Austrian wine: interview with Willi Klinger

21 January, 2016

Ahead of the upcoming Austrian Wine tasting at the Institute of Directors in London on February 8, we caught up with Willi Klinger, managing director at the generic body, to get the lowdown on Austrian wine.

How are Austrian wine sales going in the UK? Are they growing or in decline?

Definitely growing. Austrian wine sales to the UK have seen tremendous success in the last 10 years. Starting from the comparably very low export volume of 40,400 litres (value €0.55 million) in year 2003, which then reflected 0.05% of total Austrian wine export volumes, the quantity crossing the UK-border has grown to 0.68 million litres in 2014. Austria’s UK export value was €3.8 million in 2014. Compared to the preceding year 2013, growth rates were up 32.42% in volume and 12.29% in value.

These figures themselves may not seem outstanding, but their strong upwards development has to be kept mind. The 2014 UK-percentage of total Austrian wine exports was 1.37% in volume and 2.63% in value.

What is also important for UK sales is their high average value generated for wineries. In 2014, one litre of Austrian wine exported to the UK was sold for an average of €5.64 Euro, which is way above the total Austrian average price of €2.92 per litre.

Having a look at the development of UK sales, especially since year 2009 solid growth and gains both in value and volume, indicating that Austrian wines have been able to expanding their presence on the market, have been reported.

Statistik Austria preliminary figures for year 2015 (months January-September) present an extension of the current growth trend, showing consistent growth both in value (+22%) and volume (+17%).

2014 UK-Exports calculated to 0.75 L bottle sizes were as shown in the following table:

2014 UK exports (in 0,75 L bottles)

Bottles (0.75 L)

% value

% volume

Sparkling wine

3,847

0.78%

0.43%

White wine

780,432

75.56%

86.36%

Red wine

52,845

17.90%

5.85%

Dessert wine

7,359

0.67%

0.81%

Source: Table by AWMB/Hartl (Statistik Austria), ignoring export data >2L (= below 7% of UK-exports)

What is the rough split between the off-trade and the on-trade?

Statistik Austria export data doesn’t examine sales channels, which means that the actual spread between on- and off-trade sales is not available to the AWMB and can only be estimated.

Generally spoken, Austrian wines can be found throughout the UK supply chain, from own-label brands in supermarkets such as Waitrose, Morrisons and Sainsbury’s to the Michelin star decorated restaurants.

Findings from a recent internal survey amongst exporting wineries suggest a slightly stronger presence in hand-sale channels such as the on-trade and specialist retailing.

Are there any key areas where you see an opportunity for the wines to grow in the UK in the year ahead? A particular sector, such as independent wine merchants or discount stores? Or by pushing a particular varietal or style of wine?

We definitely see opportunities to expanding Austria’s presence on the UK market. Importers of our wines report growing interest and demand from both sommeliers and well-educated customers. Media coverage has contributed a great deal to the positive development of our UK-sales and we are very grateful for our relationship to members of the UK press, whose influence often reaches out a lot further beyond the UK borders.

Coming from a small wine growing country in the heart of Europe, our winemakers are facing sometimes difficult conditions of production, which means that our wines cannot compete in the very entry-level segment with wines from other countries. It is, however, well possible to find excellent value-wines from 2,80 € ex-cellar price. There has been a significant growth also in the supermarket business with Grüner Veltliner at £7.99 on the shelf. Waitrose, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons successfully sell wines of that kind.

Generally speaking, we stick to the tradition of high quality hand-crafted wines, usually from small family vineyards, but are always open to modernity. Their intrinsic product quality and regional-typicality is what makes Austria’s wines unique and provides consumers with an outstanding price-value ratio. “Austria’s (white) wines are the best value in the fine wine world. The more you spend, the better the value,” said US-importer Terry Theise once.

Nevertheless we are well aware of our niche positioning both internationally and on the UK market. Austrian wines usually work best, when someone hand-sells them, and are amongst the most versatile and food-friendly wines of the world. The independent wine merchants sector’s growth is more likely to push Austrian wine sales than the price-battling and line-reducing supermarkets, even though general listings in chains of course help to boost sales, especially volume-wise.

Austria’s challenge to grow is to increase awareness amongst end consumers.

As can be seen in the spread of Austrian UK export products, white wine accounts for the major part of sales both in terms of value and volume. The before mentioned survey implicates that of total exports, around 85% of exported wine is from Grüner Veltliner, showing the in Austria most widely planted grape variety’s dominance in UK-exports.

Nevertheless red wine sales have seen substantial growth in the last few years. Importers report growing interest for wines from indigenous red grape varieties such as Blaufränkisch and Zweigelt as well as for other white specialities beyond Grüner Veltliner.

Click here for a more in-depth look at the current trends in the Austrian wine industry.




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