Weekly Crush: Simon and Darren, Aussie Wine Chat Podcast

Meet Cellr’s Weekly Crush: Simon West and Darren Oemcke, the dynamic duo who host the popular Aussie Wine Chat podcast, which is also live streamed on Zoom 11am ACST every Monday. Each week the pair deliver industry information with an exciting guest speaker that focuses on specific markets and specific topics – all with a side of banter. Some of these topics have been based on China trade, Australian domestic off-trade, wine from a Millennial point of view and an update on the COVID-19 situation and what it has meant for the wine trade. Find out what these two industry codgers had to say on everything from digital wine marketing, export, virtual relationships, storytelling, sustainability and more below. 

Listen to Aussie Wine Chat now:
Apple Podcasts: https://apple.co/3go3p7T
Google Podcasts: https://bit.ly/31byvt0
Spotify: https://spoti.fi/33qk9YB

Also, stay in the Aussie Wine Chat loop and be the first to know who featured guests will be through their LinkedIn and Twitter

You can also find out more about Simon West through FULLGLASS, and Darren Oemcke through Hydra Consulting

Let’s start off simple, what is Aussie Wine Chat and why did you both decide to start it together?
During March this year, most people were finding themselves working from home due to COVID-19 restrictions.  We were hearing various levels of stress and uncertainty as we spoke to our clients.  We put our heads together and decided it would be great to have a casual weekly Zoom chat where wine industry topics could be discussed…and invite in industry experts to add some more flavour.  This evolved into the development of the podcast series. 

Tell us a bit more about yourselves and what gave you both the idea that you either of you should be running the only podcast that focuses on the Australian Wine Trade? 
Simon:
I’ve been in the wine industry for 20 years now and have worked in a variety of roles.  These include sales, export, GM for an online retailer, business consulting, industry export training, board positions and advisory roles to Wine Australia.

Darren :
I have worked in the wine sector for about 20 years in engineering, product development, contract R&D, management consulting, export market development and marketing. I am a partner in Hydra Consulting, where I work across the whole of the wine sector delivering projects and providing management support. I am also a partner in Invina, a wine tourism business and one of the people behind the development of the Australian wine and tourism tech accelerator FOMENT.

The podcast is quite unique in that it is recorded over zoom, providing listeners the opportunity to actually join the call and hear the conversation in real-time at 11am ACST every Monday (or otherwise listen to it when it is released via Spotify, Apple Music or Google). What inspired you to structure it in this way?
Firstly, we decided to host it on Zoom so that it gave the participants a chance to interact with our guest speakers and ourselves. We then took Aussie Wine Chat to YouTube for those that could not join us live in session, which we have since stopped. Our decision to take it to podcast was for accessibility and convenience to listen. A lot of listeners can now hear to us on their long drives to the winery or just as a bit of background banter while working from their home office.

A big part of what you are achieving through the Aussie Wine Chat podcast and live stream is getting people involved in the wine industry conversation anywhere, anytime. Why do you think this is important for the Australian wine industry as a whole? 
We are targeting producers and operators, people who do not have a lot of time and who need to be more competitive every day. With COVID-19 and the huge changes we are seeing in all markets, we wanted to create something just for them, that helps on a day to day to day basis.

You have already featured a wide range of wine industry experts and personalities; how do you go about choosing who to invite on the show and the topics you discuss? 
We want to talk about the trade specifically and what is happening this week, but also help our listeners adapt. We have been tapping into our local and international networks to talk about shipping wine into the USA, maintaining relationships in the wine trade, the development of virtual wine events, keeping up to date with the future of tourism, adapting to changes in China, international trade negotiations, labelling and much more. We have covered what is happening in China, the UK, Canada, Korea, Indonesia, the USA, India, Australia and Japan.

We want to talk about the trade specifically and what is happening this week, but also help our listeners adapt.

If each of you could have anyone in the world featured on Aussie Wine Chat, who would it be and why?
Simon:
Wow!  A big question!  Over the years, love it or hate it, wine critics have been incredibly influential in the success or failure of a wine brand.  This has made them quite controversial at times.  James Halliday has made the biggest impact within Australia (and now in some of our largest export markets) and Robert Parker in the USA (with global recognition).  It is a well-known fact that they don’t necessarily see eye to eye on their favoured wine styles.  They have occasionally taken these comments through to their tasting reviews (to the detriment of the wine being reviewed!).  It would be interesting to get both parties on a chat and have a controlled debate about their wine style opinions. It could also get messy!

We really like it that the people we get on the podcast are not well known or celebrities, they are people on the front-line helping people get wine into customers hands, getting people moving into and around Australia and helping them to be better.

On the Wine Market…We asked Simon and Darren to shed some light on their experience in the wine market, as a big part of what we do at Cellr is make true direct to consumer marketing easy for producers. Find out more here

What are the stories that engage you when it comes to wineries and winemakers? What have been some stories that have engaged you from some of the conversations you have had with guests on your show?  
Simon:
Nikki Pallun was a great example.  She de-mystified some of the methods she uses to engage with her Chinese customers.  Obviously, Nikki has the advantage of speaking fluent Mandarin, but when you listen to her, you will be sure to have some light bulb moments.

Darren:
For me one was getting to know Amber and Beth Lebau. The speed with which they recognised virtual wine events were important to creating a great platform and front of knowledge about how to engage virtually. We have only just begun to understand virtual engagement and these two are true pioneers.

There has been a lot of buzz around wineries making a massive digital pivot in 2020, especially with COVID-19, from virtual tastings and eCommerce to virtual relationship building and DtC. Why do you think wineries have been so apprehensive about digital marketing and sales prior to the pandemic, and what are some success stories or challenges you are observing?
It’s a story of enough success without being particularly digital. It worked to get customers to visit and then re-engage with them through EDM and clubs, have an online store (sometimes) and an Instagram account for engagement. This was digital enough. When it came to engaging customers who did not visit or attend tastings, they were relying on traditional distribution partner relationships with customers.

The challenge has been that they were not natively digital. Very few had any experience in creating engaging customer experiences in the digital world – all of that was done in the real. So when markets changed, very few were ready. What is fantastic is how quickly many are building out their digital framework, but all have a digital deficit when compared with other retailers chasing the same consumer dollar. 

Wineries have been hesitant because they simply didn’t know what was relevant or not in the digital space. They also lack the understanding of what sort of funds they need to allocate to their digital strategy or what the return on investment could be.

Wineries have been hesitant because they simply didn’t know what was relevant or not in the digital space. They also lack the understanding of what sort of funds they need to allocate to their digital strategy or what the return on investment could be.

On Authentication and Supply Chains: We asked Simon and Darren about their views on authentication and their current supply chain management. At Cellr we want to understand how producers feel about the current systems in place and make a packaging solution that is consistent with what they needFind out what we do for brand protection and supply chain track and trace.

There has also been a lot of discussion around export as Australian wine becomes more popular internationally, tensions with China rise and eCommerce explodes across the industry. What do you think the future or wine exports looks like?
Exporting in the short-term and long-term future is going to be about diversifying the risk by expanding into other emerging markets. Our export programs will reflect this and Aussie Wine Chat will be hosting guest speakers that can give us an understanding of new and emerging export markets and how to shift towards a more diverse spread of markets.

They need to be aggressively digital. Virtual tastings for trade and consumers, on-bottle engagement, one click bookings, great visual story-telling. We are going to need to be less conservative and less curated in our outward approaches to the world – people love aussies, aussie wine and aussie experiences, we need to give these to our customers before we meet them. We are going to need to be able to monetise these virtual relationships.

They need to be aggressively digital. Virtual tastings for trade and consumers, on-bottle engagement, one click bookings, great visual story-telling. We are going to need to be less conservative and less curated in our outward approaches to the world – people love aussies, aussie wine and aussie experiences, we need to give these to our customers before we meet them.

In the short term, we should expect travel interruptions and several years before travel becomes ‘normal’ again. We also believe the wine sector needs to support its state and national industry bodies as the sector is going to need to make its voice heard by governments here and overseas.

Following on from that, with the global explosion of wine fraud pushing into the mid/premium brackets due to sheer volume, how important is it for wine consumers to be able to identify (legitimate) products via anti-counterfeit measures?
We had a great session with Rachel Triggs from Wine Australia and Scott Evers from Wine Provenance about this a couple of weeks ago – we really recommend this episode for people with a strong interest in anti-fraud aspects of wine.

Anti-counterfeit measures are getting cheaper and there are multiple technologies and measures that have enormous potential to support anti-fraud, including Cellr’s. 

Anti-counterfeit measures are getting cheaper and there are multiple technologies and measures that have enormous potential to support anti-fraud, including Cellr’s. 

For anti-fraud to be effective, the distributor and consumer have to both know and care that they are getting a fraudulent product, which means that the other key element to anti-fraud, that is often overlooked, is consumer engagement with brands. Brand owners need to care about consumer engagement and not just leave it to their distributor – When the consumers and trade partners care, putting anti-counterfeiting into practice will be simpler.

A common topic of discussion is sustainability in wine and the environment. What do you think the future of sustainability in wine will be, in terms of both marketing and production?
We thought sustainability was going to become important before the Global Financial Crisis, but post-GFC it has taken a long time to become important to retail partners again. We are now seeing the massive impacts that climate change could have on the wine sector and the commitment of the industry to being carbon neutral along with consumers wanting to engage with brands that share their values.

We hope that producers become much more environmentally capable to the extent that the environmental values of Australian brand owners simply become part of the DNA of the national messaging and brand story.

Listen to Aussie Wine Chat now:
Apple Podcasts: https://apple.co/3go3p7T
Google Podcasts: https://bit.ly/31byvt0
Spotify: https://spoti.fi/33qk9YB

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