Richard Woodard

just-drinks' State of the UK Nation 2011 – Part IV

By | 23 May 2011

Presented earlier this month at the London International Wine Fair, here, for just-drinks members, is a bonus briefing for May, just-drinks' State of the UK Nation 2011 survey. Part three can be found here, while this, the final part, looks at the last four of the survey's questions.

XII - Which wine-producing countries/regions (other than your own, where applicable) will make the greatest impression in the UK over the next 12 months? Why?

  • 1: Chile (2 in 2010)
  • 2: Argentina (5)
  • 3: Italy (4)
  • 4: Spain (6)
  • 5: South Africa (1)
  • 6: New Zealand (3) 

Overview

The same top six as last year, but reassembled to reflect Chile’s ongoing success in offering a versatile range of good value wines of varying styles and price points, pursued by South American neighbour Argentina, which is showing strength in depth beyond its signature Malbec grape variety.

The Old World is staging a recovery as Italy and Spain continue to show a hand of distinctive, increasingly well-made and well-marketed wines, but South Africa’s post-World Cup hangover has seen it drop four places in this year’s rundown.

New Zealand too has surprisingly fallen to sixth, possibly a reflection of concerns that relatively bargain basement Sauvignon Blanc may be eroding the country’s previously enviable reputation for high prices and consistent quality.

And bubbling under? England features in seventh place as its sparkling wines win over more fans, while eastern Europe and the Languedoc also put on a creditable showing. And that Australia is nowhere to be seen shows just how far the country’s winemaking star has fallen in recent years. 

Comments

“Australia will gradually recover from its low-value position and develop better sales for individual wines with character.” - Paul Symington, joint managing director, Symington Family Estates.

“New Zealand – there is talk of another bumper harvest and unless they grow their other international markets we will see more wine shipped to the UK and bottled for deep price promotions.” - Lynn Murray, marketing director, Hatch Mansfield.

XIII - Where do you think consumers are getting their wine knowledge from in 2011? How do you seek to influence that information flow?

  • Online media/social websites: mentioned by 93% of respondents
  • Print media: 46%
  • Bloggers: 43% 

Overview

A newly-rephrased question for this year’s poll, but it’s interesting to consider what might have been the response to it a few years ago: it doesn’t require much imagination to think that social sites including Twitter and Facebook would scarcely have been mentioned.

That the online world rates such a high response rate (even when separated from the influence of individual bloggers) shows how commentary on wines has moved on in recent times, with the newspaper wine column now an endangered species and the number of blogs, not to mention the use by companies of Facebook and Twitter, increasing by the day.

The deeper question, of course, is just how influential these channels are in shaping consumer buying decisions and trends, particularly beyond the relatively small proportion of the population who are wine enthusiasts.

Responder comments slightly undercut the statistics, with many of those surveyed expressing caution or downright cynicism at the true influence of online media and bloggers. Several still believe that the marketing and pricing tactics of retailers still play a vital role – as do the recommendations of family and friends. 

Comments

“Social media is a burgeoning communication platform and peer-to-peer recommendation in conjunction with social media is a good source of information for today’s wine consumers. The wine columns play their role too by informing those interested in wine who then in turn pass on their recommendations to friends.” - Maria Jose Sevilla, director, Food & Wines of Spain.

“Wine merchants such as Laithwaites. We give our customers specific and relevant information about the wines they are buying, but also about the wineries, regions and the people behind the wines. We also provide a link directly back to the winemakers through online blogs, frequent customer tastings.” - Becca Reeves, wine buyer, Laithwaites.

“Very few newspapers now run serious wine columns, and TV does nothing for wine, so I assume consumers get their information online and through point-of-sale merchandising in stores. We ourselves place a huge amount of information online and run a series of wine education programmes at all levels in London.” - Alun Griffiths MW, wine director, Berry Bros & Rudd.

“From a supplier point of view, it is our responsibility to push the consumer education message – demystifying wine to make it easy to understand and approachable.” - Paul Schaafsma, general manager, UK and Europe, Australian Vintage.

“Many just buy on price. The smaller portion get information through the media, books and online.” - Paul Symington, joint managing director, Symington Family Estates.

“Endorsements and lifestyle articles within the national press still account for a certain degree, but you can’t beat those physically selling your wines in a retail environment. Educate these people and use your producers in the form of ‘infotainment’ (tastings/wine dinners), then you can get a clear message across.” - Nick James, managing director, Pol Roger portfolio.

XIV - Which wine bottle closure is best: cork, artificial or screwcap? Why?

  • 1: Screwcap (2010: 1)
  • 2: Natural cork (3)
  • 3: Artificial cork (2) 

Overview

Asked to choose one closure over the other main options, nearly two-thirds of respondents named screwcaps, reflecting ongoing dissatisfaction with quality control issues for natural and artificial corks, as well as aesthetic concerns over the latter.

However, the cork lobby will be gratified to see natural cork retake second spot (by a clear margin) from its artificial rival in this year’s poll, with only a handful of respondents expressing any preference for artificial corks.

Analysis of responses, however, muddies the waters further; while some respondents were screwcap fundamentalists (and one or two expressed similarly intractible views in favour of cork), a large number took the “horses for courses” view: screwcaps for cheaper wines and across the board for aromatic white wines at least; cork for top-level reds in particular.

But if there is movement in one particular direction, it appears that screwcaps continue to win over more and more supporters year by year. 

Comments

“Depends entirely on the type of wine: screwcap for aromatic whites and rosés; artificial corks for price-sensitive wines or wines sold to the French domestic market, which is still resistant to screwcaps; good-quality corks for wines with ageing potential.” - Anne Burchett, MD, Sopexa.

“There will be many schools of thought on this, so my view is a personal one. It should be screwcap every time. I have seen too many variable bottles of wine with cork or artificial cork closures and sometimes it is not obvious – even those in the trade don’t recognise it, so what hope does the average consumer have? It takes time and experience to make a good bottle of wine – why take risks with it not tasting how the winemaker intended it to taste?” - Lynn Murray, marketing director, Hatch Mansfield.

“The one that keeps the wine in the best possible condition, whether it is a bottle of Mouton or a bottle of Muscadet. In my opinion, there are no prizes for something that is aesthetically pleasing but qualitatively impaired. If cork works, great, let’s use it. If top-grade cork works for top-end wine, but poor-grade cork does not work for cheaper wines, then let’s continue with a cork/screwcap split.” - Richard Nunn, director, Louis Latour Ltd.

“The majority of our ranges are closed with screwcap – customer satisfaction is paramount, and we believe that screwcap offers an extremely high level of quality control.” - Paul Schaafsma, general manager, UK and Europe, Australian Vintage.

“Cork of course! Taking Champagne out of it here, screwcaps are becoming vital, but only within certain wine categories. Artificial is simply horrid!” - Nick James, managing director, Pol Roger portfolio.

XV - How important is the role of social media in the wine market in 2011? How do you use it in your business?

Overview

Not too many cynics here for what was the last of our new questions for the 2011 survey. Well over four-fifths of respondents said they thought social media was “extremely important” or “important” to today’s wine industry, while only a small proportion remained unconverted.

Drill down beyond this basic picture and a more complex reality emerges, however. Some respondents somewhat shame-facedly admitted that they carried little or no activity in this area, despite acknowledging its growing importance, while others pointed out that wine companies do not have the budgets to compete with other big consumer brands in terms of viral and social media campaigns.

And, while the number of cynics is fast shrinking, some still remain unconvinced of the efficacy of social media in terms of encouraging hard sales. 

Comments

“It is growing, but not as fast as expected, partly because budgets in the wine business are not as large as in other sectors and we therefore miss the ‘wow’ factor of some viral campaigns.” - Anne Burchett, MD, Sopexa.

“Social media is an increasingly important tool for our business; however, it is important that it is used as part of an integrated marketing and communications strategy. Social media allows us to interact directly with our consumers, giving us an opportunity to participate in a real and free-flowing conversation and ultimately to add value to our brand.” - Paul Schaafsma, general manager, UK and Europe, Australian Vintage.

“Undoubtedly gaining hugely in importance as a way of communicating. Most of the wineries that we represent make use of the broad spectrum of social media to good effect. However, there is a lot to be said as well for some good old-fashioned ‘face time’, preferably involving a glass of wine.” - Richard Nunn, director, Louis Latour Ltd.

“This is growing in importance; however, it requires resource and time to make it happen and it is very difficult to measure the results. With little profit in the chain to invest in the resource without seeing measurable results, it is challenging to maximise the potential benefit.” - Lynn Murray, marketing director, Hatch Mansfield.

Sectors: The off-trade, Wine

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Presented earlier this month at the London International Wine Fair, here, for just-drinks members, is a bonus briefing for May, just-drinks' State of the UK Nation 2011 survey.

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