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It’s hard to turn your back on a market composed of millions of people

April 15, 2008  ByMarg Land


It’s hard to turn your back on a
market composed of millions of people, all just a hundred or so
kilometres away. And some would say you’d be stupid to do so. But
that’s exactly what Dr. David Jordan is suggesting Ontario wine
producers do.

It’s hard to turn your back on a market composed of millions of people, all just a hundred or so kilometres away. And some would say you’d be stupid to do so. But that’s exactly what Dr. David Jordan is suggesting Ontario wine producers do.

Dr. Jordan, a viticultural consultant based in Auckland, New Zealand, visited the Niagara winegrowing region of Ontario in early September as part of the International Premium Triggs Vinifera Lecture Series, held at Brock University’s Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute (CCOVI) and sponsored by Donald and Elaine Triggs. Besides taking part in an all-day tailgate tour of Niagara vineyards, where he shared his ideas about grape growing and vineyard management, Dr. Jordan also took part in two speaking engagements at Brock, including the Triggs lecture. And it was during the Triggs lecture that he shared his ideas about building domestic demand by pursuing export markets.

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“There’s a benefit to having wines on the international market and you’re running the risk of not benefiting from exposure on the international market,” said Dr. Jordan. “There is a spin-off domestically.

“Having someone in the U.K. talking about how great Niagara wines are can affect your domestic market. And scarcity can breed demand.”

It’s a marketing ploy that has worked for New Zealand wine producers, known internationally for their unique and high quality sauvignon blanc. New Zealand’s wine industry, which crushed 142,000 tonnes of grapes for the 2005 vintage, currently splits its market with about 54 per cent of wines exported and the rest consumed domestically. In Ontario, only about three per cent of wines are
exported and, according to one wine producer, the majority of that percentage is probably made up of ice wine exports.

“I’m envious you have such a large wine drinking public and so close,” admitted Dr. Jordan, but he added, “I’d be interested in a survey of the Toronto market and their perception of Niagara wines. Are they talking it up? Based on your market figures, I don’t think that’s
happening. I don’t think Niagara wines are top of the charts for them.”

So, how do you make Niagara wine more desirable? Well, Dr. Jordan had lots of ideas, including focusing production on one signature grape variety and high quality wine product. But one of his most interesting suggestions and one that caught my ear was – teamwork.

“You need to have a cohesive industry,” Dr. Jordan explained, adding that among New Zealand producers, there exists a culture of sharing ideas, innovations and vintages. Within the New Zealand industry, winemakers hold pre-release parties where other neighbouring producers can taste the new vintages and discuss the pros and cons of the release.

“Do you do that within Niagara?” Dr. Jordan asked.

In another example, when a new piece of technology is being marketed and demonstrated, within the New Zealand industry, the host wine producer or grape grower invites all of his fellow producers over to view the technology and discuss its merits. Meanwhile, in other grape growing regions, it’s likely that only employees within the host winery would be privy to the demo.

Personally, I think a teamwork approach to grape and wine production is a great idea and must be a wonderful culture in which to grow and thrive. Imagine the combined expertise that could gather within one room and share their experiences and ideas, not for the benefit of themselves, but for the benefit of the entire grape and wine industry. Imagine the quality and consistency that could result from a shared philosophy and with a spirit of cooperation.

With an export focus, it doesn’t have to be neighbour against neighbour for the domestic dollar; it can be neighbour working with neighbour for a shared slice of the international market. And increased domestic demand could be the dessert.

I know, it sounds like a pipe dream. But it doesn’t have to be. If New Zealand producers can do it, why can’t Niagara?


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