Rosemount Estate Diamond Label Shiraz ignited a boom in Australia wine when its rich, fruit-forward, easy-drinking style hit our shores in the late 1980s. It was an under-$10 wine that tasted like something that should cost two or three times as much.
Since then what was once a family winery has become a big-volume brand in the Foster's Group portfolio. But the brand was missing in action as I finished up tastings for my upcoming annual tasting report on Australia. I got curious about why I had not seen any Rosemount wines in more than a year.
Turns out, Rosemount is retrenching. Foster's is hoping to make it the poster child for a new approach by rethinking the style, the packaging and the marketing. Expect a rollout in early 2012.
"Rosemount is going through what we would call re-reviewing the whole proposition," said Stephen Brauer, U.S. managing director of Treasury Wine Estates, the Foster's fine-wine division. "Consumers have embraced other regions such as Argentina and Chile, and we are trying to adapt the brand to consumers' current preferences and tastes."
In my view this particular label, once an exemplar of everything that was right about Australian wine, lost its way. It all started when the original Rosemount Estate, started by the Oatley family in 1976, was bought out in 2001 by Southcorp, which owned such legacy wineries as Penfolds and Lindemans. In a move that surprised outsiders, Southcorp essentially put the Rosemount management team in charge of the whole company.
That experiment lasted only two years. As the company foundered in 2005 it was sold to Foster's, which already owned Wolf Blass and a raft of California wineries, including Beringer and Chateau St. Jean. The volume of Rosemount wines continued to increase, as the company milked the cash cow, and the wines, including the flagship Diamond Label Shiraz, lost what was left of their individuality. Once consistently around 90 points, it was now scoring in the 85- to 87-point range. Not bad, but not special either.
Brauer was sketchy on exactly how the winemakers were tweaking the Rosemount style, but he said some things that suggested that consumer preferences for full-flavored easy-drinking wines such as Argentinean Malbec are playing a role. Well, gosh, isn't that what Rosemount Diamond Label Shiraz was in the beginning, before it was diluted by overproduction?
"The wine style was fresh and exciting when the wines burst on the scene," he said. "If you ask consumers if they like full-flavored reds, they tick that box. Complexity? They tick that box. Drinkability? They tick that box. We have to reintroduce consumers to the pleasures of Australia."
Brauer pointed out that the company's Penfolds bin wines and luxury wines, the ones that cost $20 and up, are having a spectacular year in sales, both in the U.S. and globally. "We're all fighting to get our hands on allocations," he said. Clearly, quality matters, a lesson that has finally hit home. One aspect of the Rosemount revamp will be "premium-ization," he said. He did not elaborate, but I take that to mean they intend to make the wines taste more like those early wines that overdelivered on quality.
Two other brands missing in action from the Treasury Wine Estates portfolio are Wynns, which specializes in the Coonawarra appellation, and Devil's Lair, a small outpost in Margaret River that dollar-for-dollar gives the region's other top Chardonnays a serious run. Will we be seeing those wines again?
"We have to make sure our foundation brands are strong," Brauer said. "You have to choose where to play these days." In other words, they have cut back to the necessities, and Wynns and Devil's Lair are seen as unneeded luxuries.
"The Australian category has contracted as consumers have gone to other countries of origin," Brauer concluded, "or decided to go back to domestic wines. That's a reality. We are the largest player in the global Australian wine business, and we are in this for the long term. But there are times when you have to step back, and rebuild with your foundation brands at the core."
I also noticed that I had not seen any wines from Constellation Brands in my tasting room for 18 months or more. These labels include Hardy's, Leasingham, Chateau Reynella and Barossa Valley Estate. Some of those wineries produced products that have made it onto the Wine Spectator Top 100 in years past.
Last year Constellation sold off most its Australian holdings, acquired in 2003 when it bought BRL Hardy. It disposed of winery facilities and vineyards, but retained 20 percent ownership of the brands and is responsible for importing them to the U.S.
I spoke with Nora Feeley, vice president of communication for Constellation Brands. The approach was different, however. Instead of beefing up attention to underperforming Australian brands, Constellation is focusing its marketing efforts on the California wineries, including Robert Mondavi, Simi, Ravenswood and Franciscan, and the Washington winery Hogue.
"The Australia category has not been growing," she said, "so we are putting resources toward other areas." So it's not that these wines are no longer being made, and it's not that they are no longer selling. They just aren't growing. So goes big business.
Don Rauba — Schaumburg, IL — April 30, 2011 1:18am ET
Harvey Steiman — San Francisco, CA — April 30, 2011 2:13pm ET
Peter Gasteiger — RPV, CA USA — May 3, 2011 12:46pm ET
Harvey Steiman — San Francisco, CA — May 3, 2011 5:42pm ET
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