The Paradigm of Wine
I love reading predictions, particularly those that come at the beginning of the year. They usually are very good recaps of those trends that flew just below the radar the year before. Laurie Daniel of the San Jose Mercury news has a nice set of predictions for the wine industry in 2008. They amount to higher prices on imports due to the weak dollar, the "greening" of the wine industry and more transparency in wine packaging and the emergence of wine from obscure places. It’s a very read.
But reading it, I began to notice that Laurie did not make note of any significant structural changes to the wine industry. By that I mean changes that change the way we interact with wine, the way we sell wine and the way the wine industry actually functions.
This shouldn’t be a surprise since paradigm shifts in any industry or discipline are rare to say the least. Also, they tend to happen slowly, gradually coming into being. But have you ever wondered just what kind paradigm shift could arrive in the world of wine that would result in a structural change?
This is a pretty straightforward industry. Grow a crop, process it, market it, get it to market and sell it. This basic format has been with us for centuries. And it won’t ever change. What changes and what brings around apparent paradigm shifts are revolutions, technological or attitudinal, in the way we approach this very straightforward industry.
Are any such changes coming or are we in the midst of any now?
Growing Grapes: To date it appears that photosynthesis still rules the day. I don’t see any paradigm shifts in the works. Organic grape growing is not a shift. If anything it is retro in nature.
Making Wine: Again, fermentation is still king here. Technology simply allow us more precise control of the process. The recent emphasis on BIG wines isn’t so much a paradigm shift but a reminder that the winemaker has control over the process in a way they did not in the past.
Marketing Wine: Despite the different ways we now have for marketing wine (meaning, how we communicate with those who will buy it) it always comes down to the same thing: "Hey, buy this…It’s really great!!". Explaining why the wine is great is where the creativity comes in. But I suspect the English Port barons who brought the wines into England centuries ago at some point turned to their customers and said the same thing: "Hey, but this. It’s really great!!".
Getting Wine To Market: Here’s the paradigm shift. The combination of common carriers and Internet sales is changing everything. The laws still need to catch up with the technological capability and the desires of the customers. They’ll catch up. There’s just too much to be gained by all concerned for them not to. This paradigm shift is a blow to the state mandated three tier system, but it’s not a blow to the general system of using wholesalers, who will always be needed to bring wines to market.
I was talking to a colleague about this subject and they suggested that I hadn’t given consideration to one possible paradigm changed: The retirement of Robert Parker, Jr. Would the elimination of the Wine Advocate really bring about a radical shift in the wine industry? I don’t think less wine would be purchased. Nor do I think marketers and consumers would stop relying so much on reviews and scores…they’d get them from others. What would change, I think, is that certain wineries could not depend on Robert Parker to be their marketing and PR agent. But that’s no paradigm change. Wineries go through PR firms and marketing agents pretty quickly the way it is.