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Catch up

Keeping up a blog is more stressful than I imagined. It isn’t the work involved, its the pressure to “get it right”, but so far that has resulted in a rather extended period without actually posting anything. So, right or not, I think I had better get on with it.

A number of things have happened recently. I am writing an article on the topic of Wine Culture for a trade magazine, I have read that someone is producing a film (with Russell Crowe no less) that will be based to some extent in a vineyard, and I have re-started my own wine learning in earnest.

Wine Culture, now that I have started thinking about it, it a very useful way of improving the business prospects for wine in this country. The trade often moans about how the average price paid per bottle is so low (below £3.99) and yet our only efforts seem to be to encourage consumers to try more expensive wines by discounting them in the vain hope they will then pay full price. Unfortunately this leads to consumers getting hooked on “special offers” and switching from one to the other, never stopping to buy the full price wine they enjoyed when it was £2 off or even half price.

The result is poor returns for producers who stop paying for this promotion, so potentially opening the door for “fake” promotions where wine prices are artificially increased to allow for the eventual discount, but where the wine was never worth the full price. Why should that consumer ever decide to pay that price?

If, instead of funding these discounts, producers, importers and retailers worked together to “grow the category” (marketing speak for selling more of everyone’s wine), then discounts may not be needed to encourage consumers to spend a little more.

How could we do that? Well, firstly by increasing our understanding of how wine gets into the bottle. Even if the film “A Good Year”, due out in November, is a romantic drama, the fact that it was set in the vineyard and hopefully focuses on the year-round work required to make wine, then we will have educated consumers. If we could then follow this up with other programmes (wine tours, tastings, competitions, travel, etc.) or publications (books, magazines) we might just encourage people to think about wine in a different way. The wine trade does not make loads of money, but if we worked together to fund these, we could probably achieve it.

As I was thinking about this, I realised that my own knowledge of wine was quite narrow, so if I was to be able to talk knowledgably about wine with others who are interested, then I really ought to explore the subject further myself. So rather than drink things I know I like, it is time to explore more areas and take more risks, and hopefuly have some fun.

So, here we go again. More thoughts in the near future.

More places to revel in the culture

Following yesterday’s thoughts, I think I had better collect links to those places that do offer something dedicated to wine in a modern and attractive way, so here goes. If the list gets long, then I’ll find a way to list it separately. In the interim, take a look at these;

London:
http://www.vinoteca.co.uk/

Oxford:
http://www.summertownwinecafe.co.uk

Dundee:
http://www.thetastingrooms.com/

Rob

Do we have a "wine culture"?

A friend of mine from South America came by recently and over conversation we were talking about coffee. He made an interesting comment that Chile, his country” had “no coffee culture”.

The vast majority of Chileans consume instant coffee, he even called Chile “World Champions of Nescafe”, but at the same time a small number of people had always enjoyed “good coffee”. Chile grows no coffee, but Colombia, for example, is very close and therefore this “good” coffee is cheap. Although people do enjoy it, he felt that they had no common understanding of it, and simply did not think much about it. Therefore, no coffee culture existed.

That is changing. Not because connoiseurs have discovered the great product on their doorstep, but because Starbucks has “landed” (to use his word). Starbucks may have a bland and unexciting coffee offering, but it is using its marketing muscle to create the coffee culture and hopefully this will raise the general standard of coffee in Chile, hopefully setting more people on the road to disovering the better alternatives there to be tasted.

The same could be said for pizza in the UK. Once we had no concept of pizza, then Pizza Hut arrived and it was a revelation for most. Of course, 30+ years later they are no longer fashionable, but they created the market for the stonebaked, wood fired, thin crust and unique pizzas of today’s restaurant and take away market.

What has this to do with wine? Well, I can’t quite decide whether we will eventually emerge, pizza style, from the standardised wine offerings of the supermarkets, but we have certainly benefited from the fact that wine “landed” in the supermarkets not that many years ago.

It may seem depressing to the true wine lover with extensive knowledge of wines from around the world, but arguably we do not yet have a true wine culture in the UK where wine itself is the reason people get together. Whilst we might get together “for a coffee” or “have a pint with mates”, we have yet to gather “for a carafe”. What we have yet to create are wine environments that are focused on a specifically wine culture, but I am sure they will happen, and when they do, people will demand different, better and unique wines and THEN we can sit, back, order our organic thin crust quatro stagioni and enjoy our glass of wine.

[However, things are already changing ...]

The History and Culture of Wine

So, like many others out there (you too?) I have convinced myself I could have something interesting to say, so I am starting my own blog with a particular focus on my favourite subject at the moment, wine culture.

This is not a site about wine tasting notes, collecting and investing in ‘fine’ wines, ranting against the 100-point systems and a certain reviewer (although it may come up from time to time) or matching it with food. When I say “Wine Culture” I am thinking of how the vine, its fruit and the fermented by-product has played some role in our lives for thousands of years, and how even today this agricultural product is present in our digitised, mechanised and hectic lives. Just as well.

This is an important subject. Wine is not a recent invention, but drinkers who only discovered it recently, probably in a supermarket or trendy bar, would be excused in thinking that the product they are consuming is just like the spirits, RTDs, and most beers they are being offered as alternative alcoholic refreshments – simply another mass-produced means of getting drunk, just slower.

The better wines, but by no means all, are more than this simply because they are a product of nature as well as man, and in the past this was recognised and celebrated in religion, art and when consuming it with family and friends. There is a beautiful legacy of artefacts for making, ageing, drinking, storing, opening and presenting wine (more on this later). These are relics of Chinese, Roman, Greek and Egyptian historical periods, items of mysterious charm as well as offering tantalising insights into their day to day lives.

Today’s equivalents can be found all around us. Riedel glasses. Films like Sideways. The Poster Art of the 1930′s. The latest wine preservation gadgets (either inserting or removing oxygen). However, the one that intrigues me most is how the experience of wine is moving online. There are hundreds of sites dedicated to wine in some form. The most interesting thing about it is that wine cannot be shared through this medium, only the experience of wine, but it is becoming increasingly common to decide what to drink through the web, or to share the experience you had afterwards.

The wine world needs to understand how this will affect what, when, how and why wine is consumed in future as it will probably have as profound an implication as the development of the glass bottle did.

And as for the future? Well, who knows, but one can imagine all sorts, including computers being able to recreate taste sensations across the web to share an experience, or virtual wineries being created to blend wines to particular user’s tastes and requirements, or, less radically, some means of delivering limited quantities of a specific wine to individuals immediately, negating the need for them to build, manage and pay for a cellar.

I will try to look into all sorts of such fantasies and maybe you too will find them of some interest. Let me know.

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