I asked a winemaker recently why it was so important for him to sell his wines in the UK. He said it was like New York, New York: if you can make it there, you’ll make it anywhere.
The fact that consumption is in decline and profit margins are slimmer in the UK than in many other markets is apparently outweighed by the power of our prestige. Having your wine in the UK is a badge of honour. From an accountant’s perspective, that might not make much sense – but thankfully, very few accountants call the shots in wineries.
Of course, without profitability the wine trade can’t exist – and granted, increasing taxation and the dominance of supermarkets don’t make it easy. But profit is only part of the equation of selling wine around the world.
It’s worth remembering the factors that make the UK wine market great; the reasons why wineries all around the world clamour for our shelf space.
Britain is the global centre of wine education. The Wine & Spirit Education Trust and the Institute of Masters of Wine are both based here and, along with the Court of Master Sommeliers, they represent the way the whole world learns about wine.
That expertise has built up throughout our long history of trading, drinking and cellaring wine in the UK. This last point is significant – few other countries can boast such an impressive collection of mature wines from every major viticultural region. That also means we have a well-developed secondary market that now trades all around the world.
With such deep experience to draw upon, British wine writers and merchants have always been global authorities on the subject. Today, that honour is shared with America, but it remains true that the UK generates a large percentage of the world’s most influential wine commentary, and many of its most memorable personalities.
It also helps that Britain (and London in particular) has such an exciting and dynamic restaurant culture, of which wine is a key ingredient.
As for consumption, it may be declining (slowly) overall, but we’re still a top 10 market by volume, as well as being the largest export destination for prestigious categories such as Champagne and quality port. From a more practical standpoint, we are politically stable with transparent legislation, good infrastructure and a relatively straightforward route to market.
Those who focus solely on comparing international profit margins ignore the less tangible aspects that make the UK so attractive. Yes, it’s important that wine producers make money in the UK – and plenty do – but it’s equally important to know about other advantages.
Undue negativity about profitability risks undermining people’s belief in the brilliant, vibrant wine market we have here in the UK. It’s vital that we retain a healthy level of self-confidence throughout our industry. Remember: if they can make it here, they’ll make it anywhere. So start spreadin’ the news.