Thursday, 17 November 2011

A Matter of Taste

One of the great joys of the wine business is the network of friends and colleagues that one develops - the feedback and perspectives that they can give, on your own business, on their own businesses and on the wider wine market - are just so valuable.

Yesterday was a day spent with wine trade friends both old and new and it was fascinating and comforting to hear that the current challenges of the market are not unique to the UK. Conversations moved from the logistics  challenges of the small distributor through to the global economy but perhaps the most interesting discussion revolved around something much more difficult to put your finger on.

A day rarely goes by without debate over the wine industry's lack of ability to engage the consumer consistently in a fashion that drives loyalty and willingness to experiment and premiumise. Whilst some commentators contest that this stems from a lack of real interest from the trade in terms of hearing what the consumer wants, that is not a view that I believe rings true. I'm beginning to think that the difficulty in engaging with wine by those who drink it on a more casual basis, is down to something much more fundamental.

Imagine sitting down for the evening to watch a bit of tv and finding yourself drawn to the almost obligatory food programme on at prime time. However, far from the content of the programme being engaging, interactive and distracting, the content of the programme was made up of "stories" about 10 different breeds of cattle and the different feeds on which they were nurtured. How interested would you be?

Then think about whether, in most people's view, there is much difference in the importance attached to the purchase of wine and the importance attached to the purchase of beef? For many people, both are staple items in the weekly grocery shop and therefore why should we think that anyone would be interested in exploring, or being educated about, the minutiae of wine anymore than we would be interested in the minutiae of cattle rearing?

Whilst I certainly don't pretend to have all the answers, I do believe that we have to find a new way of engaging the consumer and it all comes down to a matter of taste. Without wishing to give too much away, our tastings next year will focus on how we all interact with wine and draw on research about how our senses are hard wired and consequently our ability to relate our experience of different sensations varies greatly dependent on whether we see, hear taste or smell them. Intriguingly, whilst smell (the most important sense for us wine enthusiasts) is one of the most evocative senses, it is also the most difficult to accurately relate to others without simile. In the past, the obscurity of the language used to describe these similes has been criticised but is this missing the point? Perhaps it is time that we need to find more effective ways of not only engaging all of the senses but building on them to create vivid pictures in the eyes of the consumer that can be accurately expressed and result in far more effective emotional connections.