Five Cacti for 5 Things we Learned in April

5 Things We Learned in April 2024

China’s open to Australia once again. Warning labels are on the menu. And marathoners are doing wine tastings. It’s been a big month.

April was a big month in wine. Here are five things that caught our attention.

1. Warning labels could be coming for wine

Last month, the New York Times ran a long feature looking at the question of whether alcohol, including wine, should come with a cancer warning.

In theory, Ireland is going to start requiring warning labels from 2026, though their right to do so is being challenged by the Italians.

The question is not whether alcohol is carcinogenic — it is — but what kinds of warnings are appropriate. For the anti-alcohol lobby, there’s no safe level of alcohol, so they’re pushing for labels saying “Alcohol Causes Cancer”. What the Italians are arguing is that this is misleading — it’s heavy alcohol consumption that courts a risk of cancer, not light to moderate consumption.

“We consider Ireland’s action incorrect because it is one thing to inform and invite moderation, which we believe is right; it is another thing to say that a product, no matter how much you take, is bad for you,” said Francesco Lollobrigida, Italy’s Agriculture Minister, at the time.

There is now a steady media drumbeat calling for cancer warning labels. Hopefully the Italians will get the support they need from other wine producing countries.

2. This is what government support looks like

Sarah Phillips, our eagle-eyed Head of Membership, can always be relied on to spot the interesting stories, and she’s found another one.

Arizona’s state government has noticed that the local wine industry is growing — last year, it contributed $351 million in economic activity to the state.

Keen to help the wine industry generate even more money, Arizona authorities are now issuing wine trail specialty licence plates. Each costs $25, of which $17 will go to the Verde Valley wine trail. 

The funds from the plates will go towards four main initiatives: The expansion of vineyards, increasing sustainable vineyard agriculture practices, tourism marketing and public education “on safe alcohol consumption practices”, all of which sound like great projects.

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3. Everyone needs to do an Excel spreadsheet course

If one central message came out of Areni Global’s work this month, it’s that people in wine need to understand numbers better.

Participants in our recent Financial Sustainability roundtable emphasised how important it was to keep on top of the numbers. Mike Ratcliffe, co-founder of the US/South African venture Vilafonté and founder of Wine Business Advisors, said that businesses that were financially sustainable were those run by people with a solid understanding of numbers.

Everyone on the call agreed that staying on top of the figures should be a top priority for anybody running a winery.

That piece of advice has been echoed by many of the interviewees on our Inside La Place de Bordeaux podcast series. It turns out that knowing how to build and read a spreadsheet is just as critical to everyone through the fine wine chain as having a deep understanding of fine wine.

Something for the Institute of Masters of Wine to put on its curriculum.

4. Australia and France are about to go head-to-head in China

Australian winemakers breathed a sigh of relief last month as China finally lifted its devastating 218.4% tariffs on Australian wine. But Australia’s worries aren’t over, because while they were away from the market, France took the top spot, and now has a market share of 49%.

This may not be easy to reverse, because France and China are also now working to rebuild diplomatic ties, after a period of frostiness.

Last Sunday, President Xi Jinping of China arrived in Europe, to try and rebuild relationships with key European countries. There’s a lot at stake: according to AP, the trade between the EU and China is estimated at a whopping €2.3 billion each day.

Xi’s first stop was Paris, a reminder that this year marks 60 years since France and China established diplomatic ties.  

The anniversary was celebrated at the beginning of May with a wine event at the Westin Paris Vendôme Hotel. Called “Quand Yantai rencontre Bordeaux” (When Yantai meets Bordeaux), it celebrates wines from both the Yantai municipality and Bordeaux. One of the reported highlights of the evening was the unveiling of a commemorative wine box featuring a bottle of Château Phélan Ségur 2018 and Longyu Estate – Long 12 Cabernet Sauvignon 2019, chosen by star sommelier Fabrice Sommier. Profits from the box will go towards EcoTree, a project that aims to reverse deforestation.

Can the Australians win back their top spot? In an ideal world, the question wouldn’t matter, because the best scenario would be a market that expands enough for everybody. For the moment, though, the competition is now on.

5. Here’s a positive trend — record student numbers

Sometimes it seems the news is nothing but doom and gloom: consumption is falling, climate change is biting, and young people aren’t showing any interest in wine. 

But there are bright spots if you know where to look, and one is the extraordinary increase in both consumers and trade professionals who are enrolling in wine courses. 

The WSET held its annual ceremony and prize reception in mid-April to congratulate the latest crop of WSET Diploma graduates.There were a grand total of 695 new graduates from 20 countries, the biggest cohort ever — it must have been a marathon task just to read out all the names.

And, indeed, this growth of wine education is something Areni Global is studying at the moment, for our forthcoming white paper, Rethinking Wine Education, which we’re very excited about. Judging by the level of enthusiasm for wine courses, there is a growing number of people who want to know more.

6. We cheated and added a sixth entry

Another find from Sarah: a well-known TikToker did a series of blind wine tastings while running the London Marathon. Take a look at this video:

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