Never before have the prospects looked so strong for the English and Welsh wine community, but if this is going to be more than a twelve-month wonder, the industry has to guard against complacency.
From the production side, valuable investment, better winemaking and viticulture, a more international perspective, more savvy marketing have all pushed up quality. Alongside growing consumer recognition, the forthcoming Diamond Jubilee and 2012 Olympics couldn’t have happened at a better time for UK wineries.
However, before we get carried away, let’s remember a sizeable number of the UK public have never tried English or Welsh wine, including those who work in the on- and off-trade, plus there’s still issues about availability and price, and a few wineries are producing sub-standard wines that are tainting the industry’s reputation.
Here’s my wishlist of actions for 2012.
The price is high: We know why English & Welsh wine is never going to be bargain basement, but newcomers to the field don’t. Share with them why – invite them in to see what you do, the artisan nature of much of the work.
On-trade: Often seen as the window for the drinks trade, this can be where your wines are first tried. The pricing model may be different, but identify friendly local outlets and get to know how their businesses work. Like you, they are earning a crust so they do need to add margin. Always offer to provide samples.
Raise your profile: Enter competitions, whether it’s the UKVA, Imbibe’s Sommelier Wine Awards for the on-trade, or Decanter or the International Wine Challenge, if your wine stands out, these are invaluable opportunities. Just think of RidgeView’s success.
Engage your local community: Does your local council – or PTA/parish council – offer English wine at its functions? If not, why not? Approach them and offer a rate that will work for both of you. Better still, if you have space, invite them to your winery to hold their next meeting.
Social media: If you are not on twitter or facebook, take time out to see which suits best the way you work and, more importantly, your target audience.
Embrace bloggers: Now accepted into the Circle of Wine Writers, they may be different to “traditional” media – and need looking after differently – but they speak to committed followers. Check out the video from the European Wine Bloggers Conference to see the potential.
Wifi hotspots: Offer free WiFi. Enable your new platoon of ambassadors to tweet/facebook while they are with you.
Meet your audience: Don’t wait for English Wine Week.
For its part, DrinkBritain.com will continue to champion good wines, great wineries to visit, events where the public get to meet those responsible, while also carrying consumer-related news and reviews.
It will extend its coverage of great places to buy English wines in both the on and the off trade.
I would like to see the wine industry develop a quality rating scheme for wineries open to the public. I will also be calling for the wine industry to join with other leading British drinks producers in their efforts to target both international and domestic visitors. Watch this space.
Whatever else, this year certainly won’t be dull! Here’s to a good one.