The snippets on Decanter.com are for me often of curiosity regarding wine but rarely ignite my deeper interest of business and political issues. However, I was pleased to read a short report written by Adam Lechmere about the ridiculous paranoia that some in the Australian wine industry exhibit when confronted with imports. Lechmere canvassed opinion at the Australia Day tasting in London and found several people who, along with TKR, think imports are not as big an issue as they are often made out to be.
Troy Christensen, CEO of Accolade Wines: “Utterly silly to suggest it’s an Australian’s patriotic duty not to buy imports.”
Corey Ryan, group chief winemaker at McWilliam’s: “Imports have never had it so good. I can see the attraction of it to consumers, who now see buying imported wines as an option. It’s not a bad thing from a winemaker’s point of view: the more rioja consumers drink the more they educate their palates, and Australia has lots of tempranillo.”
Paul Schaafsma of Australian Vintage: “It’s not a problem. It’s inevitable – you can’t hold back imports.”
In the latest Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) release, Australian Wine and Grape Industry 2010-2011, issued February 27, the bureau confirmed what we know: that the 2011 vintage came in at about 1.6 million tonnes. We covered the decline in exports in the last issue, this time imports hold interest.
Imports are up 4.2 per cent. This needs looking at rationally: it totals 67 million litres, about 14.5 per cent of Australian domestic sales. It’s TKR’s view that this is not yet out of control. However, break it down and more than 65 per cent of imports are New Zealand sauvignon blanc, and that is out of proportion. France provides about 13 per cent of imports but 31 per cent of the value at $146.2 million, and Italy just under 10 per cent of imports worth $32.1 million.
The invisible wineries
Compared with 2008-09, the 2010-11 figures show wineries crushing more than 400 tonnes in NSW, South Australia and Victoria crushed less, but those in Western Australia and Tasmania more. One can understand Tasmania as it’s in a growth stage, but TKR was under the impression Western Australia was still struggling with an oversupply. Mike Calneggia (Wine Shack) provided this explanation: “A lot of fruit was crushed last year under joint venture (JV) arrangements, mainly with contract processors. A lot of the resulting wine, mainly semillon and sauvignon blanc, remains unsold. For 2012 the JV arrangements have significantly declined. One contract processor that crushed 3000 tonnes last year is doing zero tonnes under JV this year. We are getting calls daily from growers offering semillon and sauvignon blanc. A lot won’t get picked this year thanks to the Kiwis.”
In the bracket 50-400 tonnes, add Queensland and wineries in all regions, apart from Tasmania, are crushing less.
The third bracket is strange as it’s all wineries crushing more than 50 tonnes. Again only Tasmanian and West Australian wineries were crushing more in 2010-11 than they did in 2008-09.
Perhaps the most fascinating figure to take from this is the total. Australia crushed 1,602,394 tonnes in 2011, which exactly matches the opening figure. What happened to those hundreds, if not thousands, of wineries that crush less than 50 tonnes?
The answer is they are rounded down to zero production, but there are 1602 of them, according to the ABS, all producing nothing.
There are 151 wineries producing 50-400 tonnes and 215 over 400 tonnes.
Showing the concentration of Australian production, 15 wineries are responsible for 74 per cent of production, a further eight for almost 7 per cent and another 11 for about 5 per cent. About 86 per cent of total Australian wine production is in the hands of 34 producers. In 1985 James Halliday wrote: “As the polarisation between the big companies and small ones intensifies, we have already reached the situation where the biggest 65 wine companies produce 98 per cent of the nation’s wine and the remaining 450 companies the remaining 2 per cent.” A quarter of a century later 55 companies produce 92 per cent of the nation’s wine and 1872 account for the rest.
Prime vineyard goes west
California-based Jackson Family Wines has added to its McLaren Vale holdings (it owns Yangarra Estate), acquiring the 186-hectare Hickinbotham Clarendon Estate Vineyards for an “undisclosed sum” or $8.5-8.7 million according to the word around the vale others say closer to $10 million. Wines will be made at the Yangarra Estate winery. With this sale there is some optimism that vineyard sales may be on the up. There are still a lot with the for-sale sign out front and it’s not good news for all. It’s also looking as if speculation is now removed from the equation. Those vineyards that are selling have a home for the grapes and a home for the finished product.
Speak the speak
James Gosper, Wine Australia’s general manager for market development, was in London for the Australia Day tasting, where he was interviewed by Chris Mercer for Just-Drinks. It’s not the most exciting interview and Gosper could be replaced with David Cox from New Zealand Wines or Michael Cox from Wines of Chile, so standard were the questions and answers.
Gosper clung to “really encouraging sales at higher price points”. He maintains it’s going to pay dividends. The base from which the increase is measured is so small he should be more concerned there is enough in the pot to help pay his wages.
It’s somewhat confusing, as Gosper is speaking of the UK and US, saying these markets are “trending [yes, trending] up at higher price points”. If he could explain to TKR how trending up translates to the below we would appreciate it:
Bottled exports to the US for the full year 2011 at FOB price points:
• $2.50-$4.99 down 16 per cent
• $5-$7.49 down 7 per cent
• $7.50-$9.99 up 1 per cent
• $10 and over down 14 per cent
Bottled exports to the UK for the full year 2011 at FOB price points:
• $2.50-$4.99 down 38 per cent
• $5-$7.49 down 36 per cent
• $7.50-$9.99 down 21 per cent
• $10 and over down 40 per cent
Hanging ones hat on a 1 per cent increase to the US in the price bracket $7.50 to $9.99 FOB a litre seems to TKR a slender peg.
It’s a fad it will never last
The wine that shocked the American industry and became a talking point when served at posh dinner parties is 10 years old. The Bronco Wine Company’s Charles Shaw brand, dubbed “two-buck chuck” when it could be bought in Trader Joe’s for US$2, has been around for a decade. It is estimated 50 million cases of various styles have been sold.
The jolly brewer
It is said that beer drinking is declining in Australia and there are figures to prove it. Swimming against the decline are the craft brewers. Beer vs. wine, what does it say about the wine industry when the brewer Little World Beverages, posted its first half:
• Revenue up 22 per cent to $43.38 million
• Net profit after tax up 32 per cent to $6.095 million
And Australian Vintage posted for its first half
• 4 per cent increase in sales to $116.4 million
• Net profit down 3 per cent to $3.7 million.
And the biggest of them all
There are plenty of jewels in the Treasury Wine Estates (TWE) chest but do they all get enough exposure? Taking into account the major American brands, TWE lays claim to 54 brands, but there are many more that have been retired, gathering dust in the archives, that may or may not see the light of day again. Those aside, are all 54 brands getting all they need? Or is being within the same group constricting?
These 54 active brands were responsible for the bulk of the $876 million generated in the first-half 2012 results. The favourable media focuses on the 54 per cent increase in profit. Why not? It’s a healthy increase but at the end of the day the profit after various deductions amounted to $40 million, less than 5 per cent of sales (EBITS $91.7 million). The gross profit margin is put at 34 per cent. Shareholders will see a return as an interim dividend of 6 cents per share (50 per cent franked) was declared.
Having Foster’s set them on their feet debt-free was a big plus for TWE. Borrowing cost $4 million (reduced to $2.8 million net) against $19.7 million in the same period last year. The company reports in four sections (see below). In his presentation CEO David Dearie was extremely positive about Asia and, true, the increase in sales and profit are to be applauded, however it’s still only worth $41.4 million in sales to the company. This suggests TWE was slow to start and is really just getting to grips with the market, with a very long way to go. In the first half of 2012 TWE sold 16.9 million cases globally. As a piece of trivia, in 2002 what was then Southcorp (now absorbed into TWE) sold 22 million cases for the year.
Currency cost TWE dearly: $12.8 million straight off the bottom line. Not much can be done about it. The only consolation is that it’s a swings and roundabouts game and what the company loses one year it could well make up in another.
Whatever brave face Dearie and his team put on the performance, TWE doesn’t yet have the feel of a stabilised company with clear direction. Dearie talks about increasing volume and moving into more premium wine but often one doesn’t go with the other. The full year should reveal more. Of course, there is always the possibility of a break-up in the meantime.
The news that Ellerston Capital has increased its holding in TWE to 5 per cent has more to do with it being the Packer family’s investment fund, so newspaper headlines can read: “James Packer has secured a 5 per cent holding in TWE.”
Mr Packer’s direct influence is irrelevant compared to the reason the investment fund is increasing its stake. Several investment funds own large chunks of TWE. The rise and fall in their shareholdings could easily be computer generated rather than astute reading of the international wine market. However, if pressure can be brought to bear on TWE, forcing a hiving-off parts, it might pay larger returns than dividends to the shareholders.
A quote in one newspaper read: “Another market watcher said the stake showed evidence of ‘smart money’ moving against the tide into the Australian wine sector, which might be on the verge of a turnaround.”
As a close watcher of the Australian wine industry TKR would like to say if there is any sign of a turnaround we haven’t spotted it yet. But if there is, can we advise the market it’s rather like an oil tanker turning. It’s going to take time.
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