Friday, April 10, 2009

Yellowtail, Maipe and the Evolution of a Region

Last week, I had a conversation with my mom about how delicious and cheap Maipe malbec is, and how funny it is that it, and other Argentinian wines, are suddenly everywhere. She mentioned that she'd read something about Argentinian wine makers turning to the US market because domestic wine drinkers got bored with the very common, very cheap grape. Sales in Argentina started falling flat, so the industry looked a little to the north and next thing you know, every wine store around is sporting endcaps full of malbec.

When I hung up the phone, I started to worry, just a little, that Maipe has the potential to be Argentina's Yellowtail (minus the critter label). Just like the Australian wine, Maipe burst onto the scene and all of a sudden, all my wine-drinking friends are all over it. It's like 2001 all over again. (My first sip of Yellowtail was, BTW, at work. Our kickass PR guy, Tom, brought a bottle to the office one day and my department, good trendspotters that we were, shared it.)

I'm not feeling much better about Maipe's situation after reading this really good Mike Steinberger article on Yellowtail's role in the decline of the Australian wine market. The argument is, in a nutshell, that thanks to Yellowtail, Australia's brand as a wine-producing country is stuck firmly in the "cheap and fruity" space, so wine drinkers looking for more sophisticated products (either because they really like them better, or because they want to seem like they know what they're talking about) avoid Australia. The key sentence:
As a result, consumers came to equate Australia with wines that were flavorful but also cheap and frivolous, a perception that became a major liability when those same consumers got interested in more serious stuff; rather than looking to Oz, they turned to Spain, Italy, and France.

I am one of those consumers - somebody who, in 2001, was just starting to get into wine. And I drank a lot of Yellowtail. So much that at some point, I just couldn't take it anymore (Steinberger refers to this phenomenon, aptly, as "fruit-bomb fatigue"). When Cooper and I started getting serious about wine, we looked mainly to France, Spain, and Italy, with a touch of California thrown in. And recently, to Argentina.

What I wonder now is whether knowing why we've been avoiding Australia will make me give the country another chance? I'm not sure. And will I slow down on the Maipe, so I don't ruin it for myself. Unlikely, honestly.

But it doesn't seem fair, somehow, that wine makers should be subject to marketing-driven trends.

Then again, life's not fair. So I'm not sure why wine-making should be any different.

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