Emerging wine grape varieties: opportunities, barriers and potential

Page last updated: Friday, 15 October 2021 - 10:01am

DPIRD has evaluated a number of emerging wine grape varieties for their suitability for production in Western Australia. Complementing this work, the department has also explored opportunities, barriers and potential of emerging wine grape varieties in the Australian market.

Key information concerning the success of emerging varieties has been collected through consultation with key value chain segments including vignerons, winemakers, distributors, sales representatives, retailers, sommeliers and restaurateurs.

Defining alternative varieties

DPIRD has been researching emerging varieties in terms of field performance, wine quality, consumer response and opportunities and barriers. This page serves to complement Alternative wine grape evaluation in Western Australia bulletin, which provides background on 18 alternative varieties grown in Manjimup and details field performance and wine quality over a number of seasons plus a summary of evaluations conducted at a trial site at the WA College of Agriculture - Harvey.

The Australian Alternative Varieties Wine Show defines an alternative / emerging variety through exclusion of major varieties. That is, emerging varieties are any variety other than Muscat Gordo, Pinot Gris/Grigio (included in 2010), Chardonnay, Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, the Cabernet family generally, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Shiraz, Chenin Blanc, Riesling, Colombard, Grenache and Verdelho.

Excluding these varieties from the 2013 national crush data, emerging varieties accounted for 15% of the national production of that year.

In the 2013 Wine Industry Directory 130 varieties were listed by producers for straight or blended wines that fall into the emerging variety category.

Emerging varieties have a place in the Australian wine industry as they are seen as an alternative to mainstream varietals thus enabling producers to offer consumers something different in terms of aromas, flavours, texture and style. They also offer diversity to wine portfolios, access to niche markets and adaption to a changing climate.

An emerging variety forum hosted by DPIRD was conducted to explore trends, opportunities and barriers concerning alternative varieties in the Australian market place. This forum included gatekeepers crucial to the success and adoption of emerging varieties in the marketplace such as vignerons, winemakers, distributors, sales representatives, retailers, sommeliers and restaurateurs. The following information has been collated from that forum.

Opportunities

General

Never have Australian consumers had greater access to a diverse range of wine styles, varieties and imported wines.

Australians' enthusiasm to travel abroad especially to European destinations has improved cultural links between food and wine and increased knowledge of different varieties and styles.

As imported wines become more affordable to Australian wine consumers, the market has grown to about 16% in a relatively short period.

Consumers are interested in new products and looking for interesting wines that offer some alternative to the norm.

WA consumers are loyal to WA wines.

On-premise

Sommeliers and retailers will typically make suggestions based on wine style preferences of the customer rather than varietal preferences.

Consumer drinking habits on-premise are heavily influenced by sommelier/waiter recommendations.

Wines available by the glass allow a greater access to new varieties and wine styles. It allows customers to try a range of wines without investing in a whole bottle. Listing a wine by the glass can be influenced by distributors providing incentive through promotion or discounting.

Wines matching a cuisine can encourage customers to try new varieties, for example Tempranillo and Albarino are recommended to accompany Spanish dishes.

Off-premise

Price and promotion are important drivers of purchasing decisions. Online media is becoming a growing influence and tool.

Emerging varieties are a hard sell but benefit from drivers such as staff recommendations, floor displays and promotions. Retailers have significant influence on purchasing behaviour. For example, promotional point-of-sale activities can effectively shift consumer behaviour from one brand to another.

Knowledgeable staff tend to have success in up-selling. Staff engaging customers one-on-one observe influence of repeat purchases and increasing price point purchases. Sales representatives who educated retail staff and customers through in-store tastings experienced increased sales of emerging varieties.

Distribution and marketing

Sales representatives need to portray confidence and enthusiasm about the wines to the buyer, these wines need an extra push.

Awareness of market segmentation identifies those groups more likely to purchase alternative variety wines, that is, young educated consumers interested in wine. This can provide focus to market strategies and resources.

Production

Classic varieties that have a reputation of producing fine wines in established countries/regions tend to show faster adoption than obscure varieties.

Matching the variety to the most appropriate site is key to ensure the highest potential wine quality is achieved.

Varieties should produce flavoursome wines, avoiding red varieties that have the potential to exhibit ‘green’ characters.

Clones need to be taken into account when considering planting some varieties, as there may be significant quality differences between clones.

Examine the market, site and available material. The motivation to invest in a new variety shouldn’t be solely on the growers’ preference or interest in the variety.

Trail blazer producers are encouraged to take some risk once they have considered these points. The industry needs pioneers and there can be rewards for these trendsetters.

Small production volumes provide an image of exclusivity which is sought in on-premise outlets. It creates an image of intimacy with the producer which consumers enjoy and provides a story.

Benchmarking is useful. Tasting good examples of the variety from similar regions can provide direction for vineyard management and winemaking approaches.

Emerging wine styles for future markets are predicted by some as being lower in alcohol, early approachability and flavoursome.

Barriers

Support through the supply chain is key. Production needs to ensure a consistent quality product, distributors and sales representatives are equally important to the success of a new variety through education and promotion.

It is a challenge to introduce consumers to an unfamiliar variety. Initially there will be some market resistance.

A variety's name can be a factor in success. Being difficult to pronounce is a consideration. The harder the name to spell and pronounce, the more resources required to educate consumers but it can be overcome.

Availability of varieties and clonal material can be an issue. The process of importing grapevine material into Western Australia can take up to two years to pass through necessary quarantine measures. Accessibility and the length of time involved in establishing new varieties should be considered.

Potential

Investment in new varieties for wine businesses is substantial. With information from field trials and sensory evaluations, each one of the 21 varieties from the DPIRD led evaluations has been categorised in terms of potential for adoption based on their preformance at Manjimup and Harvey.

High, medium and low potential is indicated (listed alphabetically within each category). The tables below provide brief comment on the attributes that have contributed to the varieties categorisation.

Performance of alternative wine varieties grown at Manjimup in Western Australia

Variety

Colour

Summary

High potential

Arneis

White

Performs well in Manjimup. Low disease susceptibility and moderate yields. Wines are fine and delicate.

Barbera

Red

Consistently performed well viticulturally. Juice tends to be high in acid which may prove an issue in cooler years, however wines have scored highly from both judges and consumers. A variety with pedigree.

Lagrein

Red

Vines have consistently yielded well. Moderate sensitivity to powdery mildew. Wines show great concentration rewarded by good wine show scores and positive responses from consumers.

Pinot Gris

White

Judges and consumers have validated popularity through high scores. No longer classified as an alternative variety as of 2010.

Saperavi

Red

Wines have outstanding colour, scored well with both judges and consumers. Viticulturally typified by small canopies and loose bunches with a degree of berry shrivel  in most years.

Tannat

Red

Requires additional management due to secondary crops and moderate disease susceptibility. Wines are soft and flavoursome, appreciated by both judges and consumers.

Medium potential

Brachetto

Rosè

Has not performed consistently, with some years producing next to no crop. Wines best made in a rosè style with distinct floral, muscat characters reminiscent of pink moscato style.

Durif

Red

Compact bunches lead to botrytis issues. Vines perform well but conditions in Manjimup are challenging for ideal ripeness. Wines are sound but lack varietal traits produced in warmer climates.

Fer

Red

Very late ripening. Struggles to reach optimal ripeness but has good disease resistance. Wines scored well by consumers favouring the medium to light-bodied, fruit forward style.

Hárslevelü

White

Distinct upright growth with very large bunches. Variety succumbs to powdery mildew in most years. Wines were typified as floral and perfumed indicating potential to produce distinct wines in a warmer region.

Savagnin Blanc

White

Productive vines with low disease susceptibility. Juice is prone to oxidation and suspected to contain high levels of protein. Judges commented on the attractive palate texture. Possibly will perform better in slightly warmer region.

Scheurebe

White

Vines performed well in Manjimup with good crop levels and moderate disease susceptibility. Fruit is low in acid at harvest and suitable for dry and sweet styles. Ideally suited to cool regions, wines reminiscent of Riesling but with lower acidity.

Tempranillo

Red

High vigour requires additional canopy management. Produced high scoring wines picked at elevated sugar levels. Expected and proven to perform better in a warmer site or region.

Vermentino

White

Showed low disease susceptibility but late ripening. Wines were fine but not distinctly varietal. Requires warmer climate to reach potential.

Viognier

White

Performed well in Manjimup making distinct varietal wines. Some susceptibility to botrytis due to later harvest.

Low potential

Furmint

White

Consistently poor fruit set, high susceptibility to powdery mildew.

Gamay

Red/rosè

Tight bunches lead to susceptibility to botrytis. Wines have been lowly scored at shows and not well received in consumer surveys.

Kadarka

Red

Failed in every year to reach sugar and colour ripeness. No wines have been made for assessment.

 

Performance of alternative wine varieties grown at Harvey (Wokalup) in Western Australia
Variety Colour Summary

High potential

Arneis

White

Low yields, small berries and small tight bunches. Good acid retention, wines show citrus, orchard fruits and floral notes. Gold to bronze medals received. Over watering was found to be detrimental to its ability to achieve optimal ripeness.

Harslevelu

White

Distinctive upright growth, moderate to high yielding, medium sized berries with thin skins and medium to large sized loose bunches. Sensitive to powdery mildew and sun damage. Produces aromatic wines with citrus and floral notes. Requires minor acid adjustment and likely not be suited to warmer or drier climates than Geographe.  Gold and silver medals received.

Lagrein

Red

Inconsistent yields, sprawling canopy, medium sized berries and medium sized loose bunches. Produces high quality wine characterised by deep colour, great concentration, dark fruits, spice and fine powdery tannins. Awarded gold and silver medals.

Saperavi

Red

Moderate yields, small berries and medium sized bunches of medium to low compaction. Low vigour, berries remove easily from the rachis and can shrivel later in the season. Highly coloured variety, good acidity producing perfumed concentrated wines featuring dark berries and fine tannins. Gold, silver and bronze medals awarded.

Scheurebe

White

Moderate yields, medium sized berries and small tight bunches. Prone to sun damage and bunch rot if conditions conducive. Highly aromatic wines suited to all levels of sweetness. Wines received golds, silver and bronze medals. “Like Riesling without the high acid”.

Sciacarello

Rosè / Red

Medium sized yields, large berries and large compact bunches. Low coloured variety makes a distinct light body red and rose. Wines are spicy, savoury with complimenting red berries. Unique.

Vermentino

White

High yields, large berries and large compact bunches. Good acid retention. Wines can lack depth and interest without some skin and lees contact. Silver and bronze medals awarded.

Medium potential

Brachetto

Rosè

Very early ripening and a favourite of birds, only one season of observations made. Similar findings to those from Manjimup; irregular yielding, medium sized berries and bunches. Light red / pink in  colour, Muscat flavour variety best suited to rose style wines and possibly sparkling.

Carménerè

Red

Medium yields, small berries and medium sized bunches of moderate compaction. Low acidity. Wines feature berry, herbal and savoury notes. Silver and bronze medals awarded. Suited for Bordeaux blends and single varietal wines.

Dolcetto

Red

Sprawling growth habit, medium sized berries, medium to large bunches and high yields. Retains acid well and suited to medium to light bodied wines styles. Wines typified by red berries and savoury notes.

Durif

Red

High yields, medium sized berries with medium sized medium to high compact bunches. Susceptible to bunch rot but holds acid well. Wines have good colour and feature concentrated dark fruits.

Fer

Red

Inconsistent yields, shows good disease resistance. Small berries with medium sized compact bunches. Compared spur to cane pruning with no apparent difference in yield. Wines show similarities to Cabernet Sauvignon in the herbal/savoury spectrum. Good colour, suited to blending and straight varietal wine. A Saperavi / Fer blend received gold medal score.

Fiano

White

Very low yields restricted a full evaluation. Small thick skinned berries and small loose bunches. Good acid retention, wines range from citrus to stone fruit spectrum and benefit from subtle oak integration.

Graciano

Red

Moderate yields, small berries and large bunches of medium compaction. On spur pruned vines, shoots have thick diameters, very few rogue shoots eliminating the need for shoot thinning producing an open canopy. Retains acid well, wines show savoury, spice and berry characters. Silver and bronze medals awarded.

Pignoletto

White

Moderate yields, medium sized berries and bunches. Good vigour and disease resistance. Traditionally used for sparkling wines but not explored in this trial. Table wines were textural showing melon and floral attributes. Silver to bronze medals received.

Montepulciano

Red

Medium sized berries and small medium compact bunches. Displayed good disease resistance but slow to establish which may be cause of the small bunches and yield. Retains acid well, wines are deeply coloured with lifted violets, blue fruits and chalky tannins.

Savagnin Blanc

White

High yields, small berries and medium sized tight bunches. High acid variety, malleable in the winery in terms of wine styles. 

Tannat

Red

Vigorous growth with heavy yields. Medium sized berries with large compact bunches. Bronze medal wines typified with good colour, chalky tannins and red fruits.

Low potential

 

Alicante Bouschet

Red

Pigmented juice, extreme dark inky colour. Huge bunches, compact and succumb to bunch rot in most years. Possible use as blending variety for increasing colour but aroma and palate attributes not shown to be sufficient quality for a single varietal wine.

Kadarka

Red

Performed poorly. Thin skins, never achieved optimum ripeness before disease impacted fruit quality.


 

Further reading

ABS, Vineyard Estimates, Australia 2012 (cat. no. 1329.0.55.002), Australian Bureau of Statistics, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra.

Bruwer, J, Li, E and Reid, M 2002, Segmentation of the Australian Wine Market Using a Wine-Related Lifestyle Approach, Journal of Wine Research, 13:3, 217-242.

Dry, P Alternative Varieties – sourcing key viticultural, wine and market information, 2010, GWRDC, South Australia.

Kennison, K and Fennessy, R 2011, Evaluation of alternative wine grape varieties in Manjimup Western Australia, Department of Agriculture and Food, Bulletin 4824.

Levine, M and Pownall, S 2004, Wine Industry Outlook: Consumption Demographics, Market Segmentation, Trends and Opportunities, 2004 Wine Industry Outlook Conference, Darling Harbour, Sydney.

The Australian and New Zealand Wine Industry Directory, 2013, Winetitles, South Australia.

 

Contact information

Richard Fennessy
+61 (0)8 9780 6219

Author

Richard Fennessy