In 1224, in his notable poem Battle of the Wines, Henry d’Andeli tells the story of a famous wine tasting organized by the French king Philip Augustus. In this tasting, samples from across Europe were tasted and judged by an English priest. The priest classified the wines as either ‘Celebrated’ in the case of those which pleased him or ‘Excommunicated’ for those that did not. With the rise of the industrial revolution and the growth of international trade, the wine industry has become a $354.7 billion global market. But wine quality cannot be ascertained ex-ante, for this reason, the industry faces an information asymmetry problem. The producer, distributor or retailer involved in the economic transaction often possess greater material knowledge than the general consumer. Where this is the case, systems emerge which attempt to address this information imbalance. Filmmakers spend millions creating trailers, in literature, there are renowned awards such as the Booker Prize, and in the wine industry there have been scores and competitions. From well-established, renowned international awards to small, emerging regional competitions, format and scale is broad and diverse. However, in a marketplace where applications like Vivino provide consumers with immediate community-generated reviews, whether competitions are effective tools in establishing objective, qualitative benchmarks to aid purchasing decisions or serve as revenue-generating marketing machines is not altogether clear. In this article, I explore the research on wine competitions and discuss what producers should consider before entering their wines into a competition.
Unlike most other agricultural products, bar the most niche of fruit and vegetable, a wine’s origin, in some cases down to a single acre of land, is touted as a semi-mystical source of quality. Although lacking an exact definition, Jancis Robinson notes terroir to be a vines ‘total natural growing environment’. While some consider farming practices a function of terroir, for the most part, it is inclusive of the place, not the person. It is said that the soil, subsoil, rocks, exposition, mesoclimate, and microclimate of a particular vine, are amongst that which most influence the grapevines phenotype. Although romanticised by the French, recognition of place precedes them by some time. The Ancient Greeks were known to stamp amphorae with a seal of origin, the result being different regions established varying reputations for the quality of their wine. But one need not look to Ancient Greece to observe the importance of place. Anybody who has planted in their own garden will recognise that particular plots, even within a 30m² site, perform better, yielding more fruitful results, than others. However, both viticulture and wine differ greatly from almost all other farming endeavours. The sheer volume of decisions made by the vigneron and the subsequent scale of their influence is so vast that one must wonder to what extent terroir can really be credited for the style of the finished wine. Amongst natural wine circles ‘sense of place’ has become a hallmark of authenticity. To ‘let the place show’ is the mantra of the most zen winos. But when these ‘small’ decisions yield such notably broad variance, is this a plausible proposition? Has fetishising terroir obfuscated and subordinated the role of the farmer? A recent conversation with Wine Advocates, Dr William Kelley, stoked my thoughts.
Following the launch of Avaline, Cameron Diaz and her business partner Katherine Powers parody of an honest, transparent product, the wine industry has been rightfully quick to point out how and why ‘clean wine’ is problematic. Writer, Sophie Griffiths of Vignette Wine, points succinctly to its disingenuous claims, (Avaline itself by any objective standards is a conventional wine), lack of transparency and the unsettling image it projects of the wine industry as a whole. Optimistically surfing Diaz’s wave, laden with millennial buzzwords, is Good Clean Wine, the brainchild of Courtney Dunlop and Elle Feldman. Following an unimaginably embarrassing Forbes article, in which the pair took turns to shit on the wine industry, I launched a tirade on social media. From claiming ‘toxic gunk’ in wine causes hangovers to their suggestions that winemakers simply ‘throw a bunch of junk in the wine’ as it ferments’ I decided they needed to be challenged. In the name of transparency, I was of course immediately blocked, as were many others. Critical comments were deleted from their Instagram page and the initial Forbes article edited retrospectively. Perhaps evidence of the pairs reflection? Alas, this was not to be the case. In a further Forbes article, the two double-down on their misinformed, misleading and frankly troubling insinuations about the wine industry and consumer health. Seeing as though the team at Good Clean Wine just doesn’t seem to get it, in this article I will spell out exactly what’s wrong with their brand and how they market it.
The customer always defines value. No ifs, no buts, no maybes. Whether it be a process, product or service, the voice of the customer must, at its core, be the driving force in defining the end-to-end value stream. Whilst restaurants may vary in their individual approach to the customer experience, common elements almost always remain, access to a wine list is one of them. Serving not only as a functional tool but also as a source of excitement, conversation and fun, the wine list plays a key role in the overall experience of many diners. Recently, a small number of restaurants have, for various reasons, decided they will no longer offer diners access to a physical wine list of any sort. Instead, diners will be required to discuss all wine choices with the front of house staff. Regardless of motive, this decision risks unnecessarily alienating customers and makes little practical sense. Whilst restaurants are of course entitled to make changes suited to their own ethos they ought not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. This kind of absolutism redefines value from the perspective of the restauranteur, not the customer. Recently, I polled 187 wine lovers, capturing their feelings toward wine lists, judging whether they consider proposed replacements suitable, and ultimately asking whether they think removing a diner’s choice is a good idea or not.
Earlier this year, I featured as a panel member for a Real Business of Wine webinar titled ‘Getting the Horn’. Throughout the webinar, the panel explored biodynamics with Monty Waldin, the world’s leading expert on biodynamic wine. Whilst several of my peers did challenge the notion of biodynamics, I was hesitant to do so, feeling the forum was not the most appropriate of places in which to voice my somewhat fierce opposition to Steiner and his quackery. Shortly after the webinar I released an Instagram video briefly summarising my position, admittedly it wasn’t terribly succinct, was a little provocative and did little to convince others as to why they should take a more active position against aspects of biodynamics. Here I hope to lay out my position more clearly, explaining why I so vehemently oppose individuals who profiteer from pseudoscience.
The beverage industry is evolving at great speed, perhaps now more than ever wine needs change. Spend enough time on Twitter and you may be fooled in to thinking a small number of people have all the answers. Whilst the wine intelligentsia act out what Freud called the narcissism of small differences, consumers make their own spending decisions. UK spending on alcohol is on the rise; however, despite this, wine volume sales fell in 2019 by 7.4% year on year. Whilst a select bunch spars between one another, they do agree broadly on what IS important for consumers; they must be educated at all costs, low-intervention winemaking is of utmost importance and heavy bottles must be ousted. Consumer sentiment could not be further from the truth. But don’t fear, canned wine has the answers …
They say necessity is the mother of invention, or in this case, adaptation. The wine industry has for one reason or another been sluggish in embracing and adopting the digital revolution of the past decade. Whether it be a large multinational or small family-run business, the way in which businesses engage with their captive and potential audience has elsewhere evolved. I don’t want to come across as gloomy, this article is one of optimism and celebration. The now global pandemic has devastated the wine industry, turning many businesses on their heads overnight. However, opposed to accepting defeat, many have shown overwhelming resolve, transforming their strategy almost instantaneously. What has changed and what does wine’s digital revolution mean for the industry going forward?
January has been damp at best. I fear the annual showing of Burgundy en primeur renders any future possibility of a dry month nigh on impossible for me and many alike. This past fortnight the Burgundians, with the help of London’s wine merchants, have offered the wine trade unrivalled access to their 2018 Burgundy vintage offering. In this article I will briefly share my thoughts and feelings on the wines, the vintage and what’s to come for Burgundy.
UK volume sales of both still and sparkling wine are in decline. Analysts predict still wine sales will fall by almost 11% over the next five years. However, consumption, production and planting of English wine are all increasing. 2018 production bottle equivalent is up by circa 180% with hectarage under vine increasing by 83% since 2015. It is predicted there are roughly 7-8 years of U.K. sales currently in stock with around 55% of plantings having no wine currently for sale. Considering market decline, assuming the market is one of monopolistic competition, and noting only 8% of English wine is exported, supply is grossly outstripping demand. How will this excess supply impact the market and how should it react?
In 2019, the number of social media users worldwide tipped 3.5 billion. Social media penetration rate reached a global average of 45%, with some Western nations reaching as high as 92%. Alongside this explosion in social media use has come a remarkable growth in influencer marketing, the industry is on track to be worth $15 billion by 2022. But all is not well. Studies suggest fake social media influencers will cost companies $1.3 billion in 2019. If brands as big as the Ritz Carlton and L’Occitane have been duped, what hope do individuals and organisations, large or small, in the beverage industry stand? Well, hopefully I can help …