Our studies show that in the Brazilian market, the top most widely distributed New Zealand winery is Sileni Estates, which is located in Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand’s oldest established vineyard area. The winery is named after Sileni, who in Greek mythology celebrated good wine, good food and good company, along with Bacchus, the god of wine. The winery is designed to crush over 1500 tonnes of grapes and strives to maintain high standards while relying on environmentally sustainable viticultural and winemaking practices.
I recently spoke with Graeme Avery, owner and CEO of Sileni Estates, and he explained to me how Sileni wines fit into the Asian markets and, specifically, how it pairs with a vast range of different Asian cuisines. He spoke about the potential he sees in Asia as a major growth market and about some of the world consumption trends he has noticed. He showed me some of the novel products that he brought to Vinexpo to attract attention and also shared with me his reaction to our analysis of how Sileni wines are doing in the Brazilian market.
Our interview follows:
Graeme Avery, I am the CEO and owner of a family business, established in 1998. We started our export market development in the year 2000 with 4000 cases and today we’re in over 60 countries and we produce over 600,000 cases. So we’re one of the larger mid-to-large size producers in New Zealand. Asia was one of our early markets, Japan being the most mature, larger volume market when we started. And, as in Brazil, we’re the number one New Zealand brand there, we have over a third market share in Japan. We’re number one here in Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia and probably in many of the other smaller Asian markets. Our wine styles suit Asia very well. They’re lighter, fruit-forward wines made to enjoy with food and the Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir are wonderful matches for a wide range of Asian cuisine. In China… Mainland China has 22 different cuisines. It’s really the cuisine capital of the world. They’re all very different, and the Sauvignon Blanc is a good match with seafood dishes on the Eastern seaboard, or in the West, in the Sichuan Province, Chengdu, hot pepper, spicy dishes from there. Pinot Noir fits very well with mushroom, duck, and in some of the cuisines, roast pigeon. And then, of course, Japan – sushi, sashimi – it works well. In Hong Kong, with the Cantonese cuisine, excellent. And Singapore, and a lot of the other Southeast Asian markets, a lot of seafood and that’s what the international visitors enjoy.
We see Asia, along with Eastern Europe, as major growth markets for grape wine because they’re dominated, the beverage alcohol, with hard liquor. The sake and seishu in Japan, the grain wine in China and that’s 80-85% of wine. And in Eastern Europe, for example, it’s 90% of all beverage alcohol. So Asia offers the wine producer a strong future, but it’s a 10-20 year play. It does not happen quickly, it won’t happen quickly. And it’ll be the younger consumer, particularly women who will be driving that change.
That’s been kind of a theme at Vinexpo 2012, hasn’t it, the woman and the younger consumer. There have been a lot of wineries that have been making labels that are meant to appeal more to the younger consumer.
It’s been like that, frankly, for the last 5 years. Wine has been flat and if it wasn’t for the younger consumer and women, it would be nose-diving. Because previously it was the domain of a 55 year, 65 year plus, male and they’re dying, so the growth’s gotta come from underneath, and from spirits, frankly.
Since our data shows mostly that you’re very popular – you’re the number one, top ranked New Zealand wine – in Brazil, do you know anything about the Brazilian market and why your wines might be so popular there?
Well, we were surprised because we should be selling 10 times more in Brazil. It’s a big country. But the price of the wines is penalized, our sale price, by the huge import taxes. But, looking at that research, our wines are probably too cheap. So we have to study the pricing stronger. We’re with Mistral, the biggest of the Brazilian importers, and their portfolio is too big, so we don’t get enough focus. We were amazed that the wines of New Zealand…We started there in 2005, and they have every two years a wine tour. This year it’s in July, so we’ve attended those to promote the wines. We think what the style of wine is in Asia, the South Americans would love, because they’re fresher, more intensely flavoured than Chilean or Argentinian, except perhaps Torrontes from Argentina. So South America is a difficult market that has been neglected, frankly. Brazil is making it much harder for foreign wines and different language requirements.
Just as Asia’s making it very easy?
Yeah, that’s right! And Brazil has a growing, young wine industry with some outstanding wines, and they should make it easier. We will take Brazil a lot more seriously, because we want to have a stronger presence for the Olympic games and the Football World Cup, because our wine brands are known through Asia, Europe and the USA and the Pacific. So we want them to be in all foreign hotels and everything and that’s something we’ve got to sit down and plan with Mistral and look at ways in which we can develop the wines.
Well Entaste seems like a good tool if you’re willing to find out more about the market intelligence.
Well you guys deserve credit. It was a very professional, well done presentation.
Thank you. And a little bit about which wines you brought to showcase to Vinexpo.
Everything. The novel wine product was, we’ve got a world’s first, with a pet bottle with a clip-on glass that has a normal Stelvin screw cap and that has attracted incredible interest, because it’s novel, it’s different, it will create new channels. And this is a standup pouch, for lady’s handbags – it’s very big in Japan.
To target that female market?
Young [pet bottle], female [standup pouch].
That’s right. Impulse buys, concerts, sports stadiums, fast service restaurants, outbound duty free airlines, lightweight, unbreakable. So that was our special feature. At each of these shows we attempt to have something novel.
And about the tastings, which wines have you found that have had the best feedback or which ones have been the most popular?
Well, in Asia, probably our Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir for the Chinese, maybe the Merlot, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris. It’s across the range that’s important, because this is a trade fair, so you have to appeal to the importer.
So you need variety?
By and large, New Zealand is known for Sauvignon Blanc, coming through Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris will be the next. They’re by far the most popular. But at any show, people like different things. Sparkling wines have been well received, and – India, for example, and Africa have sparkling wines. Because the people who can afford wine are the expats or the wealthy locals, so they buy champagne. The younger people want to be like the older, so for them a good value sparkling makes sense, so they’re selling a lot.
And about your personal taste, is there one wine that you prefer above all?
It all depends on what I’m eating. But, socially, our higher-end Chardonnay. If I were eating a big steak, an Argentinian Malbec would be good. It all depends what you eat.