Five reasons to consider collective models – How coming together could futureproof the Fine Wine world

Photo by Adi Golstein on Unsplash

Collective models have defined wine production for decades. In every winemaking country, producers have come together in local, regional and national enterprises to share a common vision for quality, process and promotion. Wine people came together because they had to, and because joining forces was the best way to survive and answer particular needs.
Now, faced with a new crisis, can collective models still facilitate our short- and long-term needs?

ARENI Global asked its experts why coming together is so important and what are the best ways to do so.

Here are five reasons why “coming together” could guard the future of Fine Wine.

Coming together to manage change

Coming together helps an ecosystem evolve faster and implement efficient solutions quicker; the more diverse the thinking, the greater the collective intelligence.  “We think of history as being made by geniuses, but in fact it’s done by everybody together,” explains neuroscientist Emile Servan-Schreiber. Using the power of smart collectives is the best way to tackle the complex problems our industry faces.

Raquel Seabra, Executive Board Member of Sogrape and adviser to start-ups, points out that for a collective system to be efficient, members have to first understand that information is not key, implementation is. “Start-ups fail and learn and test and try again. They work next to each other; they share ideas because they understand that the power is in implementing.”

Fine Wine depends on very long production cycles, and budgets are limited throughout the entire supply chain. The process of “test-fail-learn-succeed” is then more complicated to manage than in the fast-moving world of start-ups. Sharing both failure and best practice is even more important as it can save precious time and money. As Seabra continues, “winemakers shouldn’t be afraid to come together, because good ideas are nothing if they are implemented.”

Coming together to impact global policies

Sharing good practices among international Fine Wine stakeholders is paramount, but actions rely on local communities and regional political power.

In the European Commission, five groups are particularly relevant for the future of Fine Wine: the OIV (Organisation Internationale du Vin which regulates everything technical), the CEEV (Comité Européen des Entreprises du Vin, the official wine lobby), the EFOW (the European Federation of Origins Wines) and Eurocommerce (the distribution lobby). According to Pedro Ballesteros MW, “All these people do a lot of work, and have an influence on the wine market that is much, much higher than the influence of the ten largest wineries together.” The projects they are working on now – and their relationship with growing anti-alcohol lobby – will define the next decades for Fine Wine and the notion of “in this together” must include the political sphere.

Europeans shouldn’t underestimate their role and power in this; European regulations have an impact on the rest of the world. “The ‘Brussels Effect’ is often underestimated, explains former American Ambassador to the E.U Anthony Gardner. “The Brussels Effect being the ability to protect and project its values around the world through regulation, standard setting and trade.” This is also true for Fine Wine.

Global policies are also decided by the monetary world. In May 2019, Norway’s largest pension fund pulled of their assets from companies that rely on alcohol and gaming, considering both as ‘sin stock (see HERE for more). In December 2020, Lloyds of London scaled back its exposure to coal and oil sands, in a reversal of its traditional hands-off approach to climate change strategy.

When monetary funds start deciding on what is bad for us all, alcohol could be next. ESG criteria could be Fine Wine’s way forward, they could also be and important threat should it fail to articulate its dedication to sustainability and responsibility.

“One of my suggestions to the wine industry would be why not be proactive and drive the standardisation in defining ESG scores, rather than leaving it completed to people from the financial industry”, says TaoTao Xing, Senior Vice President at the Deutsche Börse Group. “The Fine Wine community has done a tremendous amount of work in terms of organic and biodynamic farming for years, so it understands sustainability within the vineyard and winemaking process better than anyone else in other industries.  Furthermore, the Fine Wine community needs to engage more with other industries, to help spread the message and increase transparency.”

Coming together to think long term

Though highly criticised, the appellation system is still relevant as a collective system for producers today because, as Michael Baum, owner of Chateau de Pommard in Burgundy and founder of online platform VIVANT explains, “The human connection to the land will always be our strongest reference point. It’s very natural for us as people to learn about this complex world of wine through geography; it is something very strongly connected to the planet”.

Michael Moosbrugger, winemaker at Schloss Gobelsburg goes further: “We are directly linked to our area, because as estates we are always seen in the context of our areas. We as wineries can only grow in our reputation by raising the reputation of our area, and this is something we can only do by working together.”

Appellation systems can also protect winemakers against fast-disappearing trends and international competition. “Thirty years ago, Austria promoted its identity only through its signature grape, Grüner Veltliner,” says Moosbrugger. “We were communicating not on what Austrian wines were, but what Grüner Veltliner was. It was very successful at the beginning, but then other people outside of Austria started to plant Grüner Veltliner too. We realised that as long as we put all our effort in promoting a grape variety we will always come second. The only thing that we can protect as Austrian producers is the names of our origins.”

Appellation systems are also democratic. “Appellations are the only collective system that is very democratic,” Moosbrugger continues. “It is the only system of selling wine that benefits the weaker parts of society. Even an unknown producer has a possibility to come to the market because he has a share in an appellation. It’s incredibly valuable to guarantee the future of an area, but future appellation systems need to be more flexible.”

Poll results based on 60 answers from Areni’s members.

Coming together to better engage with the trade

Fine Wine middlemen – sommeliers, merchants, online retailers and everyone with direct access to consumers and a functioning database – is now even more influential than before. In the months to come, they will be crucial for their ability to tell Fine Wine stories, which may deeply influence the fate of some estates or brands. Coming together around a shared notion of quality and an articulated work ethos could be a big help to seduce the trade.

“As a sommelier, you try to take a view of the whole wine world and try to stay on top of the trends, says Marc Almert, Chef Sommelier Baur au Lac & Baur au Lac Vins, ASI Best Sommelier of the World 2019. “But to be honest the wine world is moving so fast – and that’s positive – that that’s very difficult. It’s great when, for new regions notably, groundwork has already been done to define quality. I can just decide for myself if that’s something I align with. It’s a good entry point.”

Vanessa Conlin MW, Head of Wine for US Fine Wine online retailer WineAccess, agrees. “For a producer it can be quite useful in terms of banding together in terms of an ethos or style. In Pursuit of Balance that we saw in California was a very easy way to help the buyer know that they made wines that were more restrained, with lower alcohol. It’s more the norm here to see producers using their reputations and influence to band together and help one another.”

Collective narratives can also help connect with the consumer: “I also look at it from a selling perspective,” says Almert. “When you introduce a new wine to a consumer, there’s a chance to tell a beautiful story, but it also helps if you can say they are part of a quality group. Even if it’s something on the bottle like the Erste Lage, it’s a very easy way to sell it.”

Finally, “coming together” to engage with the trade can also mean sharing human resources. “I have seen quite innovative things here in the United States of wineries co-opting employees”, says Conlin. “Let’s say you’re a small winery and need a national reach, you can co-opt a person who represents multiple brands. You must be comfortable about your wine being presented in a line-up of other brands, but it is very efficient.”

Coming together to engage with consumers

Whatever their form, collective systems need to make sure that they take the consumers into account.  Michael Baum believes that one of the first motivations behind co-operation should be to build markets. “The tech industry is smart enough to come together when there’s something that companies like Apple and Samsung need to do together in order to create a market. The wine industry – although it’s been around for thousands of years longer than the tech industry – is still immature in terms of its knowledge of market forces and consumer preferences”.

And understanding consumer preference is key to avoid disappointment. “Producers should always think of the implicit contract they have with consumers when they put their wine on the shelves. There shouldn’t be any discordance between what they expect from the label and what they find in the bottle” said writer Jamie Goode in a recent OIV conference.

Consumer expectations can be very different, depending on context. “It’s very interesting to me that when you look at very short wine lists made by mass market chains, you notice they use different attributes to promote the wines,” says Almert. “For example, a Shiraz will be declared as a Shiraz, a Rioja will be declared as a Rioja, and the brand may be the only thing listed. They choose only part of the wine’s narrative and what has attraction to certain target groups. In some ways it is quite inspirational.”

Appellation and other regional systems use territory as a way of connecting with consumers. But, as we’ve discovered at ARENI, there are other approaches – such as promoting wines based on common values, regardless of geographic origin – that also open up new ways to connect with wine lovers.

Whatever the approach, one thing is clear: The Fine Wine world needs to work together, now more than ever.  

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