassing the need to steep its new French wines in history and tradition.

Rather it’s a wine planned in Melbourne, executed from Napa, grown in France and shipped to north Asia. French farmers are not known for their affection for the free market, with ritual hijackings of wine they view as an unfair threat. Just last year winemakers in southern France hijacked five tankers of Spanish wine on the border and flushed the equivalent of 90,000 bottles down the drain in protest against unfair competition.

“In Asia, ‘French’ is a trust mark. Most consumers don’t always know the name of a particular chateau, unless it is really well known, but French is a trust mark and we are tapping into that,’’ Mr Clarke said.

Treasury Wine’s new range of French wines, whose names are yet to be released, will hit the shops, bars and restaurants in China and Japan by November and is being sold to investors as a bid to “disrupt” the traditional old world mould of the French category and drive growth for the company globally.

“We have created a new brand through our innovation process that will disrupt the French category in both the lower and upper luxury segments,’’ Treasury Wine chief marketing officer Simon Marton said from Napa. “We have deliberately created a proposition that will be different to the traditional French brand model, with a new world wine marketing mentality and with north Asian markets a priority. The French wine category has very strong imagery and perceived quality in consumers’ eyes and will be a rich hunting ground for Treasury, particularly leveraging our global reach and scale.’’

Mr Clarke promised Treasury Wine’s new French wines would be innovative, both in terms of taste and packaging, with the wines blended to suit Asian tastes.

Backing these plans up is Treasury Wine’s global distribution, supply chain and marketing muscle — which will likely run rings around the traditional family-owned or independent chateaus and wine groups in France.

The French portfolio includes Bordeaux, Burgundy and Chateauneuf du Pape reds, Rose from Provence and champagne.