Research at Adelaide is revealing critical consumer and alternative-production insights to guide Australian winemakers in the search for increased sales and new markets.
As any wine producer will attest, the days of a good drop selling itself are long gone. Myriad factors now influence contemporary consumers’ response to a wine, and their willingness to buy. What’s more, these factors can change over time, and often have different weightings from one region to another.
For the Australian wine industry- which currently contributes A$40.2 billion annually to the national economy and directly or indirectly employs more than 170,000 – this means sustaining commercial success is no easy task; particularly when entering new markets or seeking to innovate for competitive advantage.
Reliable, evidence-based insight is critical, and researchers from the University of Adelaide’s School of Agriculture, Food and Wine are working on two key fronts to help Australian producers acquire it: one, by identifying and interrogating the primary drivers of consumer tastes and purchasing behaviour in various markets; and two, by testing the impact on wine flavour and quality of various approaches to product innovations designed to meet changing consumer preferences.
Associate Professor Sue Bastian leads the first line of inquiry, and says her team’s findings play a vital role in helping our country’s wine producers “put their best export foot forward”.
“We’ve done a lot of work in Australia but also with the US, UK and Chinese wine markets in particular,” she says. “We start by surveying each market to clarify their preferences when it comes to taste, smell and packaging. Then we test our findings in the market with a product – either existing or tailor made – that reflects the desired qualities.
“In China, for example, we confirmed they still prefer wine bottles closed with cork, have distinct bottle and label colour preferences, and like celebratory packaging for wine consumed at events. We also learned Asian consumers are increasingly looking for health benefits from their wine, so we’re about to test how they enjoy the smell and flavour of a wine that has a Traditional Chinese Medicine mushroom-extract added to it.” “Next, we hope to better understand and predict wine consumer behaviour using virtual reality and big data”.
Additional research conducted by Associate Professor Bastian’s team here in Australia has also highlighted the influence of wine label descriptions. A study published recently in the journal Food Research International and using high quality wine showed elaborate text – including emotionally worded information on the wine and winery – can increase positive perceptions of a wine, its quality and the amount we’re prepared to pay for it.
“Importantly, we found this response was greatest when the wine flavours closely met expectations created by the text.”
Complementing these investigations is research across a dozen projects led by Professor Vladimir Jiranek into the effectiveness of new methods of producing low-alcohol wines, an emerging consumer preference in many markets.
Working in the University-established Australian Research Council Training Centre for Innovative Wine Production, Professor Jiranek’s team specifically tested the impact on wine quality attributes of harvest-blending regimes and water addition.
“We produced lower-alcohol Cabernet Sauvignon wines using a sequential harvest regime- harvesting grapes at various time points – and juice substitution from green, or unripe grapes, or water prior to fermentation,” says Professor Jiranek.
“Wines from these ‘mixed’ fermentations displayed satisfying chemical and sensory properties and were described as lower in unpleasant unripe or capsicum attributes than wines made entirely from early-harvest grapes, and less hot and astringent than late-harvest wines.”
Another method tested, referred to as “double harvest”, used equal parts of early and later-harvest grapes, in this case Verdelho and Petit Verdot. According to Professor Jiranek, these results were also promising, with both wines maintaining similar sensory compositions to wines made exclusively with mature fruit.
Building on this, the team is now undertaking further research in three diverse markets – Australia, France and Indonesia – to find an optimal low-alcohol level.
“We’re looking to establish the point at which consumers perceive a wine as satisfactorily low in alcohol, but still authentic in terms of its style and varietal characteristics.
“We want to help producers find the ‘sweet spot’.”