Wine veteran Wolf Blass calls for levy to promote exports – but industry confused by remarks

Wine veteran Wolf Blass has criticised the supermarket duopoly and has called for a levy on winemakers to support overseas sales – but the market has responded with confusion because one already exists.

Blass told The Australian the industry should impose a levy on winemakers in order to increase promotion overseas.

“Something very important happens if you don’t promote: nothing. That is the downfall of the industry,” he said. “The Wine Federation has no money to promote Australia – Hardys, Orlando, Casella have all pulled their money out of the WFA and are doing their own promotion.”

But a spokesman for the Winemakers’ Federation of Australia begs to differ, telling SmartCompany this morning these three companies have all retained their membership.

“Wolf Blass has got it wrong, it’s not the Winemakers’ Federation that handles all of this, and nobody has pulled out of our membership.”

Wine Australia is the body responsible for the promotion of Australian wines overseas, as authorised by the Federal Government, not the Wine Federation. The spokesperson for the Winemakers’ Federation of Australia told SmartCompany this morning it’s a “bit confused” by the comments.

The Wolf Blass company was contacted for comment this morning by SmartCompany, but a reply wasn’t available prior to publication.

Other winemakers have also pointed out the levy is compulsory for wine growers across the country.

According to Wine Australia, the levy is paid in order to fund the activities of Wine Australia and the Grape and Wine Research and Development Organisation.

And although Blass says more needs to be done to promote wine exports, the Federal Government announced $2.1 million over the next two years for Wine Australia to help market the industry.

“What they have to do is make sure that the 2,500 so-called winemakers contribute to a levy for generic promotion of Australia,” Blass said.

Lawrie Stanford, executive director of Wine Grape Growers Australia, also told SmartCompany the levy is compulsory, although he did warn the industry is still facing some significant hurdles, including a supply and demand imbalance.

“That’s an issue that still needs to be addressed,” he said.

Blass also commented on the current supermarket duopoly, saying the strength of Woolworths and Coles is reducing winemakers’ profits.

“The biggest risk in the domestic market is the catastrophic duopoly controlling 60% of our market,” he said.

“We have to protect the independents and the on-premise operators – that must be Treasury’s priority.

Blass now promotes the Wolf Blass brand for Treasury Wine Estates.

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