The confusion conundrum

We try to ignore it.

We nod politely when punters say they drink dry, and then choose the sweetest wine on the list.

We scream from the rafters our joy at drinking dry riesling, dry rose, gewurz.

And yet…

We fail to deal with the fact that we have multiple styles of riesling and rose on the market (don’t even get me started on chardonnay), and a buying public with no idea of which wine might suit their tastes. So you know what? They rarely ask. They do not wish to look uneducated, or undecided, and instead they opt for a wine style which may be simple, but delivers a certain style. Kiwi SB. Margs SSB. SEA Dry White. Occasionally predictable, but delivering on a promise.

We make a wide range of styles of riesling, rose, sparkling, chardonnay, pinot gs (both intended styles). We write about them. We claim the next coming of riesling almost twice a year these days, and yet… Yet the consumers struggle to identify the style which they might like, because we have nothing consistently indicating which style lives in that bottle. We need to take the confusion out of the equation.

So now, I am asking for help to stem the tide. We have hordes of people who enjoy riesling in cellar doors, at events, and in private homes, but we as the wine-producing community need to get our collective arses into gear and endorse a way of categorising wine which is simple, well understood by the consumer, and clear. And something we can happily put on our labels.

And by labels – I mean front labels. People rarely pick up wine of which they are unsure. I want consistency. I want the industry as a whole to get behind this, and not to snipe, argue or complain. We know we have a problem. Let’s fix it.

Case in point: a few years ago, the enterprising peeps at Jim Barry whacked a little purple sticker on their Lavender Hill Riesling. It says “I’m a sweetie”. Simple. Successful. People know what they are getting, and have no need to ask anyone, or mess around being unsure.

We complain endlessly that riesling is one of the great Australian white varietals, but it is such a hard sell. Rose – wonderful stuff. But why isn’t the punter – the most important part of this particular equation – buying it?

Because they do not know what they are getting, unless they are very familiar with that particular vintage of that particular wine. The VGR, FGR type approach has legs for the people who know what it means. By which I mean – pretty much just us, the trade types. Are we just making riesling and rose (and yes, granted, this could get a lot wider, but let’s address the big issue first) for ourselves? Because we sure as hell are not addressing the problem around selling what are some excellent wines – both sweet and dry, and of course everything in between.

Those who know me, know I am a lover of riesling in all its forms. And I have spent my adult careers selling wine, and riesling and rose are some of the hardest wines to sell. Because the consumer is confused, and there are few people actually addressing this. There is a sweetness scale knocking around. On the back labels. There are the wine reps and trade types hand selling riesling because they know it will suit the food, or the client, or even very simply, the day. But there is no industry voice. No industry consistency or answer addressing the problem.

And sometimes we forget about sweeter styles. We think they sell themselves. They don’t. People who don’t know, return to the brands they know will deliver their desired product, like Rosemount TR2. They return to the safe bet just as easily as dry drinkers.

We know we have a problem, and yet it is so very simple. People would like to know what it is they are purchasing.

Let’s tell them.

  • A sweetness scale – readily recognisable. Front label. Small enough to not obscure the label. Large enough to be noticed. An icon, maybe? A dial makes sense to me, but what do you think?
  • This must be voluntary, as sweetness is an individual perception, rather than a scientifically identifiable number.
  • Be honest with your sweetness, as faking it will lead more people away from the wine.
  • Let’s get a media slot. Hell, let’s get as many as possible, and for once, show a united front to our customers. We are doing it for them, in order to keep producing wonderful wines for the market.
  • Let’s get the majors on board – could we put this icon on the price tickets in supermarkets? Could we even get them to change the facings so that the sweeter styles are at one end, leading to the bone dry at the other? No idea. Let’s try.
  • Rather than yell at the customer that our bone dry riesling/rose is great and that they will love it, let’s ask them what they want.
  • Let’s build an app. Industry can voluntarily submit images of their wines with the icon showing where the wine sits. No links to websites: that is not what this is about.
  • Let’s sell more riesling and rose, and not have to resort to clearing it out at a silly price. To someone who may want an utterly different style.

There is a reason why riesling and rose social media campaigns are coming up trumps: punters want to like them. Maybe we could help them along.

Let’s be smarter. Let’s be a group with a goal in mind. When was the last time that happened? I know Clare Valley Winemakers forced the screwcap into the national consciousness – why can’t we, as a smart, well-informed, connected group of people find a way to make this work?

Am I banging my head against a brick wall here? Do we not all wish to sell more, to people who will enjoy the wine?

Then, please. Let us be better.

Any suggestions and assistance gratefully accepted.

Rant over.


2 comments on “The confusion conundrum

  1. Awesome, as usual Ms K. I’ve often thought a scale is needed, but even the scales that have been proposed are so esoteric they have zero impact on John Q Punter. I think listing the residual sugar alongside a scale that simply list (roughly) 4, 12, 20, 40 and above as demarkations of dryness to sweetness.

    But how many winemakers will be willing to put that on a bottle? I think there are many who claim to make a “dry” wine with 10 or so g/L.

  2. Thanks, Mike. I think that we need to be very clear that what we are discussing here is that which is relevant to the punter : perceived sweetness. There are 10+gr residual rieslings with such strident acids that they are perceived as dry, and rightly so.

    The punter doesn’t care about the chemistry. They care about finding a wine which suits their tastes…!

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