‘We’re all afraid of the tax man.’
The voice comes from somewhere under the counter, while our wine seller does a bit of cleaning. ‘I’m in cleaning mode at the moment.’ She pops up again. ‘Would you like to try the semillon? It’s my favourite, now that I’m getting too old for the sharpness of sauvignon blanc.’
This is typical of the upfront honesty of your average Australian wine seller. This particular one was enjoying a coffee outside on the terrace when we arrived, having a laugh with her companions, who waved us good morning as went in.
Turns out they were the actual wine makers on their morning break. ‘That’s Linda* out there,’ says the lady behind (and under) the counter. ‘She makes the merlot. How do you like the Semillon?’
We did like it. But we didn’t mention that we had a bottle of Semillon from La Chataigne in South Africa, the last of the four bottles that we brought over. But back to the taxes. I ask her what WET stands for.
‘Wine Equalisation Tax?’ I offer, remembering what I’d learned on another visit.
She nods. ‘That’s the one.’
‘But what exactly does it mean?’ I ask.
‘It means give us your money.’
She goes on to explain that there is no subsidy for Australian wine growers. In fact, they have taxes instead, and the ‘wet’ tax isn’t the only one. ‘You have to pay 29% per bottle before you even sell it,’ she says.
As I’ve mentioned before, this accounts for the fact that we can buy Australian wine cheaper in the UK. (‘We do send you the rubbish as well, and you know we don’t drink Fosters?’ ‘Neither do we,’ I reply, with a sense of déjà vu). Ah, but what about our alcohol tax, I hear you asking? Australians have that as well, on top of the wet tax. And every bottle that is kept in storage is taxed – every year. It’s why you rarely find a bottle of wine over 2008 here, it’s why they drink their vintages very quickly – sometimes selling the lot within four hours.
‘And we like to drink it.’ Our host pops up from her cleaning again. ‘What’s the point of keeping it?’
She illustrates her point by offering us two merlots, 2011 and 2007. The 2011 is what you’d expect from a young merlot – peppery, tanniny, with hints of fruit and a trace of vanilla. Not bad with spag bol. But the 2007 is smooth and mellow, the flavours combining to make a very pleasant drink.
‘It’s on offer at $10 a bottle,’ she says. ‘We want to get rid of it.’
I explain that ‘back home’ it’s the other way round. As a general rule, the longer a wine is kept, the rarer it becomes and the more it costs, especially if it was a vintage year.
‘Nah, we just want to get rid of it.’
So we bought a bottle. It’s a bargain even by our standards, the cheapest wine we’ve come across in Australia by far. In fact, all the wines at this winery (Driftwood, in case you’re wondering, and our favourite of all the wineries we've visited) were priced well below any other’s we’d visited – and this was vineyard No 8 for Margaret River.
‘We make our wine to sell,’ she explains. ‘So we sell it at a fair price. Some may think that cheap wine means lesser quality, but we’ve won a lot of awards with our wine. And, with 200 wineries in Margaret River now, we have a wine war. Would you like to try our sparkling red?’
This is a shiraz, and it sparkles, with a bit of help from co2. It’s drunk chilled. It tastes – well, a bit odd.
‘What do you think of it?’
We tell her it’s a bit odd.
She sighs relief. ‘To tell you the truth I don’t like it,’ she whispers. ‘But don’t tell Barry* that.’
*Names of winemakers have been changed, due to the fact that I can’t actually remember them. But they were all very friendly and very enthusiastic about their wines.