Archive - June, 2012

Sustainability by the wine trade

Everyone uses the term ‘sustainability’ these days, but what it means to everyone can vary enormously.

From simple carbon reducing measures, such as using lighter glass bottles and renewable energy, through changes to vineyard practice including organics, and even wholesale regional programmes, the term covers many issues and different levels of commitment.

Joao Portugal Ramos on Sustainability

Joao Portugal Ramos on Sustainability

When the issue of “Sustainability in the wine trade” was raised with a cross-section of the world’s wine trade on Vrazon’s AccessZone at the London Wine Trade Fair, what was noticeable was the ambition and commitment of producers from Australia and New Zealand and their assumption that this was a collective task. There were also interesting stories from Europe, but they tended to be from individual producers taking unilateral steps, often at a cost and risk to themselves.

Many of the answers revolved around what needed to change in the vineyard and the winery, and interestingly, how ‘sustainability’ is not synonymous with ‘organics’ (or is that the other way around?). There were a lot of laudable changes proposed to how we treat vines and how we protect water resources for example. There were also allusions to alternative packaging for wine and to philosophical approaches such as Natural Wine (more videos on this will be published soon). It made me wonder whether the driving force for these changes came from a concern for the planet, as a reaction to a consumer demand for action, or simply because they made business sense to those businesses with an eye on the future?

The answer, of course, was “all of them”, but I am not convinced that there is sufficient consumer awareness of the issue as it affects wine for ‘sustainability’ to be a positive differentiator for a wine or winery, and so any sustainability projects needed to be either required of all businesses (by governments, regional authorities or even retailers, to avoid some producers taking all the risks) or carefully tested for commercial returns on investment.

What do you think the future of ‘sustainability’ is for the wine business, and how might this topic be made more relevant to the wider wine trade?

This was only one of several topics raised for WineConversation Unfiltered. For this and related topics, visit: wineconversation.com/unfiltered

I have seen the future of artisan wine, and it comes in a can

This may sound odd, but there is a link between packaging innovation and the increasing focus on biodynamics and ‘natural wine’, it just isn’t a simple one.

I am not suggesting that natural wine producers are better served choosing tetrapacks, paper bottles or aluminium cans for their wines (although they might), but sometimes the simplest way to define what you ARE about is to explain what you are NOT, after all:

  • a desert is that area where rain doesn’t fall
  • land is all that planet surface not covered by water
  • silence is the absence of sound

Wine in a can

Wine in a can

The wine trade expends a lot of effort arguing over differences between organic, biodynamic and natural wines for example, but almost none trying to find a way to differentiate between the real extremes of the wine market, namely between all of the above ‘artisan’ wines and those wines made to be sold in vast volumes through mass distribution channels such as supermarkets. In fact, you might be forgiven for thinking that the wine trade pretended that these wines in supermarkets didn’t even exist.

How do you explain to a consumer, in simple terms, what makes a bottle of Gallo Chardonnay different from a Gravner Ribolla Gialla? What ‘category’ of the market do they fall into? How is a consumer to differentiate between them when they both come in 75cl glass bottles, with similar corks and basic paper labels?  We need to develop a POSITIVE categorisation of these volume wines in order to have a meaningful conversation about the different needs and benefits of each part of the market.

ARTISANAL WINES

We may not all agree that ‘Natural’ is a fair category name, but we might all basically agree that the Gravner, and thousands of other small producers, are ‘Artisanal’ wines of some sort (read this great post by Robert Joseph on the subject of artist vs artisan).

Defining this is very hard however, so let’s take a “model” Artisan wine and say it probably comes from a small producer with their own vineyards, produced in limited quantities, that is different year on year, that has some taste characteristics that sets it apart from the vast majority of other wines (that not everyone will like) and is linked to the local ‘terroir‘, and that none of these factors are subject to change based on consumer feedback. Essentially, the wine is driven by the producer’s interpretation of what is ‘best’ from their vineyards, take it or leave it. Lots of wines will diverge on some of these points, but the general sense is there.

Artisanal wines are Producer driven (these are sometimes referred to as Terroir wines, but you still need a producer involved!)

The above is obviously not the driving motivation of the wines on offer in multiple grocers around the world. So, what do you call the rest?

  • Branded? No! Branding is very limited and not exclusive to this area.
  • Bulk? No, too negative and not necessarily true
  • Commodity? A good option, but it still implies a negative view of the factors.

How about a term like “Convenience Wines”?

CONVENIENCE WINES

The key features of these wines is that they are dependable, consistent, easy to drink, not overly challenging and widely available. All of these are driven by consumer demand, not producer preference. In simple terms, then, ‘Artisanal’ wines are wines that are NOT ‘Convenience’ wines.

Wine snobs may sneer at the quality of the “wine” in the bottle, but in fact this is only one aspect of the product that consumers are after. What’s the use of a “great” wine that I can’t afford, can’t find and may not even like? Great for whom?

Convenience wines are Consumer driven (to the extent that wine producers really understand their consumers).

The problem is that convenience wines still LOOK like artisanal wines.

If convenience is the key to this category of wine, then we have a reason to work to increase convenience by looking not just at wine styles, but also at packaging, branding & communication.

For example, glass bottles are great for longer term storage of wine, often benefitting artisanal wines. However, alternative packaging, such as bag-in-box, paper bottles or wine pouches for example, is logical in this context of convenience. It is potentially cheaper, easier to transport, more flexible for different drinking occasions, more flexible for branding and offers more communication opportunities. A wholesale move into alternatives would bring down their costs and remove a great deal of cost from the product, potentially meaning higher margins and/or cheaper products.

GreenBottle Paper Wine Bottle Alternative packaging has not really taken off in the UK compared to, for example, Scandinavia. One reason is that we treat ALL products of fermented grapes as “wine”, so the same communication rules are applied to all, resulting in an undifferentiated sea of “handmade” wines, from “historic vineyards“, made by “passionate” individuals that match any food you may choose to pair them with – whatever the truth might be.

If we were to find a way to promote the specific attributes of Convenience Wine and differentiate them visually, in terms of branding and communication as well as style, the wine retail market could be made more straightforward for the consumer, to everyone’s benefit. Wine drinkers might no longer be confused about the difference between a simple wine for weeknight supping, and the experience of an artisan wine for special occasions.

Isn’t it in the interests of both ends of the spectrum to come to an arrangement?

Sometimes, the worst of enemies can find common cause, and in this case it is to fight consumer confusion and indifference.

I’ll raise a can of wine to that!

Blogging can’t die

Blogging can’t die. Take the original meaning of the word blog; it comes from the contraction of “web” as in the world wide web, and “log” as in to log ideas, or journaling. Today, and forever, there will be people logging what they think about all manner of subjects that they are passionate about.

I recently saw the statement on Twitter that blogging is dead. Sorry, you cannot kill an idea (journaling) that has persisted since man first took quill to parchment.

Seeing that we work in wine and discuss wine blogs as part of our job, we should talk about what a wine blog really is.

If you understand the idea of blogging as an online journal and nothing more, you will see that the idea of there being A “best wine blog” is just silly. As is, frankly, any system claiming to rate “best wine blogs”. Who is the best “runner”? Usain Bolt, Haile Gebrselassie or maybe Fauja Singh?

People often accuse wine bloggers of not being professional. You’re right, sometimes they aren’t. We need our industry to understand that there are a variety of types of communicators who write about wine. A wine blogger who writes to tell the story of their personal journey in wine is not the same as someone who writes about wine futures. And they should not be held to the same standards.

Just because you have a degree, MW, WSET diploma, have written a book, or have been awarded every prize for wine literature that has ever existed, you are not a “better blogger” than anyone else. You can’t, by definition, be better. You can, on the other hand, be: More persistent, Better at Wine Rating, Better at Wine Science, Better at Wine Educating, Better at anything you wish to communicate about. But you are not better than another person who wants to discover wine and share that discovery with an audience, large or small, online.

The blog part is only the tool, or the physical means, used to log your content. I do believe Robert Parker would have been the first blogger if the software had existed at the time. He wouldn’t be the best wine blogger though. He might be an influential wine blogger in certain circles, maybe even indispensable to the industry. That said, I could argue that he is the worst wine blogger when it comes to recommending a wine to my parents. He uses language that they don’t understand and talks about wines that my parents are never realistically going to taste.

I happen to be the best wine blogger for my parents. I won an award for it. Really! Ok, so not really, but I hope to one day when my parents finally get around to handing out awards for meaningless family skills.

So, to all you people who think your wine blog is more important than another person’s: Get over it! You’re one of many. You may be the best in your niche, or for your audience, and for that I applaud you. The truth is that a blog is publishing tool. Go find a cool way to use it. Quit worrying about what other people are doing. There are plenty of audiences out there, find your own. Or if you have it, remember to give them what they want, which I assume is wine content. Publish it however you want, wherever you want, whenever you want. Have fun. Or don’t, I don’t care.

 

Update: I was remiss in not crediting the image. Tombstone image courtesy of the Tombstone Generator [Robert]

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There’s no future for wine

Try this exercise. Imagine the world in 50 or 100 years. Picture the innovations, the changes to everyday life, and the things that will remain the same. How will life for you or your kids be different?

There's wine Jim, just not as we know it

There’s wine Jim, just not as we know it

[Maybe have a glass of wine while you think about it, why not?]

Here’s a shortcut. Think of any number of “sci-fi” films or series set in the not-immediate future. Spaceships, robots, physical chaos and massive-overcrowding, utopian societies and post-apolcalyptic zombie-filled misery. Take your pick.

What do all these visions have in common? NO WINE!

Name ONE of these films/series set more than about 50 years from today in which wine (not alcohol in general, there’s lots of that, but the product of grapes grown in vineyards) appears in any meaningful way?

I’ll start you off, and then challenge you to add to this list with me:

1. Captain Jean-Luc Picard, Star Trek – The Next Generation
Captain Picard is supposed to have grown up in the vineyards of a future France, and occasionally drinks his family’s Chateau Picard wines. So there might still vineyards in around 400 years time.

2. ?

I personally cannot think of ANY other film that features wine, and I’ve asked several film experts for help.

Why not?

Is it because wine is the kind of ‘agricultural’ product that we believe science will replace with something ‘better’?
Will future alcoholic discoveries make wine’s variety superfluous?
Is wine just one of those traditions we are even now just barely hanging on to?

Or is it because, despite consuming more wine today than we have ever done, we still lack an understanding of its importance to our culture (past, present and future) and so just take it for granted? Is it because the types of people who write science fiction screenplays are afraid, or don’t feel qualified, to talk about wine even if they can decide the fate of the universe?

I look to the future because that’s where I’m going to spend the rest of my life. – George Burns

Does it matter?

Not really, but there are plenty of films that still feature cars with combustion engines when other energy sources exist, revolvers being used in fights against lasers, or even sex when test-tubes can apparently do the job.

We have a responsibility to make wine sexier* and more important to consumers and to writers if we want to ensure those who are imagining and building our future have a bottle of wine mentally placed on the table for us to enjoy.

Your future is whatever you make it. – Dr. Emmett Brown (Back to the Future III)

If you know of any other example of “future wine” do let me know in the comments so I can build a list for my future viewing. I love wine and I love sci-fi and I would really like to combine them

WINE IN Sci-Fi MOVIES and TV (List to date):

  • Jean-Luc Picard in Star Trek TNG (The Next Generation) – Various appearances
  • Gattaca – restaurant scene with Jude Law and Ethan Hawke “This wine was only opened 5 minutes ago!”
  • The Hunger Games – Woody Harrelson in meal scene in Sector 12 ‘Penthouse’ after trials

* of course by this I really mean “more appealing” as we must not, of course link wine marketing with sexual attractiveness, that would be irresponsible.

edited 11:26: to include missing quote from Doc
edited 09/01/2013 to include list of movie & TV scenes
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