In the face of a flat market and an increasing stranglehold by big producer and retailing groups the oldest sales and marketing methods of all seem to be working in Australian wine retailing.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics domestic wine sales are increasing by less than 2% a year, one of the main reasons - together with demand in the English speaking world and a weak Australian dollar - why producers are concentrating on exports.

But McGuigan Simeon Wines, the fourth biggest stock exchange listed company and fifth overall, has just reported a 74% increase in home sales to an annual total of $A31.47m, ($US17.3m). Chief executive Brian McGuigan attributes this to the person-to-person promotion he has tirelessly pursued since his relatively small beginning a generation ago as a producer in the Hunter Valley of New South Wales.

He continues to do two or three promotional dinners a week and the company's 50-plus sales team each have a similar schedule of tastings in retail liquor shops, clubs and social groups of all descriptions, hundreds of "meet the people" encounters each week.

"They are all there getting the message across," says McGuigan. He is a perhaps an extreme case of an Australian phenomenon which will probably prove crucial to almost all the nation's 1465 wineries this decade. With the big four, Southcorp, BRL Hardy, Fosters and Orlando Wyndham, accounting for more than 80% of sales, and independent retailers being bought up by supermarket chains and other groups with consequent economies of scale, personal contact promotional selling is an obvious response.

Most Australians live within a two or three hour drive of a wine region and all wineries have a cellar door outlet of increasing bottom line importance. This together with in-store promotions, special event dinners and a series of regional festivals means it is commonplace for interested buyers to have met at least one winemaker.

McGuigan's success is based on his willingness to extend his company's reach and the priority he gives to marketing. While face-to-face selling is one way the 1500-plus minnows hope to combat the four giants, the majors themselves are paying increasing importance to their frontline presence on the home market.

BRL Hardy has spent several million dollars on its Banrock Station wetlands conservation sanctuary, named for one of its most successful brands. Fosters has just spent $A2.5m on the collar complex at one of its wineries in the Barossa Valley of South Australia. Biggest of all, also in the Barossa, Orlando Wyndham has spent several times that on a visitor centre for its Jacob's Creek wines - primarily a brand awareness exercise. This back to basics, handshake and proffered tasting glass approach was summed up in the slogan for one of the many regional wine festivals: "Meet Your Maker."