Exporter - - FRONT PAGE - Glenn Baker is ed­i­tor of Ex­porter.

Chris Archer is a bit of a non-con­form­ist when it comes to wine­mak­ing. For most of his ca­reer he’s gone about things a lit­tle dif­fer­ently to the status quo.

As a re­sult, he says, some ideas have failed to fire, but oth­ers have turned into real gems.

His new ‘sin­gle-serve’ aro­matic sparkling wine, un­der the brand-name Joiy, is one par­tic­u­lar gem he can be jus­ti­fi­ably proud of.

To un­der­stand Chris’s ide­ol­ogy around wine­mak­ing first re­quires you to hear the re­mark­able jour­ney his ca­reer has taken him on, not least of which was his jour­ney across the Tas­man 16 years ago.

The seeds of his ide­al­ogy were sown dur­ing his for­ma­tive years work­ing at Tyrrells Wines in New South Wales’ Hunter Val­ley. This is where he de­vel­oped the cul­ture for “cross pol­li­nat­ing ideas from one wine re­gion and twist­ing them into dif­fer­ent fruits and dif­fer­ent wine styles; then ob­serv­ing peo­ples’ re­ac­tions”.

Hav­ing the mas­sive Syd­ney mar­ket close by en­cour­aged ex­per­i­men­ta­tion with wine styles and tech­niques by lo­cal wine­mak­ers, and this is how Chris set his com­pass, par­tic­u­larly around red wine, which he would even­tu­ally go on to win many awards for.

“I’ve al­ways be­lieved in hav­ing a phi­los­o­phy about what you’re do­ing, and part of that is hav­ing your own cul­ture. It’s about putting your stick in the sand, go­ing for a par­tic­u­lar style and wrap­ping an ide­ol­ogy around it,” he says. “If you can pull it off you have a re­ally good prod­uct – a wine that not only tastes good but has a great story be­hind it.”

There was never any doubt that Chris would forge a ca­reer in wine. Grow­ing up on his par­ents’ cat­tle prop­erty in the Hunter Val­ley, he says his choices were staying on the farm, join­ing the army, coal min­ing or the wine in­dus­try. “It was an ab­so­lute no-brainer.”

He did have plans to fur­ther his pas­sion for fly­ing with the Aus­tralian Air Force when he left high school, but four months as a cel­lar-hand at Tyrrells in 1989 put paid to that idea. He stayed there seven years, end­ing up as as­sis­tant wine­maker, and later worked for Pep­pertree Wines where

he pro­duced “some of Aus­tralia’s best mer­lots” and helped cre­ate the Audrey Wilkin­son la­bel.

“That 150 years of fam­ily wine­mak­ing at Tyrrells and the lead­er­ship of Mur­ray Tyrrell was an ab­so­lutely in­spi­ra­tional start to my ca­reer,” he re­calls.

Chris says back then the Aus­tralian wine in­dus­try was still largely old-school in its ap­proach.

Dr Bryce Rank­ine was largely re­spon­si­ble for trans­form­ing it into a sci­en­tific, tech­nol­ogy-based in­dus­try, in­tro­duc­ing new equip­ment and pro­ce­dures – an in­dus­try that could com­pete bet­ter with tra­di­tional Euro­pean wine.

By com­par­i­son New Zealand’s wine in­dus­try was al­ready well ad­vanced in its use of tech­nol­ogy – for ex­am­ple, with its ex­ten­sive use of stain­less steel.

Chris dis­cov­ered this first-hand in 2000 when he took up the reins of se­nior wine­maker at Mor­ton Es­tate – at the time the largest pri­vate vine­yard owner in New Zealand.

His first im­pres­sions of the wine in­dus­try on this side of the Tas­man was that there was more tech­nol­ogy, more aca­demic thought and more money be­ing in­vested.

Joiy-ful be­gin­nings

When Chris be­gan his Joiy project, he was al­ready run­ning his own pre­mium wine pro­duc­tion and dis­tri­bu­tion com­pany and the world was in the mid­dle of the GFC.

With many wine brands be­ing culled from re­tail shelves and in­vest­ment con­sid­ered a dirty word, it seemed a strange time to be launch­ing a new brand – let alone a new cat­e­gory.

Joiy con­tin­ued to val­i­date and prove it­self, how­ever, so Chris made the de­ci­sion to work full-time on the brand, and has been do­ing so for the past four and a half years.

He could see how the RTD and cider mar­ket had adapted to con­sumer needs, and yet in many re­spects the wine in­dus­try had dis­tanced it­self from con­sumers. It was in a sort of com­fort zone with a some­what su­pe­rior at­ti­tude. “[It’s an in­dus­try where] peo­ple are so fo­cused on what they’re do­ing that no­body wants to put their heads over the para­pet.”

Chris says Joiy, a lower al­co­hol aro­matic sparkling wine that can be en­joyed on its own or as a mixer, tar­gets a modern and youth­ful mar­ket for whom stock brands are more in­grained.

“Brand­ing in the wine in­dus­try has been a weak­ness. The mar­ket is so frac­tured, so com­pli­cated; so dis­con­nected to the younger gen­er­a­tion,” he ex­plains.

“Joiy is about tak­ing all the good things about wine; strip­ping out all the lim­i­ta­tions of the in­dus­try – all in a so­phis­ti­cated, ‘not too sweet’ small for­mat.

“It’s about mak­ing wine drink­ing fun again,” he says, “and it can be adapted to suit all tastes.”

The wine in­dus­try typ­i­cally de­liv­ers a high vol­ume prod­uct, Chris con­tin­ues. “What I’ve done is es­tab­lish a whole new busi­ness model. I’ve taken away the vin­tage as­pect, the re­gion­al­ism. I’ve cre­ated a brand that’s adapt­able, risk ad­verse, and can grow [mar­ket share] fast glob­ally by util­is­ing grapes from other coun­tries.”

Cur­rently Joiy is be­ing pro­duced in Aus­tralia and New Zealand and there are plans to pro­duce it in Canada. “When that hap­pens you re­ally start to flex the mus­cles of the wine in­dus­try.”

He sees prod­ucts like Joiy ra­tio­nal­is­ing the whole wine in­dus­try. Pro­duc­ing strong brands at the lower level ac­tu­ally creates value at the pre­mium level, he says. “Be­cause at the mo­ment the com­mod­ity of wine is pulling down our pre­mium value.”

Iron­i­cally, in terms of man­u­fac­ture and wine­mak­ing, Chris has put more ef­fort into Joiy than any other wine over the past 26 years. With a one hun­dred per­cent nat­u­ral prod­uct he says it’s still easy to main­tain con­sis­tency.

Ex­port strat­egy

Within a year of Joiy’s launch, the prod­uct was be­ing stocked in the Wool­worth’s-owned chain of Dan Mur­phy’s liquor out­lets in Aus­tralia. Ini­tially Chris ex­ported Joiy all over the world, from Hong Kong to Scan­danavia – a strat­egy which fur­ther val­i­dated the brand but was un­sus­tain­able in terms of ser­vice and sup­port. So he pulled back to fo­cus on New Zealand (still his home base), Aus­tralia, and Canada – the lat­ter a north­ern hemi­sphere mar­ket to suit this sum­mer-style drink and pro­vide year-round sales con­sis­tency.

While he has fam­ily on both sides of the Tas­man, Chris con­sid­ers him­self a Kiwi. He ad­mits to feel­ing more com­fort­able in New Zealand com­pared to Aus­tralia and finds the New Zealand busi­ness mar­ket­place much eas­ier to work within.

“In Aus­tralia it’s def­i­nitely more chal­leng­ing; there are more gate­keep­ers, and it takes more time to build re­la­tion­ships,” he says. “In New Zealand, there’s a be­lief that you can change things, you can make the world a bet­ter place.”

In­deed what bet­ter place, then, for Chris to orig­i­nate his world-first global wine bev­er­age?

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