Looking behind a product’s branding and marketing is what an increasing number of us are doing, it seems. In this era of ‘fake news’, we don’t just want to take a company’s word for a product and what it’s made from – we want details.
This is a trend which we’ve seen in the wine industry for a while, and it’s gaining momentum. In fact, it spans all forms of retail, right across the world. There’s a crucial shift in the axis of power from the big, faceless corporations to the smaller, artisanal producers we can put a name to and feel we can trust, and it’s one of the most powerful movements of the modern commercial landscape.
In an increasingly connected world, we are all hyper-aware of the origins of the things we buy; who made them, and what impact it had on them and the places they call home. If we don’t like something, we have the powerful tools of social media at our fingertips to voice our discontent. If we think we’re being deceived or not being given enough information, we can call on companies to provide it, or else risk losing our custom.
An increasing number of us want honest, clean labels, transparent information, and sustainable, high quality products. This is great news for the smaller, specialist, producers who value human interaction, word of mouth, and honest relationships based on more than just profit. Above all, we want authenticity.
Speaking of labels, there are some new trends in wine packaging. To take one example, as packaging and environmental issues dominate the agenda, scannable codes on labels can give customers access to websites and online content through which to learn about the world of the small producer, without being constrained by space. (That said, there will always be need for the traditional paper labels, elegantly embossed with their curlicue script).
If you’re a small producer, there are very good reasons for investing time, effort and money in achieving authenticity. The wine industry has its challenges, and focussing on the essentials of authentic production is crucial to staying relevant and valued. Ongoing climate concern, for example, means temperatures may vary more than ever before and irrigation may become a challenge for some. Increasing health awareness and the growing popularity of other types of alcoholic beverage are other risks to be managed.
But there are huge opportunities too. Wine tourism, also known as enotourism, is a growing business (do excuse the pun). Others have now followed in the footsteps of Elden Selections and the accommodation on offer at Domaine de Cromey in Burgundy. More and more enthusiasts are discovering the joys of wine holidays and residential courses where consumers can interact with producers and feel that unique connection you just can’t get with supermarket-bought wines. Between 2009 and 2016 there was a 30% rise in the number of wine tourists visiting France. Not including French nationals, the majority were Belgians and Brits, but there are an increasing number of visitors now from Asia and the United States. Their ages span from twenty-somethings to retired folk and everything in between, and the activities they do are also expanding. Where once you would visit a vineyard, buy a bottle or two and leave, people are now embracing cooking classes, cycling trips, wine courses and holiday stays in their favourite wine regions, such as those that Domaine de Cromey offer in Saint-Sernin-du-Plain.
Burgundy is an area rich in things to see and do. In the capital of this wine region, Beaune takes center place on the world stage during the annual Hospices wine auction. The Hôtel-Dieu, with its Flemish tiled roof, the huge silent cellars of the negociants’ houses, and the wine-growing domaines of the district all attract lucrative tourism. For wine is something that must be experienced holistically, as both a product of, and an integral part of, the people and area it comes from. You need to walk the land, taste the cuisine, speak to the people and drink in the culture as well as the wine. This is perhaps the real reason that staying a while to really understand the history that has shaped what’s in your glass is so crucial in the quest to understand wine.
People want physical, real world interaction. Cue the resurgence of the humble board game, which has staged a remarkable comeback as an antidote to screens and hand-held devices. Likewise with vinyl records, and ditto experience gifts over ‘stuff’. We crave authenticity, and we’re prepared to pay for it. When you have spent years acquiring material possessions, there are few gifts of any value left to give – but experiences are different, as many now discover the joy of being gifted lifelong memories which never go out of fashion or get thrown out when past their best.
Authentic experiences are probably nowhere more important than in the wine industry. It’s the job of curators and retailers like Elden Selections in Burgundy to be the eyes and ears on the ground for customers, providing the space in which authentic and trustworthy relationships can be formed and then grow, just like the vines which flourish there. The promise of wines with higher-end flavour profiles and more transparent, quality production methods is a unique attraction. At its heart is trust, that simple commodity that you just can’t get from the mass market.
We often say ‘In Vino Veritas’ (in wine is truth) – usually because it can loosen the tongue – but perhaps more importantly, in its growing, retailing and drinking, it creates a true authenticity that few industries can match.