GRAPEVINE with LIZ SAGUES: £7 Aussie fizz wins friends worldwide

PUBLISHED: 15:32 04 February 2010 | UPDATED: 16:44 07 September 2010

Ask Islay Kennedy about the wine project which has succeeded way beyond her wildest expectations and the words bubble out in a glorious stream. That s entirely appropriate: it s all about a £7 fizz which has won Kennedy a lot of friends. And crucially for

Ask Islay Kennedy about the wine project which has succeeded way beyond her wildest expectations and the words bubble out in a glorious stream. That's entirely appropriate: it's all about a £7 fizz which has won Kennedy a lot of friends.

And crucially for success in the oh-so-competitive UK wine market, Griffith Park has carried off some very covetable awards, from a top 10 placing in Effervescents du Monde to a "best buy" acclamation from Which? - in both instances ahead of grande marque champagnes.

The wine is Australian - hence its choice for this week's column, the second linked to Australia Day 2010. But the idea for it developed much closer to Ham&Highland, around Kennedy's kitchen table in Harpenden.

New Zealand-born, brought up in Australia and UK-resident for 20 years, she trained as a biochemist, then completed a postgraduate diploma in oenology, moved here and became involved in the early importing of Oz wine.

It was hard going. One major high street wine retailer's buyer told her "I didn't know Australia made wine" and put the phone down. Fast forward a year, and he was rushing to stock her suggestions. By 1998, through bringing in wine in bulk and providing own-label bottles plus some brands, she had become the fifth largest importer, by volume, of Australian wine in the UK.

But it's the fizz which has brought current fortune to Vickery Wines - the company named after Kennedy's daughter Victoria, now 28 and a journalist, and son Henry, 26, a lawyer, who both still join in those kitchen-table discussions which keep the brand moving forward.

Kennedy was on one of her regular winery visits when she realised how little Australian sparkling wine was sold in the UK.

With an idea developing, she approached Morrisons' buyer, who agreed to stock the wine she proposed if quality, price and label were right.

Challenges one and two were the easy ones. "But the name and the label took another six months," Kennedy admits. The eureka moment was finding Griffith Park mentioned in a magazine article: it is the home of Los Angeles zoo (hence the animals which gave the required wow factor to the label) and also a famed film location, while linking neatly with South Australia's Griffith winelands, home of the fizz.

The initial wine was pink, attractively strawberry-fruited but dry and moreish. Just before Christmas 2007, towards the end of Morrisons' initial six-month exclusive deal, it struck Effervescents gold. The wine was on promotion at £5, televised recommendations came from Delia Smith and Jilly Goolden, "the media went crazy". Sixteen thousand cases flew off the shelves in ten days, frustrated customers traced Kennedy's mobile number and demanded more...

More awards came, availability widened, a white (Griffith Park brut, fresh, gently lemony) was introduced - and that was the wine which wowed the Which? tasters, just before Christmas 2009. Perfect timing for more publicity.

But none of this would be worth reporting unless the wine deserved its high profile. Griffith Park is made like champagne, though after the second fermentation there's a transfer into tank and it is rebottled. For £7 wines, both brut and pink are remarkably stylish: lovely fine, persistent bubbles, clean and characterful flavours. Both are in Morrisons and Asda.

Kennedy's mission is simple: "To give people quality for a very good price." Many glasses of Griffith Park should be raised to that.

Liz Sagues

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