The Final Blend – ProWein: The Pro of Shows
By Anthony Gismondi
ProWein 2015 has come and gone but not before leaving a big impression on me. Dusseldorf may seem like an odd place to assemble the entire wine world; it’s a city far more famous for beer than wine. That said, it works, and was an inspired choice to hold what is surely now the most important wine fair in the world.
The success of ProWein is obvious as you approach the fair site each morning – the energy is palpable, not unlike walking into a biodynamic vineyard. The show is global, with some 6000 wineries in attendance yet neutral in the sense that the wines of Germany do not control the stage the way the French wines do at VinExpo, nor do they dominate in the manner Italian wines can at Vinitaly. The halls are all business 9 to 5, with sales meetings at every booth, but it sure is fun to be a writer flitting about the halls, almost like a fly on the wall.
But it’s not all a lark; it can be distressing for Canadian writers and distributors to see so many wines on the floor that are never seen in Canada, where we are shielded from the real world of wine by monopoly buyers who know best what we should be drinking. Undaunted, there was a noticeable Canadian trade contingent, some actually pouring wine while many others were working the halls in search of new wines and to cement old relationships.
If you hadn’t notice a change in the way wine is sold in the free world over the last decade, and many Canadians living under a monopoly nanny state probably haven’t, it is safe to say the business has undergone a profound revolution. There’s been a steady shift toward urban sales, and more importantly those customers are wired to information from birth to death. Information, selection and the chance to sell direct to the final customer is turning the retail and distribution business on its ear.
It would have been unheard of even five years ago to ship wine across Canada, yet British Columbia has opened its doors to any Canadian wines produced in the country. Selling wine direct is the only way local producers can compete financially with rest of the world and it’s not just a Canadian phenomenon. Wine producers across the globe depend on ‘cellar door’ sales to maximise their income.
Beyond the winery door there are even more changes. At ProWein, organisers working with Wine Intelligence researchers asked “How these changes are manifesting in terms of observable trends in key markets. Which channels are winning and losing? Which retailers are doing better than others and are there discernible patterns in the channel trends across different markets which would allow us to draw more broad conclusions about the way wine is sold globally?”
They studied eight major markets (that consume half the world’s production of wine) taking data from the United States, the world’s largest market for wine, Germany, the UK, Japan, Australia and France, Spain and Italy.
Canadians will not be surprised to learn that when it comes to convergence the stereotypical business model doesn’t reflect what Wine Intelligence refers to as “The bizarre reality of wine retail environments which are subject to different legal structures and different consumer expectations.” Certainly BC’s recently implemented insipid retail liquor reforms, well documented on these pages, has been a huge disappointment to the trade.
According to the report “This should not come as a surprise: consumers are creatures of habit, and tend not to go in for radical shifts in where they buy their groceries and beverages. Equally, the ‘installed base’ of incumbent retailers have a natural advantage over any new channel or retailer type: they occupy the best sites, have the greatest legacy brand awareness, and benefit most from consumer inertia. In this climate, traditional business models can persist, while new ones can struggle to gain traction in the short term.” Wow – are you listening Ontario? Sounds as if whatever the provincial government does with liquor in Ontario, the LCBO is going nowhere fast and they will make sure that neither will any new players.
What did come out of the study and is worth noting is what researchers are calling the ‘convenience revolution’ or ‘frequent shopping, smaller baskets.’ It’s a consumer trend toward buying groceries more often, in less quantity, and including wine in this behaviour. I know, what a concept, buying wine and food in the same store. It may explain why both the BC and Ontario consumers are being proffered bizarre grocery store models by our monopoly nannies. Regardless of the Canadian experience, shaped by regulators who already run and own the liquor business (see the previous paragraph), small and nimble makes a lot of sense.
The report says “Drivers of this trend are reasonably well known, and arise chiefly from the increasing urbanisation of population, falling car ownership and car usage levels in some markets (itself driven by rising oil prices and motoring taxes). This urbanisation-austerity model is especially true in Spain.” We could add the unaffordable housing markets of Vancouver and Toronto and not enough public transit to the equation and the reasons for the move from the city to suburbs and back is almost complete.
Another multi-country trend reported at ProWein was “The growth of direct-to-home, or online-based shopping models. These also come in several guises, from the UK’s advanced online grocery shopping networks, to the growing “click and collect” systems in France, and the specialist direct-to-home retailers (including wineries) in the USA.”
In many countries, famous for their wine shops the report suggest the new communications technology has changed how consumers use retail channels abandoning storefronts for the “More remote, but information rich, zone of the online shop.” Yet as we are experiencing in BC and soon in Ontario, “None of this changes the long-standing trend in global retail – consolidation and the very real pressure by mainstream supermarkets to occupy more premium market space, and put specialist wine shops under pressure.”
Canadians can only hope the death of specialist wine shops doesn’t come and go before they are allowed to take up residence in this country (Alberta excepted).
As for ProWein let’s just say for wine lovers, especially for the repressed Canadian trade, it is one hell of an exhilarating experience. Just about anybody who is anybody in the wine business is pouring their wine in Dusseldorf.
It’s hard to explain the feeling you get from walking the halls seeing just about every wine in the world open and ready to be tasted. I cut through Wine Australia’s stand where 39 producers and more than 400 wines were open. There was a very cool buzz at Wine Australia thanks to Vancouverite and Global Education Manager Mark Davidson and his ‘History, Evolution, Revolution’ Masterclass focusing on Australia’s people and provenance.
In a single morning I tasted high altitude, single appellation malbec at Alto Las Hormigas; a dozen delicious wines never seen in Canada made by the passionate Movement of Independent Vintners – an association of small quality-oriented Chilean wineries making wine personally, on a human scale; A crazy good albariño from Bodega Garzon grown less than 15 kilometers from the Uruguayan Atlantic coast; next up Castell d’Encus an amazing project of Raul Bobet in the Catalan Pyrenees tasting riesling grown at 1000 meters; from Spain to the Rhone and a comprehensive appellation based tasting at Caved de Tain a high quality cooperative located at the foot of the Hermitage hillside. Cave de Tain produces and markets a remarkable 5 cru wines from over 1000 hectares of vines in Hermitage, Crozes Hermitage, Saint Joseph, Cornas and Saint-Péray. And the best part of ProWein – as I left the Cave de Tain, export guru David Quillin suggested I visit Romain Collet at Domaine Collet, voted the best young winemaker in Chablis by his peers. It was a perfect ending to a perfect morning.
I didn’t spend a lot of time at the Canadian booth for obvious reasons but there were plenty of other people from around the world who flocked to the stand to check out the latest in Canadian wine and the wineries who attended. I’m never sure why we are so timid about taking our best to the world or why we can’t put together a comprehensive delegation demonstrating all we have to offer in Canada, but if we ever figure it out ProWein is the place to do it.
The show returns to Dusseldorf, Germany March 13–15 in 2016. I’ll be back. Prost.