Our first day at the RAW Fair in London, the artisan wine fair focused on organic, biodynamic and natural wines, was eye-opening in many ways.
First, the space at the Truman Brewery at the top of Brick Lane, and its incongruous industrial past, seemed vast and empty when we arrived to see row upon row of tables, each stretching almost 100 metres. How on earth was this place going to be filled with consumers interested in this subject?
Then, the wines themselves, not just the funky, challenging and, for some commentators, faulty “terroir wines”, but many juicy, fresh, tasty and … simply lovely wines with attractive packaging and good stories.
But the most exciting, really, was that the space DID fill up for hours with happy people, tasting wines without a single sign of excessive alcohol consumption. The debate over wine ingredients, processes and manipulation gets quite heated within the trade, and we often assume consumers are either not interested, put off, or simply confused by the idea, yet here they were in the hundreds or even thousand or more.
The industry challenge, as voiced by Dan Jago from Tesco via twitter, was how many visitors were ‘trade’ and not ‘consumers’ .
@thirstforwine if you take out the ‘trade’, how many left?
— Dan Jago (@danjago) May 20, 2012
The vast majority, in my estimation, were regular consumers attracted by the profile generated by Isabelle Legeron MW on the BBC, and the effective marketing of RAW. I spoke to a number of “human beings not directly employed by businesses involved in making or selling fermented grape juice” (aka ‘consumers’) who were all excited by the wines and the buzz of the fair. They did not experience any confusion, just the broad choice of wines.
On the other hand, if the trade were here at all, on a Sunday, it was not because they were doing it for business, but because they love wine. Many of the trade are in the wine trade because they enjoy the product themselves, and although wine communications try to separate “trade” from “consumer”, this definition is really artificial because the trade are some of the biggest consumers, and the consumers increasingly influence business decisions.
Is it time to move beyond this differentiation? Is it time to embrace the idea that there are lots of wine fans out there looking for new experiences, even if we don’t all have to embrace it all ourselves?
Whether you agree with the tenets of ‘Natural wine’ or not, this has been an exciting time for wine in London – and we have not even had a chance to visit the ‘Real Wine Fair’ happening at the same time.