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YOUR SHOUT – That’s Entertainment

"I Love Burgundy, everything about it. To my mind, it is unique; there’s nothing quite like it anywhere in the world" Nick Dymoke-Marr, director Orbital Wines

07_05_nick_dymoke_marrI Love Burgundy, everything about it. To my mind, it is unique; there’s nothing quite like it anywhere in the world. The geography is mindblowing, a patchwork of tiny allotments that have been sub-divided and handed from one generation to another for centuries. As for the wines, they simply … send me. Burgundy is the true home of terroir.

By the same token, I also believe that this complex notion of place, soil and land, by those who don’t live it and breathe it, has also had its day. Just like the wars governments fight against drugs, terror, binge drinking and crime; terroir is, fundamentally, a flawed strategy.

It’s not a marketing concept or a set of rules but something created through culture, social interaction and an instinctive, baked-in understanding of the environment. Yet terroir has been conceptualised and transported from its ancient roots in the Old World and applied on a macro scale to just about anywhere money can be made from growing wine grapes. The reason is that, for many producers and marketeers, terroir readily – if wrongly – satisfies the need for point of difference.

Nobody is more interested in a vineyards location and climate  than the person who owns the space. In their eyes, terroir sets them apart from their neighbours, other regions and, bizarrely, other countries. It provides the essence of plausibility and justification to their entire sales and marketing schtick regardless of the fact that it is unimportant to anyone but themselves.

Most of all though, terroir, is a white elephant used to disguise a lack of connective, relevant  messages and meaning to an increasingly disenfranchised global market. We’re trying to be too clever in talking about factors that are of no consequence to the consumer.

Our industry needs to change, and fast. We have all but lost the ability to entertain our audience. We used to be pretty good at it as well. There are plenty of good examples one could use to highlight the point over the past 20 years or so but, for me, the incredible growth in popularity of Australian wines, not only in the UK but also internationally, was no surprise.

For the first time we had wine that pretty much answered the key questions being asked by a new group of interested, animated consumers, namely: what does it taste like, will my friends and family like it, is it relevant to the occasion in mind and can I afford it? Simple questions which don’t need complicated answers. The results were staggering.

The Australian success story also helped others to develop sales overseas, particularly in the UK.

This was backed up with huge advertising campaigns, increased production and business consolidation. Many advertisements pictured evocative images of vineyards, cellars, winemakers with noses in glasses and alluring pictures of beautiful couples staring lovingly at each other across tables in expensive restaurants.

The new script invariably talked about place, soil, climate and individuality. All very ethereal and completely at polar opposites from what originally connected with consumers.

Generically there was a move to talking the terroir story and ultimately building layers of complexity over what had been straightforward engagement.

In summary, we had forgotten about entertaining our audience and were putting on a show for ourselves instead. Not unlike a stand up comedian telling an in-joke that only those who know him or her will find funny.

The dramatic slowdown in growth over the past couple of years proves quite clearly that we have not only disconnected from existing customers but seem to be incapable of attracting younger people into the category.

The premise isn’t really all that different now as it was then. The main issue though is that the competition for the “entertainment cash” in people’s pockets is far, far greater. We’re up against the latest technological wizardry, cheap airfares, increasingly affordable continental holidays, new media in all its guises. And the list gets longer all the time.

07_05_nick_dymoke_marrFor our industry to be healthy, sustainable and profitable in the future we’ll have to move mountains.

The first step though is to train ourselves as entertainers and, once again, start speaking a language that our customers both understand and relate to. Terroir is dead, but not in Burgundy. 

© db May 2007

Nick Dymoke-Marr is managing director of Orbital Wines and Chairman of The Buddies of The Benevolent. He has donated his fee for this article to The Wine & Spirits Trades’ Benevolent Society. The picture of Nick Dymoke-Marr is by cartoonist and blogger Hugh Macleod of gapingvoid.

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