A thirst for Australian wine

Kathy Marlin on Australian wine in the US

Stumbling upon wine before she could legally drink, over the past 20 years Kathy Marlin has gone from being a naïve 18-year-old linguistics student – working in distribution while attending University – to one of the most respected women in the wine industry.

Managing Director of the Negociants USA – a branch of one of Australia’s finest premium wine distribution companies – Kathy says that it was her thirst for knowledge (coupled with a good drop) that drove her into the wine game, and continues to keep her there.

“When I started out in the industry I really didn’t know much about wine, but I quickly fell in love with its diversity, and the fact that every single bottle is unique, whether it’s something you’ve had before, or are enjoying for the first time,” she says.

“I love to learn, and wine provides a lifetime of non-stop learning opportunities and experiences.”

Named one of Wine Enthusiasts’ Top 40 under 40 Tastemakers in 2016, at just 38 years of age, Kathy, a Canadian/Swiss who is now based in Napa Valley, says she’s a proud Pewsey Vale sipping, Jansz popping, Dalrymple Pinot Noir twirling advocate for Australian wine.

And while Australia’s reputation for only producing big Barossa reds in the 90s led to an early 2000s fall from grace, Kathy says Australia is still a strong brand among US wine drinkers, who are constantly on the lookout for the next big thing.

“I don’t feel like US consumers stopped noticing Australian wines, they were perhaps just overexposed to one type of offering from Australia, which was in fashion for a time.

“I don’t think consumers, or wine producers for that matter, really paid attention to the things that create loyalty and longevity such as the variety and quality of wines coming from Australia.

“The one thing I have to continually explain to consumers is that Australia’s not all about beach days and sunshine – the country is as large as the US and has incredible regional diversity.”

And while Kathy admits that the average wine drinker in the US may not be aware that Australia is producing Pinot Noir, Australian Pinots are fast becoming big news among US sommeliers.

“US consumers have access to just about every Pinot Noir producing region in the world, so there is a challenge for any region that is either not considered iconic or isn’t domestic, to carve out a premium following,” she says. “But we’re getting there.

“Australia remains the second largest imported wine category to the USA, second only to Italy, so it is a truly viable and important category to the market.

“I think that savvy US consumers would assume that Australia makes Pinot Noir, but I wouldn’t think the average consumer would understand where they are coming from, or what makes them different to any other Pinot Noir from around the world.

“In the sommelier community there is immense interest in the varietals coming from Tasmania, Mornington Peninsula and the Adelaide Hills. Pinot Noir is making Australia a new point of discussion for sommeliers in terms of region and style.”

Generally, Kathy says that while US consumers will always lean towards Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, and more recently Pinot Noir, she’s also seeing a trend toward blends and lighter varietals.

“Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon remain kings, but after getting a massive boost with general punters from the movie Sideways, Pinot Noir has ridden a wave of popularity in the US and continues to experience continued organic growth.”


So, what does Kathy think of the great grape? We asked her some pertinent questions that only a true Pinotphile could answer…

  • What’s the finest Pinot Noir you’ve ever tasted?

DRC Grands Echezeaux 2012 (from the barrel).

  • What’s the most memorable food and wine experience you’ve ever had?

Le Bernardin, in the lounge bar, New York, New York – it was as much about the company as it was about the food and wine pairings.

  • What’s your favourite wine bar/restaurant in the US right now?

I would have to say The Modern at MOMA in New York. The wine list is unbelievable and the atmosphere is unmatched for its location and charm.

  • What wines and/or regions are you the most excited about right now?

Tasmanian Pinot Noir and Sparkling, and I am finding great value in Beaujolais.

  • If you were opening the best bottle of Pinot Noir in your cellar, who would you share it with…?

My love and my parents.

  • If Pinot Noir was a person, who would it be, and why?

What Hugh Grant thinks he is – vibrant in youth, charmingly befuddled, recovering from a dummy phase in the middle and hopeful of a graceful, famous maturity.