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2008 industry predictions

Published:  23 July, 2008

Christine Parkinson, wine buyer, Hakkasan

The economy - wine sales will stay strong (UK diners now have a culture of drinking wine in restaurants) but the top end, fine wines may slow down. Customers for those wines are more influenced by economic trends, even though they can probably still afford to spend well.

Wine lists will get much more interesting. Sommeliers, buyers and restaurant managers will be more creative in the way they organise and express their list. This won't be all good, but expect some genuine attempts to make the list interesting and engaging to read.

Suppliers - buyers at the top end who deal with many suppliers will be looking to streamline their communications. We've reached a point where there is over-communication (email AND hard copy, not to mention phone calls) and it has to change. Sales reps will find it hard to meet buyers more than once or twice a year, and more emails and letters will go in the bin than before. The winners will be the suppliers who can provide unmissable information, effectively but infrequently!

There will also be a slow trend towards buying direct from the producer. The constant search for a point of difference and a good margin will lead more and more buyers and sommeliers to go direct. It will be interesting to see whether any of the shipping companies latch on to this trend and start approaching sommeliers with a straightforward 'package' deal to import their chosen wines.

Wine regions - New Zealand will continue to grow strongly in the on-trade. We are only just discovering their red wines, and more listings will follow. South African listings may suffer as a result.

Wine styles - Pinot Grigio may start to lose its appeal as prices rise, and as sommeliers and buyers become interested in offering alternatives. I'd like to say there will be a big switch to Fiano, or Verdelho, or whatever else, but I suspect Sauvignon Blanc will grow even more as Pinot Grigio drinkers move on. Port by the glass will keep growing, both mature vintages and young ones.

Sake will grow strongly in the on-trade - 2008 may be the year that sake listings reach critical mass, and it becomes a 'must list' product. The big challenge will be distribution. Most suppliers in the UK are not geared up to deal with sommeliers, and that will have to change.

Finally, I predict that there will be a lobby to government to relax the laws on the volume of wine that can be sold by the glass. Not sure who will lead this lobby (but I'm happy to be involved...) but restaurateurs want to sell wine flights, and current legislation makes it difficult, especially with the pressure on the public to drink less.