As well as making half-decent wine, the ancient Greeks also bequeathed us the classical structure of a tragedy in three acts. I know this, not because I studied
classics at university ( architecture, in case you were wondering), but because ever since our celebrated banking professionals have been shown to be somewhat less than perfect after all, the media has been thick with references to how blind we've all been to the pickle we're in (hubris), how we're all therefore doomed (nemesis), and how talking about it openly is somehow helpful (catharsis).
For us in the wine industry, this is a familiar refrain, and one that sadly long predates the global financial crisis. The only difference now is that a greater-than-usual part of industry - drinks, hospitality, financial services, car-making, and so on - is now in the same boat. As the old folks say, it's always nice to have company on a bad day.
So let's cut to the chase: yes, our industry is facing a crisis, like most in the global economy right now, but it's not as if we've been living it large for the past few years. Margins in the UK have been tightening for the best part of a decade, supermarket trading terms have become more aggressive, and volume growth has slowed as we reach the top of the UK wine boom S-curve.
The question is, what have we been doing about it? The answer, sadly, is not enough. For all the cathartic hand-wringing of the past five years, the following fundamental problems still exist.
We still don't
understand enough about the interaction between a bottle of wine on the shelf and the consumer wandering down a wine aisle.
The truth is we've only
scratched the surface. Wine is probably one of the most complex purchase decisions
and probably the only one that still carries social danger - what will your
parents/friends/relatives say if you serve them some vinegary nonsense? Are vast hallways of identical bottles delineated by country of origin
the optimal way of communicating this
As an industry, we still tiptoe around supermarkets .
Multiples need the wine category more than ever
- and not just for the juicy promotions our industry serves up to them. Wine is a chance for supermarket shoppers to express themselves a bit - not quite like
canned vegetables - and aspire
to more than just the bog-standard. When there's a ban on going to decent restaurants
getting take aways , the notion of actually cooking something special
having a good drop of wine with it
becomes a more compelling proposition.
The retail buyer is still seen as some kind of omniscient being. While there are some
intelligent and far-sighted buyers working in the industry, how can they possibly know everything?
It's easier for them to express a personal opinion which can shoot down a proposed product, but too few in the industry are willing to push the debate into the realm of the rational
for example, what role this product can play in a fixture. At the end of the day retailers are
a transmission system of product to consumer. They'll sell whatever consumers need
or want . If the consumers come back week after week, spending lots of money and feeling happy as a result, then supermarkets have done their job. If we can help them do better, we should do so - and buyers who do their jobs well ought to listen.
We as an industry have to care as much about selling the product as we do about making it.
It's astounding that so many producers
behave as if consumers were some kind of necessary evil - and selling wine to them an unfortunate by-product of being a winemaker. This is a luxury that we as an industry could never
afford, and is particularly superfluous now.
Clearly some of these problems are being addressed, which is great news.
The WSET's Business & Commercial Knowledge course
is being taught next April, and Wine Intelligence is
working hard with clients across the world to increase our knowledge of consumers and find ways to help retailers make their customers happy by selling them wine that they will enjoy.
the storm is over
the winners in each sector of the economy will be the ones that came up with the best plan and had the courage to execute it while the rain was still hammering down.