Starting some 15 years ago, U.S. wine drinkers who love well-priced, tasty wines had a field day with Australian wines.
A flood of Aussie imports, from tasty chardonnays to gutsy shirazes, came into the United States in the late 1990s and the value was so great that at their peak, Australian wine sales in the United States were rising more than 20% per year for nearly a decade.
Some of the reasons for this were the low cost of farming wine grapes in Australia; the rapid growth of vineyard acreage (which produced lots of grapes), and the relatively weak Aussie dollar that was worth roughly 35% less than the U.S. dollar.
But times change. Even though brands like Yellow Tail (at the low end) and Penfolds (with a reasonably priced portfolio that included an excellent high-end sector) remain constants in the U.S. market, it was clear that holding onto U.S. market share for other Australian brands would not be easy.
By 2008, the U.S. economy was so weak that all wine sales slowed, and then the Australian dollar rose in value due to strong iron-ore sales to China.
Before long, with the two currencies at parity, the cost of many Australian wines had to rise just to keep pace with the differences in the exchange rate, and fewer
Aussie wineries could export wines to the U.S. with the same confidence that had existed a decade earlier.
All this time, Franklin Tate was wrestling with financial problems of his own. Founder of the Evans & Tate brand in western Australia, Tate was head of one of the country's largest wineries.
But about nine years ago, that multiple-brand, million-case entity began to face financial difficulties, and by 2005 Tate had left his old company. Move ahead to last week. Tate is back with a scaled-down business, some stellar wines, and prices that are very fair for the high quality of the wines.
He can do this partly because he owns more than 500 acres of land planted to 10 different varietals, and has a staff that is focused on a Western Australian style of wine that's a bit more structured and delicate than some warmer regions of Australia.
The nice thing about the new Tate wines is how decidedly food-friendly they are.
One problem with the new Tate brand of wines: Prices for the six wines are so low that they belie their great quality. Tate says he can do this because it is his first foray under this brand in this market and he's willing to make a bit less to gain some market recognition.
"We're not greedy," he says with a wide grin.
Also, the wines are being imported by a company that cuts out one of the three tiers in the typical three-tier marketing system.
Of two chardonnays under the Tate brand, the 2013 ($15) and a 2012 with the designation Alexander's Vineyard ($20) both offer a charming, delicate aroma of citrus and subtle spices. The latter wine has a faint trace of oak, but both rely on acidity (think seafood dinner) for their persona.
Of the four red wines, the best wine in terms of depth, complexity, and value is a 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon "Alexander's Vineyard" ($20), with loads of red fruit, mint, subtle herbs, and a trace of oak. After tasting it, I suggested to Tate that the price was at least $15 too low.
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