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We must make wine less intimidating say global leaders at Wine Vision

Published:  19 November, 2013

Industry leaders issued stark warnings about making wine less intimidating for consumers and moving the focus away from price at today's Wine Visionconference in London.


Industry leaders issued stark warnings about making wine less intimidating for consumers and moving the focus away from price at today's Wine Vision conference in London.

In a panel debate chaired by Simon McMurtrie, group chief executive at Direct Wines, Dan Jago, UK and group wine director at Tesco, said he'd like consumers to feel "less intimidated by wine". He said the industry should "wake up" and start making wine for consumers outside "the rarefied 5%" who are consuming top wines. He believes the future includes embracing flavoured wines, sweeter-tasting grapes like Moscato and "whatever is easiest for the consumer to understand".

There should also be less of a fixation on meeting price points in mature markets like the UK, according to Cristian Lopez, corporate director for Asia of Concha y Toro. Pressure on producers to absorb tax and other increases could reduce wine quality, he warned. "I'd like the supply chain to understand we all have to have profitable businesses. We need more professionalism in the sector."

Christophe Salin, president and chief executive, Les Domaines Barons de Rothschild, is worried about a difficulty in attracting people to work in vineyards. "Not oenologists, but workers. We give good salaries." He added the move towards mechanisation wasn't "the right way".

Identifying the priorities for action right now, Lopez, said that when focusing your energy on developing new and emerging markets, there was a real risk of "neglecting core markets". "The UK and the USA are still the largest - something brand owners tend to forget." While China may move into third place in time, he added, these established markets "will continue to be significant".

The biggest challenge in China is how to build brands, added Lopez.

Rick Tegner, president of Jackson Family Wine Estates, said he has spent most of his time in recent years "shoring up supply", spending $100 million buying land. He said outside of the USA it is looking to grow in China and spending time on education and intelligence. Agreeing with Lopez, he said brand building there was a challenge, especially since they don't have much Californian wine there.

For Lafite's Salin, while "making good wines is certainly a challenge, where we can sell and how we sell them" is more of an issue. Selling to new consumers is a major concern. "We are able to make good wines everywhere on the planet - that's new - but are we able to market them?" He said Lafite questioned whether it was possible to make a top estate in China or a first growth in England.

Christian Seely, managing director of AXA Millesimes said acquiring unique vineyards was vitally important given the growing demand for wines from "that can only come from specific, magical places".

Jago said the price/quality relationship was the "neverending debate". He said Tesco's Finest range helped by offering a "benchmark". He said consumers are becoming "increasingly sceptical about the concept of value". Instead in some areas, the perception of prestige and image was more important.

Salin said that while the most expensive Lafite sold at $200,000 per bottle, it takes the same care at the £10-£15 mark. But scarcity added value, "when you're drinking a bottle of top wine - it's not going to be replaced."

While iconic wines can "start the ball rolling" said Seely, "people who have the money to buy these wines got it by not being stupid. They end up realising they really enjoy wine and can have a lot of fun with all kinds of other wines."

Follow the action on Twitter @harperswine #WineVision