Renowned wine leader to carry out US crusade
Frustrated with global speculators treating the dollar like a casino game and the "cheap and cheerful" tag hanging on our wine, John Geber, owner of Chateau Tanunda in South Australia's Barossa Valley, has decided to pull up stumps and move to the United States.
Mr Geber told BusinessDay he was moving to Florida for two years, although he added he would return to Australia occasionally to keep an eye on his vineyard, and he would use his new base to promote Chateau Tanunda's premium and luxury wines to help pave the way for what he called "the second wave of Australian wines".
"The second wave ... is coming, that's where it needs relationships and referral and it needs the personal testimony of wine owners working the street," Mr Geber said.
A passionate champion of his brands and the wider Australian wine industry, Mr Geber said the "first wave" that hit overseas, especially in the US, was the explosion of interest in local wines with colourful pictures depicting Australian animals on the label - sometimes derided as "critter wines".
"We had a zoo full of animals in that wave of which only one really stuck, which was Yellow Tail, and did well - and the rock stars on the other side, high in alcohol, very high points from wine judges, they fell in a heap.
"The second wave of Australian wines are coming and that's what we did very well in the 1990s: good wines, that are bold, elegant but not high in alcohol, at price points of between $15 and $25 a bottle. We call that 'accessible premium'.
"And that's where Australia is very good: a $20 Australian wine will beat a $40 American wine and €40 French wine."
It's the premium end that most Australian winemakers are now aiming for. These winemakers include the world's largest pure play winemaker, Treasury Wine Estates, owner of labels such as Penfold and Wolf Blass.
It's this upper price range that Mr Geber will focus on as he beats the streets in the US, with his Chateau Tanunda offering a portfolio of wines valued up to $200 a bottle.
His wines have picked up a string of awards in Europe and America, and for three of the past four years he has been awarded Australian producer of the year at the Berlin Wine Trophy.
"We believe in the US market; it's a very big market," said Mr Geber.
"That $15 to $25 per bottle segment is growing at around 20 million cases a year, and Australia - and Chateau Tanunda - have got to be there to take advantage of it."
A long-time critic of speculators who push up the value of the Australian dollar, Mr Geber has called on government action to depress the value of the currency.
Mr Geber is also worried about the emphasis placed by many winemakers, and policymakers, on China, believing the market to represent a giant bubble.
"China has a hype behind it, and I just don't trust it," he said.