Monday, 3 May 2010

Fine Wine 2010, Ribera del Duero

The theme of storytelling continued with Ernie Loosen, who urged winemakers to stand for 'quality' and 'tradition' - the backbone of a brand.

He ended with the suggestion of 'marketing through the liver', and the importance for winemakers to tell a story. 'Get out there, tell the story and be the story', he passionately proclaimed.

Next up was Ryan Opaz, creator of Spanish wine blog Catavino, who warned winemakers would miss out if they weren't online. 'Consumers want to feel they matter - your biggest peril is invisibility. If you want to sell wine, you have to get online and connect'.

Backing up the importance of social media touched upon by Mark Beringer, the conference was fast becoming a technofest, with facebook, twitter and blogs all cited as the way forward for the wine world. The press even took to tweeting speakers' comments as they happened, creating up-to-the-second updates for their followers.

Michael Mondavi then took to the stage and optimistically declared that 'we are entering the platinum years of wine, full of opportunity'. Mondavi spoke of the importance of cooperation and family-run wineries. 'The future of the wine industry lies in private ownership and people with the desire to build things for the next generation, not just the first quarter’.

He also warned that restaurants will be in trouble if they carry on marking up their wines by 400%. ‘Consumers know what wine costs. Restaurants have to rethink their pricing policies. High marks ups won’t be able to survive for much longer.’

Speaking of the oversupply crisis in California, Mondavi, who imports fine wine into the US through his company Folio Fine Wine Partners, said foreign imports didn't pose a threat to the domestic market. ‘Fine wine imports are competition for California, but the only thing that will hurt California is bad winemaking in the region.’

Finally, Hunter Valley Semillon pioneer Bruce Tyrrell took to the stage and treated us to such gems as: 'The slightest bit of cork taint on a Semillon stands out like a dunny on a ridge'. Telling it like it is, Tyrrell was quick to admit that Australia is in trouble. ‘A lot of vineyards are being demolished and the coal miners are buying them up, but no great vineyards will be lost. On the one hand we’ve got the government pushing a sustainability initiative, and on the other we’ve got vineyards being turned into mining sites'.

Tyrrell spoke of Australia's need to re-engage with the fine wine market and develop consumer knowledge of regionality. Like Mondavi, Tyrrell stressed that fine wine will come increasingly from family-based wineries, or 'farmers with a face' as he dubbed them, and urged winemakers to make more use of the cellar door as a means of sharing a glass with consumers and telling your story. 'Direct communication with the consumer cuts out the middle man', he said.

Listening to all the speeches, it became clear that the future of fine wine lies in family-run wineries, not faceless corporations who only care about profit margins. For fine wine to survive, wineries have to be kept privately owned, and for them to thrive, they need to engage directly with their consumers through the cellar door and social media.

The world is getting smaller and the wine world can't afford to be left out of the online debate. The internet offers a direct route to consumers, and a chance to listen to what they have to say. Those who fail to take an interest will surely suffer. 2010 will see the democratization of wine, which can only be for the good.

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