Tag Archive - london

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!

Thoughts from the AccessZone

How the Internet Changed my Business” is a great introduction for some thoughts on the excitement of the Access Zone at the London Wine Fair last week.
Access Zone Logo
Not only is this something that we at Vrazon talk about a lot, but it was also the first session and one that we got some great feedback on. In some ways, the whole point of the Access Zone programme and ethos is to showcase the ideas and opportunities of social media for the wine trade, and kicking off with the stories of three people who are not the usual suspects, talking from a perspective beyond the usual winemaking or retailing one, helped to set the scene.

We are so grateful to our MANY friends who came by to say hello, to contribute to the programme and also to contribute to the informal networking and advice that happened on the AccessZone. It was wonderful to see so many great wine content creators from around the world stopping by in London from bases in France, Italy, USA, Portugal, The Netherlands, Spain and Canada (did I miss someone?). If you’ve created some content on the fair or the access zone, let us know so we can share it.

Over the next few days and weeks we will be publishing and commenting on the sessions that were all recorded & produced so professionally by our friends at Mad Cat Media (HIRE THEM NOW!). We will also start to publish the series of interviews that were conducted on the stand with many influential figures in the wine business for our “Unfiltered” series. These are being edited and made ready as we speak and will be a great resource for anyone interested in the future of wine. Keep an eye on this site.

We also have to congratulate Catherine Monahan and Robert Joseph for the success of Wine-Stars which took place on the Access Zone on the Thursday (visit their site to learn more about this event). Vrazon was very happy to have been able to support the activity and help to bring the event to life and record the proceedings for the world to experience. Good luck to all those involved, especially the fantastic wineries who took part.

If you missed any of the key sessions, such as the announcement of the Born Digital Wine Awards 2012 winners, or the presentation about the EWBC Digital Wine Communications Conference in Turkey, all these are available now.

Thank you so much to the partners who helped us make the Access Zone happen including the London Wine Fair, Laithwaites, Wines of Turkey, the Circle of Wine Writers, p+f wineries, freewine and others.

In the meantime, do watch and enjoy this:

Some related Access Zone posts we’ve come across:

Le “Social Media” fait le plein a la LIWF

Who are the RAW Wine Fair’s Natural Consumers?

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.

Setting up the RAW Fair

Setting up the RAW Fair

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.

Attractive Labels at RAW Fair

Attractive Labels at RAW Fair

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 crowds enjoying the wine tasting at RAW Fair

If 'natural wine' is a niche market, someone forgot to tell the crowd #rawfair

The industry challenge, as voiced by Dan Jago from Tesco via twitter, was how many visitors were ‘trade’ and not ‘consumers’ .

 

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.

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Access Granted

Last week’s Access Zone activities at the 2011 London International Wine Fair (LIWF) were not only great fun and a way to spread the word about social media in wine, but they seemed to strike a chord with the wine trade present.

Gabriella, Ryan and I were very pleased with the buzz around the fair and online about the range of events, seminars, projects and announcements that Vrazon helped to make happen on the relatively small space of the Access Zone. After all, that was the idea. This wasn’t intended to be another “theatre” for presentations, but an interactive space where we could start discussions with a presentation, then have as much participation as possible. As Ryan Opaz observed:

“The only way this will work is if the audience interrupts a lot.”

Every major announcement was well attended, with participants filling the aisles and following on the livestream. We are extremely grateful to all those who took the time out to listen, ask questions, answer queries and generally make the experience of the LIWF as useful as possible.

The archive of the live access zone video and interviews can now be browsed; more polished videos will take a little longer, but BIG thanks to MadCatMedia for making the magic happen

Day 1 – Tuesday 17th May

The Access Zone really kicked off with two big events on Tuesday – the social media Q&A sessions with ourselves and other volunteers, and the launch of the Disrupt Wine (you will be able to learn a lot more about the Disrupt Wine on the dedicated site being built).

Where else would you get the combined talents and different perspectives of Wink Lorch, Louise Hurren, Andre Ribeirinho and Ryan O’Connell on a roundtable? It was a lot of fun for Ryan and me to moderate and be involved in. The overall message from these discussions could probably be summed up a:

“Be yourself, and good stuff will happen”

It was also amazing to be able to create a blend of three different varieties from three different winemakers in three different countries – and made on the stand! We are very grateful to Thierry’s who took the brave step of returning to exhibit at the LIWF by investing in a stand that would sit alongside the Access Zone. Most importantly, they also agreed to the concept of developing a pan-European wine blend on the stand in only three days. It was a privilege to work with Markus Huber (of Weingut Huber in Austria), Emmanuel Laurent (of Rodet in Burgundy) and Giorgio Flessati (of Viña Falernia in Italy) on this project. Evidence, if any was needed, of their own commitment to doing something different and offering creative, fresh thinking to the UK wine trade.

We ended the day with the visit by Naked Wines and their archangels, learning about their latest developments and watched them select a range of new wines. Naked Wines are now also listing the Disrupt Wine on their new marketplace – do check it out and get involved.

Day 2 – Wednesday 18th May

The Wednesday was time to showcase Vrazon‘s other main projects, the Born Digital Wine Awards (BDWA) and the European Wine Bloggers Conference (EWBC). Congratulations to all the winners and runners up in each of the 5 categories of the inaugural BDWA, many of whom, like Wink Lorch, Tim Atkin, Richard Ross and Mark Ryan were on the stand to hear the results. The response was wonderful, particularly as there were some very deserving finalists in the spotlight, including both new names as well as established writers. Congratulations to all of them!

For more details and a full list of finalists and winners, visit http://borndigitalwineawards.com

We also took the opportunity to announce the overall theme for the fourth edition of the European Wine Bloggers Conference, which will be “Storytelling“, and that George Taber will be our first keynote speaker. Of course, this was all accompanied with a delicious glass of Franciacorta from our host sponsors for 2011. Please visit the EWBC site for more information, and if you are thinking of coming, please do book your tickets soon as the number of tickets is fixed and we anticipate them selling out early again this year.

But it wasn’t all about us, it was also a chance for Ryan O’Connell’s to give hints and tips for wineries looking to take advantage of social media, and to hear more about what Palate Press is up to to help wine bloggers make money from their blogs – check them out!

Day 3 – Thursday 19th May: The final day

The final day was once again dedicated largely to Disrupt Wine - selecting the delicious winning blend (50% Gruner Veltliner, 40% Falanghina and 10% Macon Chardonnay) as well as unveiling the label design incorporating the audience’s own tasting note contributions.

We also had great discussions on blogging by David Lowe (@bigpinots) and another general Q&A with Ryan Opaz. Lots of great content there for reference.

On top of all this there were dozens of great interviews with bloggers, publishers, retailers and winemakers, open tasting sessions and PLENTY of networking, much of it brought to you live but also recorded to watch again.

We hope all those who made it to the stand got something out of it. Not everyone at the fair will have seen the value of Social Media in wine, and it certainly is not a tool to replace everything that is done to sell and promote wine, but it is a great complement for the best brands and people, and we hope to see more great stories being told after this event.

These were three intense days, but with the help of our many friends listed here, as well as the organisers of the LIWF, and Thierry’s, we feel it was all worthwhile for all those involved.

See you next year!

Robert McIntosh, Gabriella Opaz & Ryan Opaz

The Access Zone – the London Wine Fair’s best Roller Coaster

Why do you go to a wine fair? I think we’ll all agree the answer is “to do business”.

Simple.

People don’t want to waste their time walking around for 3 days, with sore feet and bad food, unless there is a something to be gained from it. Whether you’re a winemaker selling your wines, a wine retailer looking for new discoveries or wine writer looking for the next big story to pitch, we all have £ signs in our eyes. Our end goal is: Doing business.

Today the fact is that, more and more, business is going online. From this people have made the jump to say that you don’t even need a wine fair if you can just do it “virtually”. Unfortunately for us, this quickly falls apart when we ask for a taste of a wine … I, for one, find licking my laptop screen a non-starter. So we’re back to mailing samples, organizing ourselves a bit more and doing the work piece-meal.

Wine fairs are great at one thing: Bringing people together. Heck the work “fair” is exciting, evoking dreams of ferris wheels, candy floss and adrenaline-rushes from impossibly-named roller coasters, but none the less a fair is a fair. With hundreds of people wandering about there is an opportunity for all wine buyers, sellers and communicators to find some business. But again, maybe a ‘one or other’ mentality is just a bit too passe.

We host a conference each year and we limit ourselves to 200 participants. We are a small focused group of individuals who come together to talk in person, face to face. Funny thing is that we also talk online during the whole conference with each other, including those who could not be there. During big tastings, where we sit quietly and listen to a speaker walk us through a selection of wines, behind the deferential murmur is a wild cacophony of twitter and Facebook conversations. Opinions are exchanged & dialogs fomented.

Imagine if you did that on a much larger scale.

That is what the Access Zone is all about at this year’s London International Wine Fair (#LIWF). A place to discuss the internet, to track the conversation and to encourage dialog. With free wifi for all, plus power points (outlets for you non-Brits) galore, we offer a location to learn about the web, share your stories with other curious folks and get your questions answered.

This year, working with MadCatMedia, we are bringing you 3 days of live video from the fair. Live video that will not just share a message, but encourage a dialog about wine, wine communications and much, much more. With an open door policy and the ability to be watched online or in person, our desire is to show people that the world is not a place of black and white but a prism of colors that stand within.

We’ll come back and explain more about what we are doing in the coming days, but for now let us know what you think. Will you stop by? You can check all our events at the official schedule: http://vrazon.com/accesszone and even watch a recap from last year.

See you at the fair!

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