As the end of each year approaches, there comes an instinctive urge to start predicting what the future holds. But for the world of wine, where the vagaries mean something as fundamental as production becomes utterly unpredictable, any kind of clairvoyance is probably best avoided.
But what are the elements of wine with the greatest potential for future change?
After decades of research, the closures debate remains unsolved. Cork taint persists, though it has improved from its nadir, while screwcaps remain stigmatised for many consumers. There will always be room for more than one closure – but the emotive, blinkered arguments that have been fuelling the debate only hold back progress. Wine packaging faces significant evolutionary pressures.
As the need to reduce costs and carbon emissions continues, the global wine trade has a vested interest in improving on the traditional system of bottling in glass at source and shipping by container. Alternative materials and methods that do not compromise quality are under constant development, and the more open-minded and enthusiastic we can be the better our options in future.
The same applies to viniculture. New terroirs are being continually discovered, especially in the New World, and that frontier spirit ensures that wine stays exciting and vital. It’s an intriguing thought that some of the world’s best vineyards haven’t even been planted yet.
European wine regions are less renowned for progressiveness, but there are still heartening examples of experimentation and innovation – just last month saw the release of the first Chardonnay grown in Saint-Émilion, for example. Greater willingness to question the received wisdom of appeallations and bureaucracy opens the door to all sorts of potential.
However, such frontline spirit can feel rather distant from behind the counter of a British off-licence. So what’s the future for your shop in 2015? How will you be different and innovative? Here are five Christmas wishes for what we’ll be reading about in Off Licence News next year.
● Continued championing of minority regions and grapes. A thirst for the novel and obscure keeps the UK wine trade vibrant and provides interest for all. Lots of eastern european countries offer outstanding value for money. For indies especially, they are a great alternative to cheap high street brands.
● Greater customer engagement. Competitions, social media, websites, loyalty cards and in-store tastings all foster a relationship with your customers that goes beyond commerce, and turns them into your advocates.
● Less partisan posturing, especially on divisive issues such as natural wine. Acrimony over something so joyful as wine is ungracious.
● Evolution in merchandising. Going beyond traditional library-style shelving and window displays is key to keeping wine retail relevant and attractive.
● Reduced emphasis on super-elite trophy wines. Instead, louder championing of wines that give equal pleasure for tens of pounds, not thousands.