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Why Wine Whine Australia

Posted: Friday, 18 July 2014 13:42

Why Wine Whine Australia

July 18: Wine Australia, formerly known as Australian Wine & Brandy Corporation, used to do a wonderful job of keeping the exports honest by checking every wine before it left the Australian shores but replacing the system with only random audits in Australia by flying auditors does not auger well for the reputation of Aussie wine exports, writes Dan Traucki a vocal critic of the new policy, from Australia

I used to be a huge supporter of Wine Australia (formerly, AWBC - Australian Wine & Brandy Corporation) because its role was to ensure that any wine exported from Australia was sound and honest. The system of voluntary winemakers tasting every wine that was to be approved for export BEFORE it could leave the country was brilliant and inspired.

We were the only country in the world which could say to potential and actual customers overseas - with hand-on-heart, that every new wine being exported was checked by the government. It was a significant competitive advantage over our export rivals, especially in Asia and with the Chinese - even before the “melamine-in-the-milk” scare there. I spent much of the last decade enthusing about this safety-feature to our client’s Asian customers.  Likewise, with the label approval system whereby all export labels had to be scrutinized and approved BEFORE a wine could be exported, thereby ensuring not only our GI (geographical indicator) compliance, non-use of European protected GI words, but also labeling accuracy.

Today that security and competitive advantage is gone. Instead, in their efforts either to make their life easier, cut costs and/or destroy our competitive advantage, the geniuses at Wine Australia scrapped the existing, tried-and-true system and replaced it with a “random audit” system. These audits take place long AFTER the wine has left the country, in other words they will “close the gate long after the horse has bolted”. Yes, there are severe penalties for any evil or inadvertent transgressor BUT the damage would already have been done as the offending wine would already be in situ in the importing country. This is a shameful disgrace.

An interesting example is a freak and accidental case of a client who a few years ago received an export order for one of their back vintage wines. As the export approval had well expired, they submitted samples for new approval, only to find that in the meantime (around 2 years) the wine had been oxidized enough to be rejected. This saved the company from shipping bad wine to their biggest customer in the world. Imagine what damage it would have done to their long-term business if it had been exported. How many times over the years were accidental problems such as the one above avoided across the whole industry due to the “system” as it then was?

For those of you who are old enough, cast your minds back to 1985 and remember the Austrian wine scandal. One or two unscrupulous winemakers in Austria who in a poor vintage added ethylene glycol to their high-end Trockenbeerenauslese (TBA) wines and their ice-wine to give the wines a more characteristic “oily” mouth-feel of these late-picked sweet wines. It is difficult to remember whether people died from drinking this wine or merely got sick - either way when the story broke, disaster ensued. The whole world dumped ALL Austrian wines, not just those producers, not even just those style of late-picked wines, but ALL Austrian wines. Quarter of a century later, Austrian wine exports had still not bounced back to their pre-1985 level in 2010!

The Wine Australia (WA) system worked quite well- maybe not perfectly but quite well. Imagine if a scenario similar to that of Austria were to happen to the Australian wine industry due to one or two unscrupulous operators? Please don’t say that it couldn’t happen here - of course it could - statistically at least one percent of people involved in the industry are and would generally be dishonest. In 1988 or 1989 during a shortage of white grapes, a Griffith based winery was caught putting apple juice into their cask wine. Luckily it was detected early enough and there were no significant repercussions for the industry. Imagine if that happened today in this age of instant social media - do you think Chile, Spain, Italy or Argentina, let alone the French wouldn’t use this as leverage against our wines in our export markets? What would Australia’s wine export figures look like 12 or 24 months later? How many wineries would go out of business?

Wine Australia has removed the only safeguard we had against this - WHY?? As far as I have been able to determine it occurred because a few premium winemakers arced up when their funky expensive wines were rejected because they were not “understood”. ‘Fine’ is fair enough- after all Grange used to be high in volatile acidity (VA) in its early days and would probably have been rejected under the system. However, why on earth did we have to throw the baby out with the bath water and scrap the whole system?

Instead why did we not reduce the pre-approval tasting system to those wines which were under $X in value per case – using WA’s own system, say $60 per a case of 12 bottles of 9-liters? Logically IF there is going to be any dishonesty in the system it would be at the commercial end and not at the super premium end. Can you imagine Penfolds playing around with the quality of Grange? I think it would occur most likely in the area of bulk wines and those under $30 a case.

Thus we could test the “most at risk” wines and ignore the funky “indi-bloody-vidualistic” hoity-toity wines. It’s not exactly rocket science to figure this one out.

So today instead of inspecting the wines before they leave the country, we have a team of “flying auditors” who wiz around Australia and the world checking up on what has already left our shores and hit the shelves in our customer countries. Like I said before, imagine the damage that could be done to EVERY exporting winery in the country if one rogue operator were to do something really dishonest or illegal and it came to light? Great move-Wine Australia!!

The question is - was it done to make their life easier, save money (wouldn’t it be interesting to have a close look at their budget) or to provide overseas trips for their staff? Interestingly many of the staff members that were there at the time are no longer there. It certainly wasn’t done for the good of the Australian wine industry!!

Does Wine Australia have a master plan to cope with an Austria type scandal caused by their lack of pre-export checking? Or will they shrug their shoulders and blame it on somebody else? All we can do is pray that it doesn’t happen in the near future, because it will happen one day and then all the bankrupt winemakers will be whining about Whine Australia.

It’s a real shame that we are so dumb!

By the way, another Name Change took place recently: “Late last year, the Australian Government passed the Grape and Wine Legislation Amendment Act (Australian Grape and Wine Authority) 2013 (the Act).  The Act provides that, on 1 July 2014, the Wine Australia Corporation will merge with another Australian statutory body, the Grape and Wine Research and Development Corporation, to create the Australian Grape and Wine Authority (AGWA).”

Dan Traucki

Formerly an accountant, Dan has been in the wine industry for over 25 years in a variety of roles including 10+ years at Orlando Wyndham - home of Jacobs Creek. He was the GM of a 400,000-case a year winery and CEO of a grape growing company with 1,350 acres of vineyards. He runs his own company for the last 10 years. Wine Assist helps Australian wineries to export globally. During this period, he has conducted wine classes in India, Singapore, China and Hong Kong, as well as for new Chinese migrants to Australia. In a world full of specialists he claims to be a wine generalist.

If our readers find some similarities with our own FSSAI, it may be only coincidental-Editor

Tags: Wine Australia, Australian Wine & Brandy Corporation, Australia, Australian Grape and Wine Authority (AGWA), Dan Traucki

Comments:

 
 

DAN TRAUCKI Says:

Dear Subhash: It's good to get an official response to ones comments- (the last time I was addressed as Mr Traucki was when I was in school) and whilst the response "beats the drum" for the official line, there are a couple of points that need further clarification/explanation. One of the very best aspects of the previous system is that apart from checking that no faulty wines left the country, it was a superb marketing tool for the Australian wine industry (isn't that supposed to be part of AGWA's role- and not just for those with pockets deep enough to afford their charges) - as we were the only country in the world that could guarantee that the wine had been tested before it was exported- a MASSIVE advantage in taint conscious Asia. i.e. we pee'd away the very best marketing tool we had. The other aspect is- of those 6 licences suspended - where any of them for faulty product? or were they all for labelling violations? IF just one was for faulty/unsound product then AGWA has failed in their duty of care to the Australian wine industry- because their new wiz bang system did not prevent the faulty wine from being exported. Whilst the audit system is fine, it is in effect closing the stable door after the horses have bolted (the wine has left the country)- and to me no amount of official wording or jibber jabber will change that.

Posted @ July 28, 2014 12:44

 

Steve Says:

Dear Mr Arora, I would like to offer a response on behalf of the Australian Grape and Wine Authority (AGWA). I agree with Mr Traucki that the wine inspection process, in place prior to 2012, had served the industry well for many years. At a time when Australian wine was becoming established in international markets, a handful of wines displaying winemaking faults could have damaged the reputation of Australian wine more generally. Hence the inspection process, established decades ago, did minimise the risk of faulty wine being exported.

At the time the process was reviewed, the number of wines being exported each year was close to 15,000, of which less than 40 were on average being rejected. The most common reasons for rejection, at that time, were the perception of volatile acidity, lack of fruit flavour and the presence of sulphidic characters. None of these winemaking faults have implications for human health and safety and therefore could be considered subjective.

I agree with Mr Traucki that the risk of contamination and adulteration presents a much more serious threat than the detection of an innocuous winemaking fault as the example of the Austrian wine scandal of 1985 demonstrates. It was however highly unlikely that an organoleptic inspection, such as the one conducted by Wine Australia until 2012, would have detected the presence of diethylene glycol (the cause of the Austrian wine scandal) or any other potential contaminant. In fact, under the new auditing process established in mid-2012, AGWA has analysed 2,100 samples of Australian wine for the presence of a range of 55 potential contaminants and we have found none to breach any limit established by the Food Standards Code.

So we have certainly not become complacent in our efforts to protect the reputation of Australian wine. Rather, we are now more focused, targeted and, we believe, more effective in achieving this objective. The number of audits conducted on Australian wine producers and exporters has more than tripled under the new auditing process. Far from being ineffective these audits have resulted in six export licenses being suspended in the past two years. When a license is lost, no wine can be exported by that person. When a faulty wine was rejected under the previous audit process, only that particular product was prevented from being exported.

In reference to Mr Traucki’s suggestion that only those wines deemed most ‘at risk’ be audited, AGWA strongly believes any auditing process must apply to all wines and winemakers, not just a particular segment. Contamination can potentially affect any wine, whether it is a commercial or premium product. While AGWA always welcomes opinion and debate on how to maintain a healthy and competitive industry, I believe the controls we have had in place since 2012 are much more effective than those they replaced in ensuring Australia continues to enjoy its unparalleled reputation for wines of quality and integrity. Kind regards , Steve Guy General Manager, Regulatory Services ,Australian Grape and Wine Authority

Posted @ July 22, 2014 16:36

 
       

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