JOIY TO THE WORLD
CHRIS ARCHER’S NON-TRADITIONAL APPROACH TO WINEMAKING
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.
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.
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?