Six ways to ease the Aussie wine glut

Martin Field 2006-03-01T09:18:37+00:000000003731200603 Wine

by Martin Field

The old brain has been chugging away addressing the ongoing problem of over-supply of wine grapes and wine in Australia. Although the 2006 vintage is not a record one the wine glut has seen grapes rotting on the vine, wineries going broke and, as you’d expect, corporate ethicists from larger wine companies inventing more devious strategies to dishonour contracts with grape growers.

But I have a few strategies of my own to suggest and these, if applied across the board, will undoubtedly transform excess into success.


Centralise the wine market
The trouble with selling Australian wine overseas is market fragmentation. That is, everyone is doing their own thing: individually marketing wine with little planning, or it seems, organisation. Gross inefficiency is the result and this significantly contributes to the wine glut at home. My solution is to create a government backed, centralised regulatory body with monopoly control of all wine exports. We can even suggest a catchy name, the Australian Wine Board (AWB). I do acknowledge however, that it is unlikely that our free market government would ever dream of creating or maintaining such a body.

Introduce wine education to schools
When I was at primary school we were compelled to drink each day a third of a pint of tepid, usually curdled milk. The milk was provided free to the kiddies and the scheme provided in effect, a huge government subsidy to the dairy industry. I suggest that a similar scheme should immediately be introduced, only this time using wine instead of milk. Of course primary school ankle biters may be a tad too young for force feeding of vino at playtime but secondary school students could only benefit.

Here’s how it would work. Each student (12 years of age and above) would receive a daily half bottle (375mls) of red or white wine to savour with their lunch. But. I hear you say. Wouldn’t wine be too alcoholic for youngsters who would not have acquired a taste for this grown-up beverage? And, what if it made them sleepy in the afternoons?

The answer is simple. In year seven the wine will be both diluted and sweetened to a strength of five percent alcohol with grape juice of the particular varietal provided. You will note that a five percent alcohol level is approximately the same as that of the beer and ready mixed drinks which most 12 year olds will be accustomed to drinking anyway. And, as it is a scientific fact that droning teachers have made kids sleepy in the afternoons for millennia, consumption of wine will create no noticeable change in their collective attention deficit.

Alcohol content in the free wine will be increased by two percent per grade – five percent for year seven, seven percent for year eight, and so on – so that by year 12, the average 18 year old student should be able to knock off a full-bodied McLaren Vale shiraz of 15% alcohol whilst successfully swotting for final exams. Students will thus gain a lifelong wine habit and winemarketers will have penetrated a previously forbidden demographic. Participating schools will necessarily include in their curricula courses in wine appreciation and responsible alcohol consumption.

Market varietal grape juice
If you can’t sell wine grapes to make wine what can you do with them? In the 1970s and ‘80s, surplus shiraz grapes were sold in commercial ‘shiraz muffins’. I recommend that the 21st century equivalent is to develop a market for varietal grape juice. And it is a ready made market – most wine drinkers I know would be delighted to start the day with a glass of fresh cabernet or shiraz or chardonnay juice, instead of orange juice. To attain acceptable juice sweetness growers would have to leave the grapes to ripen a bit longer than is customary for wine. This will hardly be a problem however, as many are already considering the possibility of letting their grapes rot on the vine.

Legalise home distillation
In civilised New Zealand it is legal to distil spirits in the comfort of your home – not so in this benighted land. If the government were to legalise home distillation there would be an immediate boom in bulk wine sales. Can’t you picture it? Across the nation cheerful drinkers would scour wine shops for Chateau El Cheapo to distil into their very own brandy.

Involve the churches and the armed forces
Many years ago, whilst researching my doctoral thesis – Transubstantiation. Vegetarianism. Is there an issue? – I studied in some depth the subject of religion and alcohol. If my memory serves me correctly, certain religious ceremonies do involve the consumption of wine, and in those happy temples where wine is taken I learned that the amount imbibed is merely a sip.

Now I hope this does not sound radical or profane but in the interests of boosting wine sales why not give each worshipper, instead of a sip, wait for it, a full glass? On the board listing the order of service, Hymn number 27 will be followed by Penfolds Bin number 28. Multitudes of sinners will return to the fold; dwindling congregations will be arrested. Baptismal fonts…Need I say any more on this?

In a similar vein. When I was a regular soldier in the ‘60s we used to go on annual manoeuvres where we played war games against pretend and as yet unidentified multi-hued hordes who apparently knew how to play dominoes but were generally un–Australian in attitude. The only highlight of this stumbling around in the bush was a daily ration of two cans of beer. What I want to know is, why not wine? In the interests of national security and the wine economy the time has surely come for our Grange-swilling pollies and military chiefs to include sachets of wine in troops’ ration packs.

Revolutionise water conservation
There are scientific processes such as reverse osmotic filtration and spinning-cone column technologies that enable wine scientists to separate or remove, if they so choose, water from wine, alcohol from wine, colour, taste and aroma from wine. (And I have had the misfortune to drink a few of these in my time.) It follows that surplus wine could, with a little application, become another source of water for this drought-stricken continent. Admittedly an expensive source – especially when you think of all the water that went into irrigating the excess grapes in the first place.

But I’m sure that de-wined water would be a winner with those followers of fashion who seek out and pay a fortune for glacial ice and the latest brands of bottled water. Imagine it – a clear plastic Bordeaux-shaped bottle of, for example, Opg (Eau de Pinot Grigio). I’d buy a case.

Meanwhile, where do we store these mega-litres of un-sellable wine? For a start we could replace the water in municipal and domestic swimming pools with wine. Treatment for hygiene would be minimal as the wine’s acid and alcohol would do away with the need for chlorination and if the pools ever became feral the run off could boost the local vinegar industry.

An added benefit would be that as wine has a lower specific gravity than water it is less buoyant. Swimmers would therefore have to paddle harder to stay afloat, thus improving their cardio-vascular fitness. This in turn would indirectly enhance Australia’s Olympic Games swimming gold medal winning potential. Pool parties would again become all the rage although underage swimmers would be required by law to don rubber mouth sealers to prevent breaches of etiquette and undue pool frivolity.

Stop press
My motor mechanic is attempting to convert the petrol engine in the old Daewoo into a diesel power plant that will run on grape seed oil sourced from winery waste. More on this as it comes to hand.