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Looking back on 2016 and ahead to 2017: David Gleave MW, Liberty Wines

Published:  04 January, 2017

David Gleave MW predicts what he thinks will be the biggest trends of 2017, and talks about his plans to broaden his horizons by giving Try January - the initiative to encourage people to try something new in the month of Jan - a go. 

What were the highs and lows for you and your business in 2016?

Highs this year include our January portfolio tasting where we welcomed a record number of customers. Education is a thread that runs through everything we do, both for our customers and our own team, so winning IWC Educator of the Year was another huge high for us.

Now to be nominated for the WSET Educator of the Year is great and a fantastic endorsement of the hard work our team has put into our programme and is a great platform to build on for the year ahead.

What were the most significant things that happened or issues and trends that occurred in 2016?

The industry as a whole will be feeling the effects of the EU referendum result for a long time to come. Like the majority in the wine trade, we didn't predict the result but have worked hard to minimise the impact on our customers and we are now well placed to support them, and our suppliers, as the UK's future relationship with Europe becomes more clear.

Consolidation in the industry also continued in 2016, and it will be interesting to see how some of the bigger mergers play out in the year to come. The changing market for wine, with consumption falling and competition coming from craft beers, ciders and spirits, means that we have to work harder to retain our share of that market.

On a more positive note, there is continued growth in the premium sector. Our insights show that especially in the on-trade, consumer drinking patterns are changing with wine drinkers looking for a wider variety of quality wines to drink in smaller quantities, ie by the glass rather than whole bottles.

What trends do you predict for 2017?

Provenance and the ability to communicate the story behind the wine is becoming more and more important to consumers. Younger drinkers, whose consumption is in decline, are particularly influenced by this aspect of wine so in order to engage this group we all need to embrace this more effectively.

The sparkling story of the last few years shows no sign of abating, but we are starting to see a diversification in styles and occasions. Quality English sparkling wine, Franciacorta and Tasmanian examples all offer the consumer a range of price points and the opportunity to enjoy fizz more often than at traditional moments of celebration.

What are likely to be the biggest opportunities for the trade in 2017?

Increased desire for more information about the history and provenance of wine is a huge opportunity, and part of the reason we invest so much in education. We need to be more creative in how we communicate about wine, and give our customer the tools and support they need to share this with their own customers.

What are the biggest challenges facing the trade in 2017?

We expect there to be a tightening of the belt in most households during the year ahead thanks to rising inflation and less disposable income. One thing we learned in 2008/09 was that it paid for us to stick to the quality of the offering. Prices are going to rise, so consumers will punish those who are not able to offer the best possible quality at these higher prices.

Who are the people, companies or retailers to watch in 2017? 

We think the people to watch will be those focusing on quality. Our biggest competition comes from some of the newer and smaller importers whose focus is on quality and provenance. They are the people who will thrive and flourish in more straitened times.

If you were granted one wish for 2017, what would that be?

A strong pound.

New Year's resolution?

I'm kicking off the year with Try January...