With the year racing by, I thought it would be valuable to take stock and I found myself browsing the topics that have been opined, discussed and disagreed about so far this year. I started with the posts about the VinPro Information Day from January, which covered a bracing (read: rather bleak) economic outlook; the vintage overview; updates on WISE and the VinPro Foundation and a rather underwhelming portrait of wine exports to the UK (see here and here).
Back then, I wondered if all these warnings and calls to action would really bring about the changes promised – the changes we need to shape up before we ship out – or if it would just be variations on the same theme. How much has changed (and will change) still remains to be seen.
Recently, the problem with our international market share – or lack thereof – was brought up again (and again), touching on the prevailing issues of why Brand SA isn’t doing as well as it could be in our target export markets like the USA and the UK. Perhaps my involvement in exporting to the USA magnifies the importance of this issue for me, but it’s one I am prepared to hammer on about for the rest of the year, or at least until we see some movement in the right direction.
Other core discussions relating to the state of the industry included one about the nature of what we offer and the inconsistent way our wines are marketed – both locally and internationally. This in turn ties into how our wines are priced and the cognitive dissonance on that subject: we are forever hearing that our wines are underpriced and we should demand more ZARs for our mid- and top tier products. Yet slap a R950+ price tag on a first-release wine (see here) and the world goes loony with winos everywhere drawing party lines, with one end raging about the gall of it all and the other end swooning at (or simply just falling for) the miracle of marketing.
We sure do struggle with balance, don’t we?
We also need to take a good, hard look at the consumer and how we really want to educate them. And I’m actually a bit loathe to use the word ‘educate’, because immediately people jump into Wine 101 which isn’t as universally fascinating as we wine geeks think. Yes, if the consumer knows more about wine, they’ll (probably) make better wine choices – buying better could mean buying more or just buying more premium – either way the industry wins that one. But we need to step back and consider that in some cases well-meaning but uninspired attempts to educate can actually alienate. So as an industry, we need to rethink and reconsider what our essential message to the consumer is.
Am I coming off as a bit bleak? Maybe too serious? I suppose what I’m getting at here is more than a generic call to action. I get to meet the most incredible people who create fantastic wines. There are some alarmingly good ideas floating around. There are also some breathtakingly disastrous problems that need fixing.
We’re nearly five months into the year and of course I’m not expecting the wine industry to change definitively in such a short time, but reading through all the discussions and opinions posted since, it just reminded me that we still have a lot to do before we really become the badasses we think we are.