Looking ahead – The Covid-19 paradoxes and the future of Fine Wine – Part 1

In most cases, regardless of one’s position in the Fine Wine Ecosystem, looking ahead will mean juggling opposing forces, navigating a shaken world with agility and resilience and adapting to changed needs, with less resources.

Based on a month of conversations with 70+ Fine Minds, we identified six crucial paradoxes brought by the current situation, and extrapolated their probable impact on the Fine Wine Ecosystem (FWE).

Here are the first three.

Stronger together – in a polarised world

All around the world, we’ve seen actors enlarging their circle of care: Moet Hennessy turning some of its distilleries in Spain and Poland into hand sanitiser factories, wine growers in Napa and the Languedoc willing to give back to the restaurant industry, winemakers picking up the phone to enquire about their customers’ well-being, distributors extending lines of credits.

“We have the Olympics coming to Paris in 2024, with a lot of business opportunities. I will do my very best to make sure that not only me, but my whole network of partners can survive until then. Now it’s not the time to be thinking individually”.

Though it’s heart-warming to see our industry coming together –by belief or by sheer necessity-, our global environment is more and more polarised. Massive inequalities are rising so quickly, without any consensus in global governance, that despite our best intentions, we are not all in this together.

“Some financial markets are missing the suffering. We are witnessing a decoupling of the financial markets from the real economy, and while people are struggling, some will only grow richer”

“On one hand I am hearing of my accomplished somm friends having to move back to their parents, and on the other hand I am selling a boatload of £1000 tickets for our virtual tastings – an hour and five half bottles of Bordeaux. This is totally crazy.”

Willing to be inclusive vs needing to be exclusive

Part of the Fine Wine world started an interesting shift pre-covid, with more and more actors shying away from exclusive language and attitudes, building their winery experiences in order to allow a larg(er) audience to enjoy their product.

“You always have to look for ways of being inclusive. Too expensive by the bottle? Be accessible by the glass so that more people can experience your wine. Inclusivity is an attitude; accessibility means that your wine is largely available on the market. You don’t have to be accessible by everyone to be inclusive”

Though this “inclusive attitude” can still remain post-Covid, some wineries regrettably are having to rethink the pricing and strategy of their “more accessible” offer post lockdown.

“We care, we really do. We know how much people would benefit from the vineyard’s fresh air and positive vibes. But because everything needs to be tailored to very small groups, we have no choice but to increase our prices”.

The value of content vs the lack of budget

All around the world, attendees have noted that consumers are craving for wine education, information and content. Winemakers are sometimes doing three Instagram lives a day, some of our collectors attend up to ten webinars a week. The increase in digital wine content- while disparate in quality- is tremendous, and consumers have really responded to it, in a trend that seems to be here for good.

Though this burst of free content is very good news for wine students everywhere, it also comes with a lack of budget, questioning the model’s sustainability.

“All my teams of journalists are furloughed and we have no budget at all for external contributors [to our publication]. It is basically just me, trying to keep up with this need for content when I no longer have a team”.

With the restaurant industry so badly affected by the crisis, general managers are expecting the same consequences on their floor.

“Our former somms get approached constantly by text or private message for personalised recommendations. We know that they would bring value to the reopening, with people craving for that direct advice and those stories. But I won’t be able to hire most of them back. For the time being, waiters will have to wear both hats”.

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