Thursday, July 19, 2012

That's your Lot...

From the Nectar Tasting Room website - 
a Washington State business popular with Millennial wine drinkers

There may be several reasons for the closure after four months of the UK operation of Lot 18, a New York-based e-commerce business focusing on selling small parcels of hard-to-find wine. I'd be surprised if British wine professionals didn't simply attribute to shortcomings in the Lot 18 offer. The company itself, in a statement, blames the "the supermarkets’ stranglehold on the UK market [which] proved too powerful for us to compete with and we have not experienced the anticipated growth rate".

My own thought - for what it is worth - is that Lot 18 relies on a very different attitude to wine from the one I see in the UK. This is not simply a question of the depth of interest in the subject, but to the nature of that interest. In the US and, I'd say in some other countries including Italy, Brazil and Argentina, there is a hunger for the "new" and "different". This is clearly apparent in the pages of the Wine Spectator and the Wine Advocate where brand new wineries get far more coverage than they ever would in the UK. 

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the kinds of US wine that are imported into the UK. Of the tiny range that reach these shores, almost all are produced by the same wineries that I was talking about in the annual Good Wine Guides I was writing 20 years ago. The same applies to younger operations in other countries. Tried & Tested seems to be the British watchword, and there's a lot to be said for that, but it certainly does not make for a dynamic market. It is revealing that this is one of the only places in the world where Cloudy Bay enjoys cult status; it's almost as though UK music fans were treating Prince and Madonna as cutting-edge performers.

In the US, the wine industry frequently talks of "Generation Y", the "Millennials", the 20-30 year-old sons and daughters of the Baby Boomers who are frequently credited with fuelling high levels of wine interest on the other side of the Atlantic. 

According to a Washington Post article by Jason Wilson on March 20 this year, 

In late January, the nonprofit Wine Market Council released a survey showing that millennials most closely mirror what the council terms “high-end wine buyers” (meaning people of all ages who buy bottles priced at more than $20 at least once a month). Like high-end wine buyers, millennials are more likely than other demographics to try wines they’ve never heard of before, more likely to consult wine reviews and more likely to visit wine bars. Millennials also consume more wine per occasion and use Twitter and Facebook overwhelmingly more to talk about the wines they drink.

“Millennials are drinking more wine and better wine at a young age than any other generation has,” says Leah Hennessy, owner of Millennier, a marketing and design firm based in Los Angeles that works with wineries to reach millennials.

I have seen no evidence of the existence of these kinds of wine buyers - or at least substantial numbers of them - in the UK. That may help to explain not only why 
Lot 18 has failed but also why there are no domestically-launched equivalents of that or the many other US "When It's Gone It's Gone" businesses such as Gary Vaynerchuk's Cinderella Wine.

It is easy to blame all of the UK wine trade's woes on the supermarkets; that's far too simple an answer. Just as it is far too easy to say that everything in the British wine garden is rosy because of the existence of a few hundred, relatively low-turnover independents.

What we need to do here is to come up with fresh ways to make wine more exciting and more fun for a whole new generation of wine drinkers.

Any ideas?