Milawa-based Brown Family Wine Group lost one of its biggest markets when China imposed hefty tariffs on Brown Brothers’ wine exports to the country. It is a story repeated in almost every winery around the nation dealing in exports.
While the King Valley winery will not make a single sale to China in 2021, its quick pivot to other markets means all is not lost.
“Our exports have stood up really well in Singapore, Korea and the US,’ says Dean Carroll, CEO of the Brown Family Wine Group. ‘We are where we thought we would be, pre-tariffs, which is excellent.’
Brown Brothers’ heartening results are thanks in part to Austrade. The agency has responded to trade disruptions by rapidly scaling up its services to support Australian agri-exporters via the Agribusiness Expansion Initiative.
‘Austrade can access information that a business cannot, or would find difficult to access,’ Carroll says. ‘They’ve introduced us to distributors, helped coordinate government bodies and shared knowledge that has helped us navigate the challenges of overseas markets.
‘This is why Austrade is a valuable resource. It can be costly, time-consuming and challenging to build your brand in areas you haven’t been before. To have an agency tell your story, do the research and create connections is a fantastic benefit.’
Reset quickly to recover lost business
Brown Brothers was on the cusp of reaping its 20-year investment in China when the country announced it was imposing tariffs on Australian wine exports.
‘We were disheartened and frustrated,’ Carroll says. ‘We’d worked so hard and it was taken away for reasons outside of our control. But you just have to get on with it. The world’s a big place and we had to find the next opportunity and reset our export business.’
Brown Brothers quickly shifted its attention to the US, where it has been exporting since 2016. The winemaker had wanted to launch its Tasmanian wines into the market for awhile but were restricted by supply. The wines previously destined for China are now heading to the US.
‘The first shipments of our Devil’s Corner and Tamar Ridge wines arrived at the start of 2021,’ Carroll says. ‘We’re already looking at new opportunities for the Brown Brothers brand.’
Look to virtual events to find new partners
Brown Brothers has been exporting its namesake brand to Korea for six years. It was keen to introduce its softer, sweeter wines to younger consumers in Korea’s renowned sophisticated market.
‘Korea is an influential leader in music, television, movies, fashion and lifestyle,’ Carroll says. ‘We want to build a solid base here so we can benefit from their positive influence in other Asian markets.’
Tapping into this new consumer segment was challenging when starting from scratch. Brown Brothers had to work out who these consumers were and how to connect with them. It also wanted to engage with other distributors for the additional brands it wanted to bring to Korea.
Researching the market and meeting new partners is difficult when international travel is off limits, Carroll says.
Austrade had the answer, inviting Brown Brothers to a virtual business matching event in late March 2021. The winemaker has a long history of embracing innovation and was eager to try this new method of connecting with overseas partners.
Brown Brothers spent 20 minutes each with five potential distributors. The winemaker explained the provenance of the wine and walked through the tasting notes while the distributor sampled the product in real time.
After putting in the virtual legwork, the winery is starting to taste sweet success in a new and important market.
‘Those introductions were very helpful and led to a new distributor for our Tamar Ridge brand,’ Carroll says. ‘We received our first order a few weeks ago. The products will be available on-premise and online, the two channels that younger consumers use.’
Adopt a long-term view of market development
Vietnam is another market that Brown Brothers is cultivating. The country has a good understanding of wine due to its French colonial history. Taxes and excises on alcohol are being lowered, making the market more competitive.
‘Vietnam attracts a lot of tourists that understand wine on top of its local base so it will become a strong market in the future,’ Carroll says. ‘Like Korea, we believe younger consumers will drive the wine market in Vietnam and we will be actively targeting them.’
Austrade was quick to offer assistance when Brown Brothers indicated it wanted to build its presence in Vietnam. The agency provided market information and, in partnership with Wine Australia, offered opportunities to meet with new buyers.
‘Austrade’s assistance has been very helpful as finding market data and distributors is challenging because the market is still quite immature,’ Carroll says.
‘I have not come across a trade agency so proactive and commercial as Austrade in my decades of experience in the wine industry,’ adds Bruno Baudry, General Manager, Export Markets. ‘Trade promotion agencies in Spain and France are nowhere near as active. The staff are also very easy to work with and genuinely keen to help.’
Tap your distributor’s knowledge
Carroll says wine exporters should find a distributor who is willing help them understand the market, while they establish their business.
‘We have wines that are important to us and we’ll try to lead with those, but we’ll listen to advice from our distributor,’ Carroll says. ‘If they say there is a more receptive market for pinot grigio than a moscato, we’ll take that on board because they understand the market better than us.’
Invest in the future
Brown Brothers will continue committing resources to underdeveloped parts of its business, such as Japan. It has worked with the same Japanese distributor for more than 10 years and is ready to increase its exposure and expand its partnerships.
The winemaker maintains contact with its Chinese distributor and has kept its flagship store on TMALL. It employs people in China who are working on opportunities to keep the brand alive. ‘We still think it’s important to have a presence in the market,’ Carroll says.
‘Brown Brothers has been a family business since 1889. Expanding and diversifying our export markets will help ensure we are here for another 130 years.’
The Australian Government is providing almost $73 million to support Australian farmers, fishers, foresters and other food and agribusiness exporters. Austrade is scaling up its services as part of the Agribusiness Expansion Initiative.