Geologist-turned-WA winery owner says Chinese market lost for good

“Perth has changed dramatically since I lived here 20 years ago. Back then it was pretty dull and boring… but now it’s changed, and you can actually go out and find places to go for a drink and find restaurants that might be open.

China’s hefty tariffs on Australian wine companies from November 2020 are set to last five years, and came amid tariffs and restrictions on $20 billion in exports as the relationship soured over the past few years. last five years. However, new Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles broke a nearly three-year drought in ministerial dialogue this weekend with a meeting with Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghe in Singapore, a development hailed by the business sector. Australian.

But Dr Hall says it would be “impossible” to revive its business in China, even if the tariffs were removed.

“We were doing so well…and it was great fun to do, it was fabulous to go out there,” he says.

“[But] we will never be able to go back to China, that will never happen because first of all, the Chinese, all these people to whom we were selling, they bought from France and Chile, they had to continue to manage their business.

“And… are they going to have another fight, between the two governments?” I don’t know, but it would be so hard to do that, so we have to leave China.

Presenting his new Perth play at the city’s upscale restaurant, Wildflower, last week, Dr Hall said WA’s prospects for population and economic growth, as well as people’s willingness to spend on quality food and wine, made it the right place to focus investment after years of underperforming in Rockcliffe’s ‘home state’.

He said his east coast distributor “sells more wine in Melbourne in two to three months than we do in Perth” over longer periods.

“Why so? Because I’m not marketing properly in Perth? I don’t know. There are so many people saying they want to buy the wine. It’s weird that we haven’t been particularly successful in Perth, so we’re changing direction,” he said.

But he admits it won’t be easy, struggling to gain awareness and sales in Perth beyond visitors to his winery and many of his estimated 9,000 members who shop online.

“Strangely, the Perth market is not easy,” he says, adding that distributors and brand managers have not worked in the past and some restaurants have snubbed local wines.

Part of Rockcliffe’s Perth push is to market its high-end Nautica label beyond direct sales and seek more deals with restaurants and retailers, such as Liquor Barons, to complement its existing deal with BWS stores. Hall, who previously worked at energy giants Woodside and BP, also plans to hold more tastings and lunches with Perth “influencers” to raise awareness.

This is wine and hospitality entrepreneur Peter Fogarty, whose range of interests includes Evans & Tate is also increasing its investment in WA via the redevelopment of an aging resort on Rottnest Island.

Hall hasn’t completely given up on exports, still on the lookout for opportunities in South Korea, the UK and Vietnam, alongside his current markets of Singapore, Malaysia and Japan. But Hall says that compares to 10 countries the winery exported to before COVID-19, and the reality is that “Australia has become more important” to wineries like his after the pandemic and China tariffs. .

Although Rockcliffe will not face the same spike in energy costs that is hitting businesses on the east coast, Hall says the overall rise in inflation – which is particularly high in Perth at 7.6% – will likely force it to raise prices. The “rise and rise” in input costs is hitting sentiment in the wider agricultural sector, according to Rabobank’s rural confidence survey released today, which declined again in the June quarter.

But even with Rockcliffe’s Nautica line already selling for $100 a bottle, Hall says consumers will still pay for quality wine and appreciate top-notch food and wine more than they did a while ago. 20 to 30 years old.

And for now, many consumers were clearly ready to spend, says Hall, noting that the number of visitors to Rockcliffe had recently fallen as people traveled again, compared to the booming demand of the past two years. , with state borders largely closed.

“We will eventually have to raise prices,” he says.

“Everyone is going to have to raise their prices…because the costs have increased enormously. Personnel costs will increase I imagine, they have already increased twice this year, reward rates…and they will start again on July 1, for sure.

About Michael Brafford

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