Wine industry reflections 2020: Was it all bad?
How long is it until the end of 2020? At the time of writing this post, it is exactly 20 days and 14 hours away, but who’s counting? It is not my intention to be the nth person recounting for you all of the dramas that have unfolded this year; unfortunately we all know too well the devastations of the bushfires, the pandemic and the deterioration of trade relations with China.
Instead, I would like to focus on the positive aspects of this year, as countless times we have witnessed the greatness of the many women and men in our industry who looked at adversity head on and delivered clever solutions to weather the tumultuous storm that was 2020.
We cannot start the list without mentioning the gamut of virtual wine events and tastings. Many of us were totally unprepared to manage online communication, but the pandemic acted as a protein shake with double shot of ginseng after a 4-hour sleep. We have attended so many online events in the last few months, to the point that I wish we could use the upcoming festive season to quite literally unplug and digitally detox. At the same time, many of us increased our technical aptitude and learnt how to navigate platforms like Facebook Live, Zoom, and Instagram to our engage customers. And it will be these skills which will act as an important arrow in our 2021 (and beyond) quiver.
Secondly, the rules and restrictions put in place to reduce the impact of the virus, have been the catalyst for a new and engaging range of cellar door tasting innovations. The cellar door experience has been transformed from a simple stop-and-go wine flight into a more immersive experience involving the core identity of the winery itself. And with that, we may have finally put an end to the debate of whether wine tasting should be free – it shouldn’t be. It is however legitimate to expect the tasting fee to be redeemable upon purchase of goods – which is a simple compromise between the need to indulge the customer, whilst ensuring the business is able to recoup costs. I’ve had numerous conversations with wine producers of late, who have remarked that post-tasting purchases have been on the rise in recent months - after all, if you have already spent the money for tasting, what’s a little bit more to bring home a bottle of a delicious wine?
A third advancement has been the use of miniature or sample size bottles available for purchase online to facilitate an at home tasting experience. This innovation has the ability to be a key feature in the future of wine tasting, with companies such as Dowie Doole in McLaren Vale and Jericho Wines in the Adelaide Hills jumping on the band wagon. Renowned event organisers Revel introduced uber cool mini cans for their Pinot Palooza 2020 event, encouraging producers to think outside of the box when it comes to inventive wine packaging. We should become more prepared to use aspects of design thinking when considering alternative packaging for our wines; we invented the bag-in-box and lead the screwcap revolution 40 odd years ago! Innovation is and always has been in the DNA of the Australian wine industry.
Last, but certainly not least, we need to mention the growth of direct to consumer (DTC) sales. 2020 has taught us that this channel can be a life jacket, and perhaps even the whole the ship needed to sail the tumultuous Strait of Commerce and to safely dock at Port Consumer. However, as I often tell my Direct Wine Marketing students, you cannot go from zero to hero in DTC sales. You need to have a clear idea of how much importance this channel will carry in your business in order to develop it accordingly.
So, has 2020 really been all bad in the wine world? I think the answer is no. In fact, it has given us even more proof that the Australian wine industry, and the women and men who form the beating heart of it, are stronger than the adversities they are faced with. So as the sun sets on this year, it is now time to sit back, relax, and recharge the batteries because there is lot of work ahead of us in the New Year.
Dr. Armando Corsi is an Associate Professor in Wine Business at the University of Adelaide, teaching Wine Branding and Direct Wine Marketing as part of the Wine Business suite. When not teaching, Armando is a key investigator for a variety of major projects funded by Wine Australia and has recently completed a number of projects exploring the perceptions of Australian wines and its key competitors in the US and the UK.