First some history. Just under a year ago, I was asked to give a talk to around three dozen New World representatives on the eve of the London International Wine Fair. During the course of my presentation, I asked them anonymously to write down on a piece of paper a sentence describing what was unique about their winery and its wines. What, I wanted to know, would set its bottles apart from the others on the shelf, in a consumer's mind. The responses were all too illustrative of everything that is wrong with the wine industry today. Twenty said that the wine was good and/or good value; eight said the winery was family-owned and six vaunted the fact that they used traditional grape varieties. In other words, not one of the people who were about to try to sell their wine to the UK market had any notion of the importance of having a USP. The wine industry, it seems, has yet to get the message Seth Godin set out in his excellent Purple Cow, that if you want to succeed, you really do need to have some point of individuality and difference.
More recently, regular readers will know that I have raised the issue of the challenges facing the London International Wine Fair, and the urgent need for some fresh thinking if it is to survive. One of the people who responded to my post was Catherine Monahan of Clink Wines who not only took the trouble to come up with some constructive ideas, but went on to turn one of them into a concept called WINESTARS - and to invite me to help make it a reality at the LIWF. The notion is such a perfect response to the challenge I threw at my audience in 2011 and my more recent post, that I was delighted to become involved.
The proposition is very simple: wineries that do not have UK distribution, and producers of wines that have yet to find a home here, are invited to pitch them at a panel of British professionals, including buyers from Laithwaites/Direct Wines (the world's biggest direct wine retailer); and Mitchells & Butler, one of this country's biggest restaurant/bar/cafe and pub chains. Unlike other competitions, such as the International Wine Challenge that I helped to launch and which focuses strictly on wine flavour and quality, WINESTARS is looking for a complete package. Of course, the wine has to taste good and be appropriately priced, but it also has to be packaged in a way that is going to appeal to consumers and there has to be a story behind it. Wines that convince the judges in a session that will combine elements of the highly successful X Factor and Dragon's Den television programmes, are guaranteed a UK listing.
There will be huge use of Social Media, and a consumer event is also planned.
There will doubtless be some purists who shudder at the idea of our giving importance to anything beyond the quality of the contents of the bottle. It's a noble thought perhaps, but like the belief that highly qualified job applicants don't need to take any trouble over how they come across at an interview, it belongs in cloud cuckoo land.
If all goes well, we'll have helped to get some new wines into the UK, we'll have shaken up the trade - and we'll have breathed some new life into the LIWF. I'm certainly looking forward to it.
Wineries interesting in entering should complete this form or contact Catherine by email