Saturday, May 09, 2009

Going Down: Welcoming the arrival of Three Dollar Bill

First it was New Zealand. With a lake of excess 2008 Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc on their hands, producers decided to dump a lot of it in Britain, the country where they had cleverly built a market for their unusually - for the Brits - highly priced wine. Last year, the going rate for this style was £6-8 nearly twice the national average price for white wine. The picture for 2009 will almost certainly look rather different

The Tesco customers who reportedly bought nearly 2,000,000 bottles at 3-for-£10 over the space of a few weeks may wonder why they should shell out £6 for what they might perceive to be the same stuff. Meanwhile, on the other side of the Atlantic, Fred Franzia of Bronco Wine Co, has announced that he is about to launch a $3 Australian range (which, in his shoes, I might well call Three-Dollar-Bill) to sell at half the price of the US's biggest-selling import, Yellow Tail.

Franzia. it should be remembered, is the the man who invented "Two Buck Chuck" and, until he was legally prevented from doing so, sold vast quantities of cheap Central Valley wine as Napa Ridge. Tesco has been criticised for the damage it has done to the image of New Zealand and Franzia will face a similar charge. Especially given the difficukties Australia has had in building a premium image for its wines in the US. But, as Dan Jago of Tesco frankly says, "we were offered the wine. If we hadn't taken it, one of our competitors surely would have done. ". Franzia takes a similar line: "Bronco fishes where the fish are!". If the Kiwis and Aussies don't want to be seen as purveyors of bargain basement wine, maybe they should stop selling large quantities of bargain basement wine. As a major UK retailer wrily said, if they'd had any sense, the Kiwis would have poured every drop of their excess down the drain...

My bet is that the New Zealanders may just get this message. Their surplus in 2009 was apparently far smaller than in 2008, and if they have any sense, they'll dump it in China out of sight of their regular customers. The picture for Australia is more worrying. Mr Franzia plays a longer game than many people expect. When he launched Charles Shaw - aka Two Buck Chuck - most observers thought it a clever short-term way to help dispose of a temporary Californian glut. But the brand is now seven years old and still going strong. Three Dollar Bill is likely to be here to stay too. And, if I were a winemaker trying to make a living in the Barossa Valley, that would hardly be good news.

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