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On July 30-31, Drinks+ was a media partner of the International Economic Forum 2021. On Friday, we joined a session organised by OenoCo International with Robert Joseph, one of the most broadly experienced members of the wine industry.
Robert Joseph is editorial consultant, and columnist of Meininger’s Wine Business International, co-owner of Greener Planet and Grand Noir Wines. Last Friday, he held an online session at the International Economic Forum 2021 on the following issue: “Land or Brand? Local Grapes or International? Does the future for Eastern Europe like in appellations and traditional indigenous grape varieties? Or in brands and international ones? The answer is not as clear cut as some people would like to imagine.”
Starting from one of his favourite grape varieties which he also grows in the South of France, Mr. Joseph believes it could be a great alternative to Chardonnay. According to Google search results, this grape variety is difficult to pronounce: “easy to drink but hard to say” or “it’s hard to pronounce and though to figure out”. Can you guess what we are talking about?
This is Viognier! And unfortunately, there is a very clear correlation between the pronunciation of a wine and the people’s readiness to buy it. “So, we sell a lot of Chardonnay in America, and we do not sell a lot of Viognier,” notes Mr. Joseph.
The recent statistic from New Zealand demonstrates a vineyard area 2015-2022. The vineyards have been grown from 27,615 ha in 2015 to 32,813 ha in 2022. Almost all of those hectares belong to Sauvignon Blanc. Basically, the world likes New Zealand’s Sauvignon Blanc and they have grown more of it. In 2015, they had 129 ha of Viognier – that was not very much, now it is even less – 85 ha. The same applies to Riesling, a grape variety that wine writers love, its growing area dropped from 767 ha in 2015 to 568 ha in 2022.
In other words, in a dynamic country like New Zealand, the focus is on the things they can easily sell – which is Sauvignon Blanc.
Making a comparison with movies, we always see names of big stars on the posters because it stimulates people to come and see them – we tend to buy what we are already familiar with. In wine, for most of the world, Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon are stars like those we see in a movie.
Afterward, Robert Joseph moved to the Sicilian case. In the 1980s, Sicily had almost no reputation of quality wine. And here comes a man called Diego Planeta who planted his first vines in 1985. And what did he plant? Despite Sicily has wonderful old grape varieties, he grew Chardonnay. And it turned to be successful. You convince people when you speak their language – and their language was Chardonnay. At the same time, he started to make blends with local Italian and international grape varieties and now Planeta is famous for its indigenous grapes.
Planeta got the confidence of consumers and of media around the world with wines people were familiar with and with that confidence they actually moved them into other styles they were not familiar with.
People are often eager to try something new. If you persuaded someone to start drinking Feteasca today, there is a high risk that tomorrow they are going to be attracted by Saperavi. “You are not necessarily are going to convert someone into your variety overnight. Anybody curious enough to try the new variety is likely to try something else,” emphasises Robert Joseph.
The challenge lies in identifying those people, communicating with them, and finding the best way to distribute your wine to them. And traditional media and distribution may not be the answer.
Another point is that people who are ready to buy unfamiliar wines are not necessarily ‘interested’ / ‘engaged’ wine drinkers. They may often be people who enjoy other new experiences like travel or food. But they may not be people who always read wine books or food / travel magazines. And it is important to figure out the way of talking to them and addressing them through the media that they are actually going to read. And that might apply to social media, lifestyle publications, and digital marketing.
Lastly, PDOs may add value to your wine, but not necessarily. For Mr. Joseph, it is clear – brand first; region and grape second. “Regions establish PDOs in the same way that nations establish alliances. It makes you feel good to have a PDO, but it is not necessarily because everybody wants that.”
PDOs can make sense, but do no expect foreigners to learn about, be interested in, or remember them. They are often not certainly better or more premium than multi-regional blends.
And remember: Brand First!