Richard Siddle, comment, October 22
It's been a mixed week of fortunes for wine generics. On the hand Michael Cox, who has presided over Chile's amazing growth in the UK for the last seven years, received a special award for his services to the country from no less a person than the Chilean president. Whilst on the other side of the world it was announced that Paul Henry, the face of Wine Australia was following the generic's head for the UK and Europe, Lisa McGovern and tendering his resignation. To lose two such high profile figures in the space of a few weeks seems more than just bad timing.
In many ways Paul Henry has had as big an influence over Australian wine in the UK as Michael Cox has over Chile, over a similar period of time. Both have succeeded in their own markets in convincing producers to make the kind of mainstream wines that sell like cup cakes in UK supermarkets. Both have in more recent times looked to widen that message to push premium and regional wines.
But whilst Cox appears to have the full support of Chilean producers, Henry's approach has proved far more controversial particularly with the big brand producers that effectively pay not only his wages but that of Wine Australia.
Hats off to Paul Schaafsma, Australian Vintage's voice for the UK and Europe, for being one of the few prepared to say publicly what others say in private.
His feelings ring out loud and clear in his guest comment this week (see page 14). He is looking for "leadership" and "real horsepower" and a bigger say in what Wine Australia does. Why, he asks, concentrate most of your activity on wines in the UK that sell over £7 when 92%of Australian wine is sold below £6.
In fact there are those who question whether Australia needs a generic here at all. In effect the major supermarket groups act as the country's voice in the UK by stocking so much of its wine at mass price points on its shelves.
Whilst Wine Australia looks to replace Paul Henry it will be ably represented around the world by the big brand owners that drive the vast bulk of Australian wine.