Wine Australia's Angela Slade at Toronto's Vintage Conservatory.

Wine Australia’s Angela Slade at Toronto’s Vintage Conservatory.

Angela Slade is a busy woman. As Regional Director of Wine Australia for all of North America she finds herself all over the United States, Mexico, and Canada spreading the good word about all things vinous and Australian. We caught up with her recently in Toronto over a lovely glass of Hunter Valley Semillon.

Good Food Revolution: Hello Angela. Thanks for joining us at Good Food Revolution. How long have you headed up Wine Australia in North America?

Angela Slade: Hi Jamie. Nice to join you! I started with Wine Australia in August 2011

GFR: And before you found yourself in such a major role, what had you been up to?

AS: I’ve been working in wine for just about 22 years and 15 of those years has been with Aussie wines. Gosh, I feel pretty old! I’m from Napa Valley and my first ‘wine job’ was at Beringer’s Hudson House, the VIP hospitality/culinary/education venue on the Beringer property, through my university summers.

I lived in Italy for a number of years after university and somehow talked my way into interning for Frescobaldi and Mondavi during their 1997 launch of Luce in Tuscany. I worked in wine PR for a firm in Rome, up until I moved to Australia in 1999. I started with Rosemount Estate in 1999, in Sydney, until 2004. I returned to the states after our son was born, and worked as a contractor for Treasury (previously known as Southcorp) handling PR projects as well as working with the global team to develop an online Australian wine education program.

I ran the PR and Marketing in the US for Australian importer, Negociants for just over four years, before being tapped to apply for the Wine Australia, North America role.

In each role, I was the conduit for Wine Australia programs for our company – and through the years developed close working relationships with the Wine Australian regional teams. Through these 15 years, I’ve worked with Australian wine from an absolute sales & popularity peak in 1999/2000 through some very tough economic times more recently. I know where Australia has been, where it is today, and where we are taking it next!

GFR: For those of our readers who don’t know, what is the mandate at Wine Australia?

AS: We are an Australian Government statutory authority, established in 1981, to provide support to the Australian wine sector via four areas: market development; market intelligence, compliance and  trade. Here in North America, as part of the Market Development team, we provide a collaborative framework for the Australian wine category to secure maximum trade, press and consumer visibility.

GFR: And approximately how many wineries are part of Wine Australia?

AS: All wineries are welcome to be involved with us at Wine Australia. We no longer have a membership-based program. We simply support all wineries who are exporting or wish to export with a combination of core work (research, education, PR) and user-pay activities (trade tastings, consumer events, retail programs). Wineries/agents select whichever user-pay activities we have on offer each fiscal year, in their markets of interest, that suit their brand needs.

GFR: What would you say the biggest challenges are that Australian wines face in the world market, and then specifically the Canadian market?

AS: In established (mature) markets for Australian wine exports (i.e. USA, UK, Canada), our biggest challenges are trade perception, trade confidence and consumer mind-share. Amongst the trade (I should say ‘older’ trade), we have had a perception challenge based on being known for two extremes: entry-level wine OR very intense, powerful Shiraz.

Of course the reality is that we have over 64 wine regions and produce a lovely diversity of varieties and styles. Our challenge, globally, is to educate trade and about our full spectrum of offerings and showcase our wonderful regions that produce distinct and local gems. This is a re-education process for those who have been in the business for some years; but for the younger members of the trade, this is new education, a new discovery of Australia’s regional and premium wines. No baggage – no negativity – just education.

For consumers, our challenge is visibility and mind-share in a competitive environment. There are so many wonderful wines today from all over the world. That’s a great thing. Our challenge is to remind consumers why they fell in love with Australia and engage them to taste and try our wines again, they will find their classic favorites – as well as a lot more diversity and discovery and ‘deliciousness’. For millennials, it’s simply ‘taste & discover’. We know that when we open bottles and taste with consumers, they love Australian wine.

Therefore, our third challenge is trade confidence….that’s confidence not in Australian wine quality, but confidence that their consumers will indeed support the category and buy.

GFR: And what has the industry and Wine Australia been doing to counter these challenges?

AS: Globally, we have been working on two large programs to engage the trade and consumers. We created ‘Savour Australia’, a global wine forum for trade and media, last September 2013 held in Adelaide. We had over 100 international trade and media in Australia for Savour – and we used the days to re-educate and help industry see where we are going at this ‘next chapter’ junction for the category.

The next program is a global partnership with Tourism Australia, to build a tourism campaign for consumers based on Australia’s food & wine offering. Australia as a culinary and wine tourism destination is growing significantly. This program is called Restaurant Australia and is in progress this year. Stay tuned! Both programs had significant government financial support.

Our North American team has been steadily working on trade education, retail programs and consumer outreach with a consistent ‘regional/premium’ message. Our education director, Mark Davidson, helped develop a program called ‘Sommelier Immersion Program’ that is a seminar/education series for the educators and sommeliers in USA and Canada.

We are utilizing partnerships with Tourism Australia and state & regional groups for collaborative programming. We were able to take advantage of the Savour platform and bring a number of influencers to Australia last September, and we are working closely with Tourism Australia on Canadian lifestyle/consumer PR for Restaurant Australia.

GFR: What do you feel the average consumer currently feels about the Australian wine category as a whole?

AS: I don’t believe that consumers dislike our wines, but perhaps a bit of ennui. They have temporarily gone away from the category to discover and support other regions/countries that are enjoying current popularity. I believe the millennial consumer simply hasn’t had the chance to be properly introduced to today’s offering of Australian wines, so how they feel about Aussie wines is lack of awareness.When we open bottles and sample consumers, millennials or older, they are very enthusiastic!

GFR: And do you feel that this general impression can occasionally be detrimental to Australian wines in today’s market?

AS: Sure. Ennui and lack of awareness both need addressing! I’m on it. I could use a bit more funding to help with the broad consumer education and tastings.

GFR: And do you feel that the finer Australian wines are getting enough listings in “white tablecloth” establishments? From my personal perspective, I’d like to see a lot more of the quirkier, esoteric bottlings on winelists, and I know that there is demand for those kinds of Australian wines amongst the more forward-thinking Sommeliers.

AS: I would like to see a lot more Australian wines, at all price points, grace the restaurant lists in Canada! I’m working on a couple of projects to see how we can support the on-premise in regards to accessing our fine wines (be that awareness or logistics). This is an area that is under-developed right across Canada and it’s time to change that!

GFR: Sometimes I get the feeling that wine agents are too chicken to bring in those interesting wines, and stick with the mass market tried-and-tested… Any thoughts upon my particular opinion?

AS: Ah, well….this is a complicated question. I don’t think it’s simply agents  being ‘chicken’. I think the wine business (not just Australia) has gone through a tough patch economically over the past 5-7 years. The reality is that this is a business – agents, liquor boards, and wineries all need to make money and pay the bills. Consumers want value and are far more cautious with their purchasing decisions. So, perhaps everyone is a bit chicken in regard to taking perceived financial risks. But backing Australian eclectic wines is a risk worth taking. Consumers want discovery and they demand value and quality. Australia delivers that.

GFR: And what is Wine Australia currently doing to engage with the influencers and decision makers, the folks who are, at the end of the day, your best ambassadors?

AS: Savour Australia, SIP seminars, trade/media trips to Australia, dance floor antics, that sort of thing! The in-market education is critical and consistent, annual seminars are well-received. Also, we work closely with the Liquor Board buyers and category teams to ensure we are front of mind as a category, sharing data and longer-term strategies for Australian growth. We are always looking for ways to engage influencers in market, however what really makes a difference for influencers & decision makers is being able to visit Australia and experience our wines and wine culture first hand. I’m working hard to secure funding and regional/state partners that are equally dedicated to hosting influencers in Australia.

GFR: Being in the role you are, you must get to taste so many Australian wines. What is currently exciting you? Any bottling or wine styles that we should be looking out for?

AS: 2012 South Australia reds are excellent. Very exciting. I have been drinking a lot of Cabernet (from all over the world) and Cab from Coonawarra, Margaret River and Barossa are delicious and knock my hometown of Napa right out of the park! Shiraz – for me, it’s got to be regional and I love to open a few distinct Shiraz and try them side by side. Bright, sassy spice vs lusher, dark fruits vs high notes & acidity. Aussie shiraz spans the spectrum.

GFR: You just recently made a big announcement at the Vancouver Playhouse Festival. Would you care to tell us a little about this?

AS: Australia will be the theme country for the 2015 Vancouver Int’l Wine Festival! We are already super busy planning the seminars and events. The program is shaping up nicely and we have a lot of Aussie wineries that are going to be involved. It’s going to be a major Aussie entourage and a great opportunity to experience Australia right here in Canada. To that end, I’m trying to secure extra funding to bring media & trade influencers from across Canada to Vancouver for this event. If I can’t get them all to Australia….I’m hoping to get many to join us in Vancouver!

GFR: You recently had your big tasting at Toronto’s AGO. When can we expect to see Wine Australia in town once again?

AS: Yes indeed. We are going to do an annual trade/media seminar in Toronto, as these have been quite popular. We are going to make the seminar a tad larger next year. We had to turn a lot of people away last February, simply due to space limitations. We will switch up a larger walk around trade tasting to every other year. We are looking at a larger trade/consumer event this February 2015 – in collaboration with our friends from other southern hemisphere countries. Stay tuned!

GFR: Angela, thank you so much for your time. Always a pleasure.

AS: You are very welcome! The pleasure is mine.

Jamie DrummondEdinburgh-born/Toronto-based Sommelier, consultant, writer, judge, and educator Jamie Drummond is the Director of Programs/Editor of Good Food Revolution
… And he does enjoy his Hunter Semillon.