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June 15, 2020
Australia is a huge and diverse place, and its wine reflects that. It’s the fifth largest producer in the world, and although Shiraz, the grape that made Aussie wine famous, still plays a hugely significant role, there are over 100 varieties planted Down Under now. From Eden Valley Riesling to Tasmanian Pinot Noir, there’s wine for every taste and mood.
Gordon Little, who runs the Australian wine importer Little Peacock alongside his American wife Lauren, brings many of these excellent and diverse wines into the US. We spoke to him to find out more about what’s happening Down Under and how Australian wine is reinventing itself in the US market.
“When we started it was because there were no smaller-produced, or very few smaller-produced wines, and what was here was very heavy, big, South Australian-dominated wine. That has changed a lot, but it's also, in some places, stayed the same. Like when I first started I would bring a line-up of Australian wines and people would be like ‘no-one has brought Australian wines to taste like this in, I don't recall.’ I don't get that so much anymore.
“What I get now is distributors are interested in us and they're like ‘Australian wines are cool. We've heard about them, we've read about them. Yeah! Like, let's see what we can do!’ And then after a while they're like, ‘yeah, it's really hard, right? Because sometimes the buyers don't want to engage in Australia.’ So we still get that but if you're a good and interested buyer you can turn people on to these wines no problem.”
“I get frustrated when there's a new restaurant opens up and they're like, ‘Yeah for the wine list we're just going to do Burgundy, Bordeaux, Italy and then maybe some California.’ Way to be different! I think that at the higher level there's more interest in building or adding Australian wine onto a list, particularly in the Union Square hospitality group. They've had a very good focus in training on bringing in Australian wine and how to fill them and where they fit. And I've noticed that some who have worked there who have gone on to other restaurants, they instantly are like ‘Yep, I'm down with this.’”
“I think that's still a work in progress for the country as a whole because everybody grows Shiraz. A lot of places also grow Cabernet and then a lot of places grow Chardonnay, and they're all different. As you know, Margaret River Chardonnay is totally different in proposition to Yarra Valley chardonnay. But what do these regions really stand for now? If you look at McLaren Vale, there's a huge amount of alternative varieties being planted, there's tons of Fianos and Vermentinos. Is that what we want McLaren Vale to be known for? Or do we want it to be known for Shiraz?”
“There is a lot of natural wine coming out of Australia; an Australian section now can be just natural wines. And I think there's opportunity and problems with that, because it’s possible to push some natural Aussie wines into a section and be like, ‘I have a very up-to-date and happening Aussie section,’ but you still don't have to know anything about the geography or the region, or have any depth or knowledge of their history.
“So there's this difficult dichotomy in terms of growing the Australian section more broadly, because if you're not going to stock a Margaret River chardonnay and a McLaren Vale grenache and a Yarra Valley pinot noir, you're just going to put in natural funky stuff, is that helping Australia or is it not? I don't know.”
“I'm actually pretty passionate about McLaren Vale and Barossa. When we started, it was mainly Victorian wine - I’m from Melbourne - and we had just one Barossa producer. There was a lot of talk at that time, seven or eight years ago, about wanting cool climate from Australia, because cool climate was the future and cool climate was low-alcohol, but actually what I think is there's a ton of exciting stuff happening in the warmer climates.
“In Barossa, there's so many families there and everybody's up in each other's business and they're so interlinked with such a long history: it's like ‘I'm getting some grapes from Tony down the road.’ There's a lot of innovation and change happening within the warm climates.”
“Yeah, we still get people who don’t know that Australia is the second or third biggest grower of Riesling in the world. I still get people who say, ‘What? Aussie Riesling? I didn't know that.’ And we've got Riesling from the Grampians, we've got Riesling from Eden Valley, we've got Riesling from Clare Valley, from Frankland River, and there's a big story to be told about Riesling. But I think overall the potential of Australian white wine is huge, because we have so much variety. There’s so much depth.”