A-UKFTA gives UK consumers a taste of Australia’s premium cool-climate wines

The Rathbone Wine Group’s (RWG) 3 acclaimed wineries offer a broad taste of Australia’s premium wines. Among them – what is often a surprising fact for UK and European buyers – are the nation’s cool-climate wines.

‘There are amazing wines coming out of Australia,’ says Darren Rathbone, RWG’s Chief Executive and group winemaker. As head of the wine group, he knows his family’s wines can ‘stand tall and proud next to the world’s best.’

The UK’s on-premises wine buyers, like Rick Stein’s high-end restaurants and award-winning independent wine merchants like Cheltenham-based Tivoli Wines, also agree. They are among the Australian group’s quality wine purchasers, as is the Waitrose supermarket chain.

The Australia-UK Free Trade Agreement (A-UKFTA) removes tariffs on Australian wine exports to the UK. This will make RWG’s popular cool-climate wines more competitive in the UK market versus global competitors.

Global drinking trends are changing

To date, RWG’s showing and tasting sessions across the UK and Europe have been well received. In Australia, the Halliday Wine Companion awarded all 3 of the group’s wineries a 5 Red Star winery rating for 2024.

The Xanadu Cabernet Sauvignon is Australia’s best, having won the Cabernet Sauvignon Trophy at the National Wine Show of Australia in Canberra for the ninth consecutive year.

‘We are definitely seeing growth in the market in our cooler climate styles with a depth of complex flavours. These include those we make at Yering Station in Victoria’s Yarra Valley, Mount Langi Ghiran in the Grampians, Victoria, and Xanadu in the Margaret River region of Western Australia,’ says Rathbone.

‘There seems to be a trend with wine drinkers to spend about the same value, but drink less,’ says Rathbone. ‘That means we can position ourselves well in the UK and European markets. These are very knowledgeable and competitive markets, where buyers and consumers assess wines on merit.

‘Our consumers and customers are pleasantly surprised by the elegance of our wines,’ says Rathbone. ‘Wine taps into and tells the story of a place and its people.’ In RWG’s case, it is a long and rich history of some of Australia’s oldest and original vineyards.

The practical benefits of the A-UKFTA

Rathbone says there are practical benefits to the A-UKFTA. ‘The UK market has always been tough on price,’ he says. ‘The FTA couldn’t have come at a better time for the industry.

‘It’s an important win for Australian wine. It means our tariff-free wines will help unlock more value for UK customers and shoppers.’

It will also mean less of a hit for UK consumers when the UK alcohol duty increases on 1 August 2023.

Will Downey, Austrade’s Senior Business Development Manager for the UK and Ireland, says, ‘The removal of tariffs under the A-UKFTA places RWG on a level playing field with Europe. In fact, the tariff elimination on wine on entry equates to a saving of around A$37 million in customs duties each year.’

How Austrade and the Victorian Government have helped

RWG has been exporting to the UK, Europe, North America and many countries in Asia for 20 to 25 years. Today its sales in Australia are about 70% of production. The US is its strongest export market with the UK and Canada not far behind.

Austrade and the Victorian Government have played a big role in RWG’s export expansion, including its growth in the UK and European markets.

‘We work well with Australia’s government agencies and Wine Australia,’ says Rathbone. ‘Their people are on the ground all over the world. They know the local market.

‘Their assistance with introductions, promotions and events like tastings are really important for us. Austrade, the Victorian Government and Wine Australia open doors for us. Our wines do the rest,’ he says.

Cecilia Gibbons, RWG’s UK and EU Market Manager, adds: ‘We will join Wine Australia’s Nordic tour to Sweden and Denmark in October. Building on consumers’ perception of Australian wines’ quality, the team will further expand RWG’s distribution into Europe this year.’

Sustainability in production

Two of RWG’s wineries are certified sustainable by Sustainable Winegrowing Australia. The third is almost there. Working closely with the Australian Wine Research Institute, RWG undertakes precision viticulture. Its vineyards use heat mapping monitors to help determine the strength and health of the vines. All 3 vineyards use solar energy for power.  

RWG also plants cover crops including nitrogen-fixing plants between the vines to regenerate the soil. ‘Our family is committed to improving the soils on our 3 vineyards to make sure they are naturally enriched and continue to be in good condition year on year,’ says Rathbone.

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