As with so many things, the last two years have forced change at a faster pace. Countless businesses have managed to pivot to a ‘work from home’ model seemingly in a matter of weeks. Zoom calls became a novelty, then standard fare, then the butt of jokes almost overnight.
How people choose their wine has also evolved. There will always be those that scoop the cheapest wine offering into their trolley while debating if that MIG welder in the middle aisle is a sound investment. But the number of those that want to learn a little more about what they drink has swelled dramatically. Possibly because furlough afforded people the time to drink more and to google more, and because the information is so readily available and increasingly user-friendly.
If you have a mind to, there are apps that offer you wine reviews with the scan of a label, there are even apps that bring the label to life. There are QR codes and embedded links everywhere, even in this magazine. But the strongest platform for enquiry is social media. Posts can introduce you to the wine maker, the brand, the vision even!
An occasional mistake in wine is to try and feed the customer stats. The level of oak or maturation time is important, but very few get excited by numbers. People buy into anecdotes and authenticity. Stories they can then tell their guests when they hold court at a dinner party. Perhaps the producer still ploughs its vineyards with the help of a horse?
These stories play out brilliantly on social media. This can take a consumer product and personalise it to the point that can inspire emotional investment. In some cases this can become a brand following as in the case of Grande Marques or the latest Provence Rosé but, for those that aren’t dripping in marketing budgets and celebrity endorsements, personal honesty can shine through.
In the past few years there has been a surge in demand for organic and regionally authentic wines. The Indie retail customer is no longer content with international grapes grown everywhere. With access to much more information and, recently, more time, the customer is prepared to buy into not just a bottle of wine but the principals and ideas that made that wine. There is a greater level of enquiry which demands a greater level of accountability. As an evolution to brand alignment based on aspiration (those Veuve Wellies may have had their day) we are now seeing emotional alignment to ethical principles. There is more kudos at the dinner party to a wine that has been ethically produced using sustainable principals and region specific grapes than one seen on reality television. I hope…
The increase in access through social media has been bolstered further by online tastings. In order to tap into the demand for experiential tastings a numbers of Indie retailers hosted tasting events during lockdown. Although the logistics of getting wine to anything up to 200 individual homes may have been a headache the opportunity to have the winemaker, often sitting in his or her winery, on the call more than justified it. This offered a level of connection not seen to the average customer and a huge spring board to emotional investment. In a lot of cases it also translated into sales. Not just of the wine tasted but of all wines from the maker.
Some customers will consider a £3 wine excellent value. Some will never leave a specific grape or region. However, there are increasing numbers of the inquisitive, the scrutineers. With phones in hand and apps at the ready looking to introduce new wines and new places to their circles but only once they have scrolled the ‘gram and checked the credentials. Everyone likes a good a story, especially if there is a horse involved.