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Top 10 wine trends for 2014

From Millennials to legislation by way of sustainability and off-piste wines, we set the scene for 2014

Most trends have foundations that only become apparent once any given trend has gone mainstream. Picking those that are most likely to affect the wine trade through 2014 and beyond is always going to be fraught with maybes and passed over developments that subsequently become givens.

Lower alcohol wines spring to mind, but will they actually come to define the trade over the next few years? Probably not – at least not in a way that seriously shapes the way that the trade communicates, sources, distributes and sells wine.

Perhaps the best starting point, then, is to look at the trends that will most affect the structure and shape of the wine world in broader terms, including those that have already begun to take hold. With this in mind, and based on the feedback and predictions of a host of industry commentators and leaders, the drinks business brings you the top 10 predictions for the trends of 2014.

1. A new era of discovery

Despite predictions of a decline in importance, the UK will retain its mantle of “shop window” for the world of wine, albeit in an evolving and more eclectic fashion. As ever growing global demand for long established and big hitting names such as Bordeaux and Burgundy continues to put such wines out of the reach of British consumers, the value and interest inherent in less-well trodden regions and emerging countries continues to come to the fore.

“We are finally seeing strong growth in the off-piste areas of our list and particularly from European regions, with Bierzo, Hungary, Campania, Basilicata, Vinho Verde, Switzerland and even Germany performing really well, while ‘exotics’ like Turkey and China are starting to pull their weight,” says Alex Hunt MW, purchasing director at Berkmann Wine Cellars.

He continues: “I’m not predicting the sudden disappearance of the mainstream, but the fact that diversification is now translating into sales gives me great encouragement for an even more interesting wine scene in 2014.”

According to Claudio Martins, manager at New Street Wine Shop in the City of London, this trend is not simply being driven by an age of austerity, but also a genuine newfound interest in more individual wines as a new generation of wine drinkers reveals itself to be more adventurous that its predecessors.

“People are looking to discover new countries, such as Croatia, realising that places such as Chile are making premium wines, and while City spending on Champagne is picking up again, people are not opting for grandes marques, but seeking out smaller growers as a point of difference,” says Martins.

2. Millennials will drive the new wine culture

Whisper it, but in the speakeasies, new wave wine bars, Sherry-led oases and other achingly hip watering holes (think Sager + Wilde in deepest Hackney) that are inhabited by Millennials, wine is becoming increasingly cool with the influencers and trend setters of a whole new generation.

And it’s a fashion that looks set to continue, but very much on the terms of these wine enthusiasts themselves. These are imbibers who prefer the adventurous to the atrophied, want individuality in their drinks mix and take their cues from broader lifestyle and cultural references rather than listening to old school wine trade jargon. As such, they are changing the rules of engagement.

Witness the stampede for tickets for Wines of Argentina’s (WoA) Cambalache event in London’s Dalston last year, where the wine was woven into a festival of Argentine street life and culture, and which returns to both Brooklyn’s Williamsburg and east London this year. “It’s all about putting wine in an environment where people like to go and in east London people are going out every night of the week,” says WoA’s UK & European head, Andrew Maidment. “And this means fitting wine in to their daily lives rather than expecting them to change their daily lives and put themselves out to come to wine.”

With a new generation of imaginative, unstuffy independent merchants, restaurants and bars helping to fuel a scene that is thriving on pop up wine events communicated via blogs and wider social media, the hipsters and happenings will continue to imbue wine with a dash of much needed cool.

3. Greater balance in supply and demand will be matched by a shift in global consumption

While doom laden headlines predicting a “global wine shortage” are rather off the mark, many big players are predicting that global supply and demand will continue to gravitate towards a better equilibrium, at least in the short term. “Wine consumption is increasing and it has been outpacing production for more than six years, with global inventories now 7.5 million litres below the highs reached in 2006, a drop of approximately 40%,” says Neil McGuigan, chief executive officer of Australian Vintage.

“Globally the industry – in terms of supply and demand – is moving toward balance, oversupply is decreasing, with global output falling from 26m litres in 2011 to 24.8m litres in 2012, with the 2012 vintage being the smallest since 1975,” continues McGuigan.

While it is predicted that consumption will continue to dip in mature European markets, the slow but steady growth in a host of populous countries, including the US and emerging territories such as China, will further ease the global glut and bulk wine prices will continue to rise.

Further ahead, plantings coming on line in the Southern Hemisphere and China’s own fast expanding production will be likely to meet and exceed the projected growth in global demand.

4. Sustainability will increasingly top the agenda

Far from dying a death, the Natural Wine movement has swapped some of its earlier messianic fervour and instead become accepted as something of a canary in the vinous coalmine. Now on many otherwise mainstream lists, including the likes of Gerard Basset’s at Hotel TerraVina, such wines have highlighted the need for greater sustainability across all wine production due to their obvious popularity with consumers.

“As the arguments about terminology become less relevant, more and more producers are working in a less interventionist way and this is an evolution that is taking place across the world of wine,” says natural wine proponent Doug Wregg at UK importer Les Caves de Pyrene.

In turn, concern over sustainability in all its forms, including the environmental and human aspects, is strongest with the younger generation of wine drinkers that will shape tomorrow’s trade. The question for wine producers will increasing be not “are you organic and sustainable?” but “why aren’t you?” as consumers come to expect producers to provide good environmental and social credentials as the norm.

Finally, in what at first appears to be a counterintuitive development, those best placed to meet this criteria will emerge as being the bulk shippers and bottlers,along with the big multiple retailers. With the ability to lead the field by cutting down on carbon emissions and waste through the efficiencies of in-market bottling, alternative packaging and their scale of distribution, their contribution to cutting wine’s carbon footprint will become increasingly apparent.

5. Chardonnay spearheads a cooler climate New World white revival

In a reversal of fortune from the ABC days, Chardonnay will continue to win back converts as both trade and consumer catch up with the new wave of leaner, cooler climate examples. Australia will drive this trend, with its poised, complex Chardonnays from Adelaide Hills, Yarra Valley, Mornington Peninsula and Tasmania joined by similarly restrained wines from diverse vineyards including the cooler spots in Chile, Argentina, California, South Africa and New Zealand.

Subtle use of oak will continue to play its part in the best wines. Already underway, this Chardonnay revival will in turn assist these and other producing regions to highlight their more romatic and elegant styles, again often from cooler coastal and higher altitude vineyards.

Conversely, the more mainstream examples of Pinot Grigio, and to a lesser extent Sauvignon Blanc, will begin to fall from grace as consumers realise that there is a middle path to be negotiated between wines of little character and two-dimensional explosions of aroma and flavour.

6. Evolving communication means more direct communication

The wine world will continue to adapt to the revolution in communication, but find itself ever more in the position of having to speak directly to the consumer as the fragmentation in media channels continues. As wine critic Jamie Goode speculates, “There has been an explosion of the creation of content, but this increase hasn’t necessarily been matched by people’s consumption.”

This suggests that more people, via more platforms, are chasing a finite level of reader attention and thus as saturation is reached the content providers (plusmarketers and advertisers) are fighting ever more ferociously for a smaller slice of the consumer attention pie.

“The rise of social media, blogging and specialist websites means that an involved wine consumer has access to really good wine content, most of it free,” says Goode. The downside is that
specialist channels typically only appeal to those who already have specialist interest and the decline in generalist wine columns, those which may catch the attention of a browsing reader, serves to reinforce the notion that wine is the complex domain of the few.

To reach new audiences, then, producers and the retailers of their wines will increasingly look for fresh ways to engage consumers directly. Social media channels and blogging are certainly playing a part, Breaking down the Great Wall of wine wine trends with winemakers and wineries striving to interact directly with wine drinkers. With wine writers typically focused on the 5% or so of sales at the higher end, communication will continue to become increasingly polarised between the specialist and the generalist, with ever more emphasis on the trade’s role in presenting wine in an engaging and nonwine speak way.

 7. Breaking down the “Wall of Wine”

Equally important in terms of communication will be the ways that wine is presented to the consumer on shelves, including its packaging, presentation and merchandising. “UK retailers are pioneering completely new ways of engaging and merchandising the wine category, which will have international influence in the coming years,” says Richard Cochrane, managing director of Felix Solis UK.

He gives these examples: “Tesco launched their first properly integrated approach to BWS last year and the early signs look extremely encouraging in the trial stores, while Morrisons Cellar and the in-store style led merchandising strategy is pioneering in helping to remove shopper fear and confusion.”

It’s a point that is picked up by Neil McGuigan, who also highlights a changing mindset among producers who once believed their job to be done once an order was fulfilled and the stock safely delivered to a retailer.

“In the recent past many companies have felt that their job is complete when they have made the sale to the supermarket chain and then it was the responsibility of the supermarket to sell the wine,” says McGuigan. “The supermarket is incredibly important but we must realise that the supermarket is the conduit to the consumer and we have a responsibility to help ‘pull’ the product off the shelves.”

In a world awash with wine, those producers that can reach and communicate with consumers directly will continue to enhance the sales of their wines from both shelves and the ever increasing channel of online.

8. China’s fine wine thirst replaced by slower but sustainable mid-level growth

The market for fine wine in China will continue to cool in the face of a series of setbacks including government austerity that has seen cuts to gifting, general economic slowdown, previous oversupply, fraud and high Bordeaux pricing for less than excellent vintages.

However, leading importers in to China, including ASC Fine Wine, remain optimistic about the long-term future of China’s market for imported wine, pointing to an evolution that will sustain growth into the future.

“Chinese consumer knowledge about wine continues to increase, and they are more and more interested in wines that are of good quality, and which represent good value for money, so there will be increasing opportunities for entry to midlevel priced wines,” says Matthew Gong at ASC.

“This is an encouraging sign that a substantial consumer based wine market will start to develop. Leading wine markets such as Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou and Shenzhen are predicted to continue to develop strongly, but second and third tier cities will start to become more influential and significant in terms of delivering growth.

 9. Legislation and taxation will continue to increase globally

Legislation and taxation are likely to follow an upward curve globally as the agendas of the legislators and health lobbies continue to squeeze the wine trade in both mature and developing wine markets. Parallels with the tobacco industry are hard to ignore, where punitive measures including draconian price hikes, hard hitting visual health warnings and bans on both advertising and visibility on shelves have impacted an industry that sells a similarly legal and intoxicating product.

“Remember that tobacco used to be a glamour business,” says Ian Johnston, head of combustible innovations at British American Tobacco. Johnston continued: “Pricing is the most powerful tool in reducing consumption, and our experience is that regulations also cross borders very quickly.”

Health organisations, including WHO, have become increasingly vocal about “Big Booze” as the next target after “Big Tobacco” and 2014 will see the collective wine trade waking up to this challenge.

10. On- and Off-trade boundaries continue to blur

From California to China by way of the UK, the traditional boundaries that have clearly delineated on- and off-trade will continue to disappear as these two sides of the trade increasingly converge.

This will continue to be driven by customers who want to shop in a way that suits them. And, as off-trade retailers engage with more food on the go, while restaurants boost convenience by offering off sales of their list for consumption at home, so the trend will continue.

Expect to see more hybrids, whether in the fashion of the Oxford Wine Café, New Street Wine Shop, restaurants with offsales including Gauthier Soho or trailblazer St John, or even wine bars owned by specialist importers such as Terroirs and co from Les Caves de Pyrene or Brindisa’s restaurants.

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