The USA 360 event was a continuation of the popular “360” event series that the WCA NSW Chapter has instigated in an effort to give those who work in wine a look further afield than our domestic playing field, and learn more about how to be competitive in international markets.

The USA 360 event featured a rare tasting of over a dozen US premium wines, including Ridge Estate Cabernet, and heard valuable market insights from Casella’s Senior Export Manager, Matt Tallentire. Mark Bradstreet from Joval Group brought attendees up to speed on key wine regions and recent shifts in trends in the US market.

The event was led by the keynote speech from Matt Tallentire. Matt has been at the helm of one of Australia’s biggest exporters to the USA for just under half a decade, and he shared his insights on the market, its current performance, and his thoughts about the opportunity for Australian wine in the US.

His key points were:

  • although the US is a hugely complex, fragmented marketplace, there exists a significant opportunity for Australian wine, especially in the premium categories (US$10+). However, in order to most effectively market to this segment companies need to take into account existing consumer taste preferences.
  • Focus – for new brands to cut through to reach the consumer they must be focussed, launched with a strong but simple brand identity that is easily recognisable, with Yellowtail being a good example of this approach. Matt also pointed to the more recent success of the Treasury brand “19 Crimes”, and the wildly successful US brand “Josh” as examples of a focussed approach.
  • Visibility – the variability of shelf location for Australian wines in US retail means that consumers might not readily encounter these wines. Matt underscored the importance of getting the product onto the floor of stores, in bulk, to achieve visibility.
  • Brand Australia – the importance of all Australian suppliers working together on the ground to promote and amplify “Brand Australia”. Matt nominated, in particular, the valuable contribution that Wine Australia is making in this space.

Ahead of the tasting, 
the second speaker for the evening, Mark Bradstreet from Joval Group, introduced the audience to key US wine regions, popular styles and trends. He confirmed that California’s reputation as a producer of big, powerful styles is still firmly in place, but that some producers are exploring more elegant styles. Also that Oregon and Washington State have growing reputations as consistent producers of premium wines, particularly Pinot Noir.

Mark noted that the Rose trend is still ongoing, largely fueled by California Pinot Noir, and that consumers are increasingly attracted to Pinot Gris styles, moving away from the traditionally more popular Pinot Grigio category.

The tasting itself was focussed on showcasing America’s most popular varieties – Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Cabernet Sauvignon. The California Chardonnays were all full, rich styles, with the best ones exhibiting great texture and balance – a good pointer to the preferred taste of a large segment of American Chardonnay consumers. The Pinot Noirs from Oregon were great examples of the variety and on par with good Yarra Valley or Tasmanian Pinots (but coming with the challenge of a lower relative price point on the shelf in the US).

The Cabernets were probably the most interesting part of the tasting, showing considerable variation in style. The newer “Cannonball” Cabernet was incredibly soft and juicy, made in a very approachable style. The Cabernets from Stonestreet, Kenwood and Kendall Jackson were more classic, a well-balanced combination of black fruits, earthy tannins and oak in support. The Ridge Estate Cabernet was on a different level again – hugely concentrated layers of blackcurrant and black olive fruit wrapped in fine-grained tannins and lots of cedar oak.

Overall this event left me with a real understanding of what the premium US wine drinker expects from a really good glass of wine, and how this may be similar/different to what we produce in Australia. My other key takeaway was just how much work our producers are putting in to sell Australian wine into this market – which on the surface feels familiar to us, but which in fact is incredibly complex and challenging. Go Brand Australia!