Little Penguins, Yellow Tails and youth
When I devoted Monday's column to a quick analysis of news reports about the wine industry's concern that young adults don't care much for wine, I didn't realize how strongly the Australians were already on this case.
As it turns out, Southcorp - the giant, though troubled, Australian firm that produces such familiar brands as Penfolds, Rosemount, Lindemans and Wynns - has just cemented plans to bring out a low-cost brand aimed specifically at the United States and directly at its 20-something and 30ish consumers.
Southcorp's new wine, priced in the low-end $6 range, will be called "Little Penguin" and will be adorned with bright labels featuring a cartoon-style penguin. (This news calls into some question my skills as a wine pundit, since I opined just five days ago the industry would be loath to come up with youth-targeted marketing efforts to match Big Tobacco's famous "Joe Camel.")
Meanwhile, another major Australian producer, McGuigan Simeon Wines, is launching a similar "fun brand" called Crocodile Rock in the same low-price range, the Sydney newspaper The Age reported Wednesday.
Both products seek to win back a share of the booming budget-wine market from Yellow Tail, a label that came out of nowhere to move 2.5 million cases in the U.S. last year, more than one-third of all the Australian wine sold here.
"The new wines are pitched at the new and growing market of drinkers who don't care about traditional, mainstream wine brands and heritage; they just like their value-for-money plonk," The Age reported. "This is seen as the market that's helped drive Yellow Tail's spectacular growth."
McGuigan Simeon managing director Brian McGuigan acknowledged in The Age that his company seeks to cash in on Yellow Tail's success, right down to to a bright Aussie-style label design. "He said the name Crocodile Rock, or Croc Rock, was inspired by Sir Elton John, not crocodile hunter Steve Irwin. Still, the label reflected the pioneering spirit that he said Americans loved."
All three brands will be available in the Australian version of the four grape varieties called "fighting varietals" - Cabernet, Chardonnay and Merlot, with Shiraz substituted for the Zinfandel that makes up the fourth member of the quartet from most U.S. producers.
Interest in modest wines with "non-traditional" labels and marketing is not limited to Australia, The Age added, citing the California brand Smoking Loon and recent reports that giant California producer E&J Gallo will soon launch a French wine called Red Bicyclette in the under-$10 range.
If Southcorp. and McGuigan emulate Yellow Tail as closely as seems likely, the wine will be of more interest to picnickers and the mass market than to serious wine fanciers. As I wrote of Yellow Tail 2001 Shiraz after a tasting in November 2001, it was "juicy, grapey and somewhat sweet. It's very easy drinking, smooth and mellow, with no real flaws in its simple expression of black fruit, which may help explain its popularity as a casual 'glass of red.' But for those more serious wine lovers seeking even a slight intellectual challenge in their wine, this may fall short."
But we had might as well get ready for it: This market niche is large, and it's likely to grow. The wine may not be an artisanal beauty, but if someone hands you a glass at a party, you might as well sip it.
Reuters coverage of the Southcorp news release:
Yellow Tail Website:
My November 2001 tasting report on Yellow Tail Shiraz:
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Friday, April 9, 2004