So. Here are again. Christmas. The silly season. A new year looms, as does vintage 2014.
It’s been an interesting year, 2013.
Stunning fruit from a hard and fast vintage.
The raging debate over ‘natural’ wines.
Cider going gang-busters.
The WFA recommendations, which were always going to upset some people.
Savour. And Wine Day Out.
Another Riesling renaissance.
Nero and Vermentino from the Riverland (amongst other areas) rewriting the rulebook.
And so much more.
So, where does this leave us? Probably in much the same place as we found ourselves this time last year.
We have a lot of people making wine for winemakers, and congratulating themselves on it. Great. I love these styles. But they are not for everyone, and we have so very many people aiming for this admittedly small sector of the market.
And so we should. Innovation is a catchphrase of Australian winemaking, and it keeps us interesting, makes us ever better. But how are we translating this for the consumer? ARE we translating this for the consumer at all?
Or are we simply being hopeful, and relying on reviewers to make the wine or wine style accessible?
We tell ourselves that the consumer wants to learn, and to understand new/old/different/esoteric wines. That they love the discovery. And they do. “They” however, are the choir. We already have this sector of the market convinced. And still we seem to be directing the majority of our efforts to these consumers. They already go to wine shows, cellar doors. They ask questions. They even sometimes introduce their discoveries to their friends and families, spreading the good word. Brilliant. Perfect.
But they are a small part of our business. And by diversifying our offering so persistently, I fear way may be speeding ahead and forgetting in which direction the goal lies.
Maybe I am wrong, but the goal is to get consumers to drink, like and buy our wines, right?
And in no way am I suggesting that we slow down, but instead perhaps learn to better understand the drinkers. What are their trigger points to drink differently? What language should we be using to convey our vision to their world? Fifteen years ago, it was simple. Wine and food matching did the trick a lot of the time. Anonymous notes on shelf talkers: Drink with fish. Only now we have been comprehensively Masterchef’d, and the foods are ever more complicated, and the shelf talker notes are now so long and exhaustive that no-one reads them anymore. Tasting notes use language that the consumer often fails to comprehend. Those very specific ‘winey’ terms, or such over the top descriptions that they read like florid poetry.
Guess what? NO-ONE reads these anymore. Not even the really interested consumer. Keep it simple, people.
Do yourselves a favour: one day, wander around a chain liquor store and watch how people buy. What drags the attention. How interested they are? Or are not. Do they ask questions? Can the staff adequately and correctly try answer them? How is the store laid out to direct purchasing? What are people buying?
And then do the same in an independent liquor retailer. There are occasionally some differences in shopping patterns. But not that many.
How can we engage these people to better inspire their purchasing?
Well, for a start, we can stop scaring them. We can stop demeaning whatever their current drink of choice might be, and instead use that information to educate. To suggest. People like being asked questions. They would love to tell you why Wine X is their drink of choice. Information is power. Take Wine X and the why behind it as the indicator and don’t just suggest a wine, but tell them why.
That path from enjoying Wine X to discovering Wine Y gives information, and, just sometimes, the confidence to make another leap further down the path of wine discovery.
Language is important. Don’t baffle, just entertain. Wine is meant to be fun after all. So, let’s find the fun again. And make sure that we are speaking a universal language. Increasingly, part of our role is that of teacher, and the best teachers understand that their students are individuals, with their own history brought to the lesson, colouring their understanding.
And some do not want to learn. They just want to drink the same $8 bottle of plonk they always do, and just enjoy it. And there is nothing wrong with that.
At the risk of mixing metaphors a tad here, we need to preach to a broader church, in a common language, and pick our crusades. Not all battles are worth the effort, but we can spend more time with the general drinking public, and understand them, rather than just bemoaning their lack of interest in a wine style they can neither pronounce nor comprehend.
Yalumba did this beautifully. Remember those ‘VEE-ON-YAY!’ billboards and print ads? Brilliant. People actually walked into bottleshops and asked what it was all about.
Making different styles is not the only thing that makes us better winemakers.
Make the wines we want to drink. Be happy when discussing the wines with consumers, and let them tell you how to sell them your wine.
And understand that for the vast majority of the wine buying public, the variety on offer is just perplexing. And it generally sends them straight to the old faithful.
Time to translate our wines for the consumer, into a language they can read, and let them explore our world with us.
(With apologies to Death Cab for Cutie for appropriating song lyrics to make a title…)