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Interview: Anne Krebiehl MW, EIC of Falstaff magazine

This month we talked to the editor-in-chief of Falstaff magazine, Anne Krebiehl MW. We talked to her about her motivations to join the Falstaff team and launch a print publication in the midst of a dramatic decline in print sales – and to explore the origins of her wine story. As expressive as you could hope a writer to be, Anne reveals the influences which have brought us to where we are today, including Martha Stewart, Birkbeck College and her school English teacher. The latest edition of Falstaff is out now.

What brought you to wine?

I did not grow up with wine – but I grew up with a lot of flavour.

There is a kind of sensuous inclination in me. As a child I was brought up with nature and was already baking a lot, as an adult I was cooking a lot.

When I then as a young adult came to wine – because I was a bit of a puritan when I was a teenager, a bit scared of drink – it was very much the recognition that wine is so much more than just booze. It then took me quite a while from just enjoying it to finding out more about it.

That [investigative, academic] interest was sparked on a camping holiday in my very early twenties, travelling with the Sotheby’s wine bible in the car – of course! The key moment happened in Tain-l’Hermitage at the shop of Chapoutier where I was given two glasses of a white wine. I was told: ‘this glass if from old vines, this glass is from young vines. It’s the same vintage and the same grape’. I didn’t believe it could be possible. This was the trigger which made me find out more about wine.

It prompted the realisation that wine is the intersection of so many things – of a place, of a climate, of topography, of geology, of politics, of culture, horticulture, of so many things. That has always appealed to me and throughout all my studies where I nearly lost my mind! It still appealed to me, that beauty. That is wine’s fascination for me. The nuance and variety available – the transformation of grape juice into wine is a miracle.

You are, of course, German. What’s it like to write in your second language – and study for your MW in the same? What sort of impact, if any, has this had on your career?

I grew up in a small village – a small world. I was never really made aware of how big the world is. But, somehow, I cottoned on very early that learning a language was a passport of sorts. I also always found it really easy to learn English.

I had an English teacher, an Austrian woman who was the first really intellectual woman I had ever met. She made such an impression on me. She showed me the nuance of language. I left Germany to become an exchange student in the US for a year which completely exploded everything I had thought before.

And then I learnt about Birkbeck College: that was my gift from the gods. That college has always been seen as a ‘workman’s institute’. It was created for people who worked in the day and went to school at night – which suited me down to the ground. I wanted to study English Literature even though I knew it wasn’t career oriented, but I had an undergrad in Business so I could come to London. And I did. I arrived with two suitcases and a rucksack and I started working in a dull back office in a bank. Really mind numbingly boring. But at night, I went to school and studied English. And really, Birkbeck College and London have made me.

Studying alongside a full-time job was hard but I’ve never lost that love for words, for poetry, that love for language and nuance.

At a time where print circulation for Decanter, perhaps the world’s best known wine magazine, is in steep decline, we think it’s incredibly brave and confident to launch a new print publication. What made you think now was the right time?

Well, the decision wasn’t mine! I was contacted by Wolfgang Rosam, the publisher and owner of the Falstaff publishing company in Vienna, for the first time in March 2020 – and I thought he was a crank. And then we spoke again in July – really spoke – and I ended up going to Vienna in August 2020 where we spoke non-stop for two days by which time I could see and share his vision.

I am aware this is counterintuitive [to launch a new print publication at a time of print decline]. But it was interesting for me that when our first edition came out in summer how positive the reaction was. Of course, we did a lot of competitor analysis and we believe we’re in a sweet spot, in Wolfgang’s words, where we have the ‘holy trinity of wine, food and travel’. Because you cannot really separate one from the other.

Yes, there is wine in the magazine, it is my field of expertise. But, you know, I’m also in the kitchen and in the garden; I’m in the world, so wine, food and travel and that inherent pleasure which is flavour, taste, and experiencing something viscerally, something real and undeniable is as much a part of me as any wine.

Falstaff was originally founded as a rather old-man’s wine journal in the 1980s. Since purchasing the publishing house, Wolfgang turned Falstaff into the most successful Wine-Food-Travel magazine in German-speaking Europe – so there was already an international drive and ambition there. But by keeping it in German it was confined. By putting it out in English, it is unfettered. It is a big task, but it is exciting.

My counterpart, the Managing Director, Jana Schiedmantle, is a born digital generation whizz kid. It’s really interesting the different angles we approach this publication from. I grew up with physical magazines and I still love them. I think there’s something so special about holding a beautifully photographed and laid out magazine in your hands. I think the photography and beauty of it will make people want to touch it. I think there is still appeal there and that appeal will translate. And it is certainly exciting to be part of something so counterintuitive and counter-cyclical.

What is your aim with Falstaff? Is your aim to bring wine out of the geeky closet? It is a unique publication in its broad focus on epicurean delights which takes a broad view of wine.

When I spent my exchange year in the States, Martha Stewart’s publications were still going strong and I lovedthose layouts, I loved the photography. I still have clippings, (I am one of these people who keeps clippings). I am just in love with print and with paper and layouts and fonts. I want to create beautiful things in this way.

Life is life and it brings us what it brings us. But there are things which just make life good. We talk about the greatest wines of the world, and the prestige cuvees, but they are more than just prestige cuvees: they are pinnacles of culture.

Last night I was interviewing a wine maker in Patagonia and he showed me a video of the southern winds beating the landscape. I thought ok yes there is somebody trying to grow something in a place that is so difficult. They’re bringing forth something that is then just so touching. And the same thing – if I am stressed out and I go into my kitchen and cut up some basil, to have a nose full of that I think: wow, how is that possible.

I want to bring real things to people – because they are real, they are not the added extras of life. The pandemic taught us to really respect the everyday experiences which can elevate us. This summer I went to the sea. Boy, was it wonderful to smell the sea after being landlocked; to feel the wind and the sunshine. Whatever life throws at us there are things that are always real and they ground us and make us feel human.

That’s what I want Falstaff to bring to people. Escapism and beauty.

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Interview: Lydia Harrowven, Head Buyer at Adnams

Lydia is evidently a self-starter. She left home aged 17 to work in Holland as a pastry chef. Since then, she has worked as a cellar hand, graduated from Plumpton University, sold and marketed wine in the Maldives, and been a sommelier. Her current job as Head Buyer for wine at Adnams is her most exciting yet. We talk about how she’s using her decision-making position to effect real change.

At Swirl we’re huge fans of yours! When we were discussing this interview, Sarah described you as a ‘guardian of quality’ who never walked past a low standard without working to fix it. Where does this approach come from? Do you think it’s a particularly female quality?

I actually attribute this all the way back to my training in catering and hospitality management. Working as first a pastry chef and then as a sommelier – it was drilled into you to notice the details. The miniature of detail is where real success lies. I do agree that there is a certain ‘women’s touch’ element to it – though, particularly in the hospitality sector, I’ve met several men who have that same mindset. It comes from having interest too. I’m interested in people. I’m interested in their happiness, and them getting the what they need and what they want and anticipating people’s needs. So, for me, [being a ‘guardian of quality’] is not letting other people notice errors or problems, but fixing them before they become an issue.

How do you think your background of varied roles in the industry informs your current role and buying ethos?

Going through university I was a mature student and self-funded, holding down three-to-four jobs to pay my way. If you’re looking for a job you panic and think bloody hell! If anyone looks at my CV they’re think I’ve had 350 million jobs which can be seen as a bad thing. But for me, I see it as a good thing because I understand the context. I think [having a background of varied roles] helps you think of costs from every angle, and understand quality from every perspective. The whole point of buying, the whole point of doing what we do, is for the customer to have a fantastic experience at the end point. So, it’s important for me to know where our customers are [when they’re enjoying our products].

How are they experiencing us? How are they interpreting us? It’s more than just spreadsheets – that wine ticks all the boxes, done. I’m thinking about whether people are enjoying our wine in a restaurant, in a pub or  at home. I’m always asking myself: what’s the context? What does the wine say about us? So, it’s really important for me to have a wide perspective and I think a varied professional background has laid the foundations for this.

Adnams is most famous as a brewer and spirits company, though of course they’ve more recently built a great reputation for wine too. I’m interested to know if you see any correlation between wine being seen as a relative outlier when people think of Adnams and your experiences as a woman in the trade?

There is absolutely no denying that wine has historically been a male dominated environment. I’ve always felt that – from day one of my career. But that’s obviously changing. People are lot more open minded than they ever were. But I think also that my experience has meant that I can hold my own in that environment. I left home at 17 and went to work for the Roux brothers in central Amsterdam. I moved there on my own, worked in a kitchen with 16 chefs as the only woman. It was a bold, difficult move but I always held my own because I knew I was doing a good job.

There are still lots of businesses, I think, where men hold the space – women are seen as contributors but perhaps not leaders. Most women in any position of power [in this trade] are very aware of that. There’s a feeling there that you’re one of the few.

Adnams is incredibly liberal – especially compared to my former job in the Maldives which is very not liberal. But there may always be that feeling that I’m in a male dominated environment and I’m very young – but because I left home so young and have held down so many different jobs – I sort of just plow on and try not to overthink it. It’s so easy to think ‘that’s difficult because I’m a woman’ – but sometimes I think it’s a bit about how you interpret the circumstances. Though, there’s no denying that sometimes when you’re meeting an older male supplier, I do catch myself wondering: ‘what are you thinking about me and my position here’. I do get those questions a lot to be honest. Historically, Adnams has had older male wine experts in this role.

The sustainability of local sourcing is a key part of your beer and spirits offerings. How do you reflect these values in your wine sourcing, given that the UK is still in its relative infancy in wine-producing terms?

I’m completely onboard with the movement for sustainability. But I also think we’re all a bit fed up with talking about sustainability but not really meaning it, or not really knowing what it means or how to follow through with concrete actions.

I’m really keen to delve a bit deeper into what we exactly mean by ‘sustainability’ and how we stand by the definition we come to.

In my role, part of that is working with more local producers where we can. But we do face a lot of challenges there – pricing, availability, volumes, and quality – I’d love to work with all of the local [English] wineries but I’m not willing to take anything but the very best so sometimes I’m having to go a bit further than I’d like to. We’re a very small island and we still have a low footprint when you look at the wine world more broadly. So, I am focussed on working with the best UK suppliers or producers I can find. I championed an Adnams Bacchus launch two years ago, as well as an Adnams rosé and I worked really hard to make sure they were best in class. That does mean to some extent that there’s very little sustainability behind those products because [the UK trade is] in its infancy so I’ve found consistent quality and volume a challenge across vintages.

These products we took on a couple of years ago are now limited edition because we can’t access them anymore. We have to be more agile in our approach. We have to be able to readily chop and change our range. I want to work with English producers as much as possible so I imagine our range there will develop quite significantly because I want to represent the diversity in the industry and we do have some really exciting English listings coming up.

[But apart from local sourcing] I see broader sustainability as a much bigger subject. One person’s interpretation of sustainability can be very different from another’s. For example, the previous buyers here their view was to make sure everything was UK packed to reduce freight impact – which I do agree with. However, I think that if we do that too much, we lose a bit of interest within our range. It can homogenise things a bit. So, I’d like to bring back a bit of uniqueness.

One of the things I’m trying to do is make sure that as many of our wines as possible have sustainability credentials on the bottle so at least the wineries we’re working with are considering their own sustainability and their impact. And I’m also being more conscious of the producers we’re working with and how sustainable that relationship is. So, while cost is very very important and we must have the best prices to pass on the consumer, it’s got to be sustainable. If you push your producers too hard they don’t enjoy working with you, you don’t enjoy working with them and everyone’s always battling over prices. You’re in this battle every year – or every couple of months even – and it’s just not sustainable. We need sustainable prices and sustainable relationships with our producers and we then need to consider how that impacts our customers in a sustainable way. Can we produce that product sustainably in terms of quality, pricing; are we fair, are we presenting real value for money. Is the product even necessary?

We’re really interested to know how you approach emerging regions/ esoteric wines in your role as obviously now you have a bit more weight to say ‘let’s go with stuff that’s a bit unusual’.

Absolutely. I’m so excited about this category. It gives us a story to tell and gives our marketers something to say. Everybody in our stores is hugely passionate and hugely qualified – they’re all very very interested in wine. One of the things we teetered on the edge of was homogenising our range and losing its identity and excitement. There’s just such a huge world of wine out there and our customers are interested. Yes, the sales might not set the world alight but it will keep us interesting and revitalised so [wines from esoteric regions or using lesser-known grapes] can only be a good thing.

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Will you celebrate National Prosecco Day? Our August newsletter

Today is National Prosecco Day. Hold your sighs. Don’t pop your indignant cork.

In the last decade Awareness Days have grown almost as rapidly as prosecco exports.

Awareness Days started with a focus on worthy causes, promoted by governments or campaign groups. Health, the environment, humanitarian causes – an Awareness Day is a great way to raise profile, engage the media, strengthen community and galvanise action. All great purposes.

But then there are Awareness Days which are trivial, playful – even straight up commercial. Case in point: today is not just National Prosecco Day. It’s also National Filet Mignon Day, International Left Handers Day and National Blame Someone Else Day (seriously).

Awareness Days have become a way to advocate for interests more niche and playful than global health issues. In wine, there are days to celebrate what feels like every grape – there are even 17 different days to celebrate winemaking regions. These “Days Of” can be a great way to build customer interaction by piggy-backing on high-engagement social media trends.

Awareness Days thrive on herd mentality and sociable frivolity. We engage with these discussions because we see others doing the same. Purists or technocrats may sigh at such shallow attraction, but it’s an easy hook for otherwise hard-won, flighty consumer attention. And once hooked, you can start to share the nuances of your mission with your new audience.

In our latest blog post we explore how to communicate nuance (in this case for Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore) on a day which feeds the shortcut-hungry attention of the average consumer.

We reckon that of all the wine-related days, Prosecco Day has cultural resonance. Prosecco has become a symbol for care-free happiness. As Andrew Jefford wrote in the Financial Times last week, prosecco wines “…are delicious; they seem to make happy moments happier.”

There is still reward, still meaning to be found in fun and bright surfaces. ‘Days Of’ are useful for drawing people to a deeper, richer seam of information – in the same way that the popularity of prosecco opens minds and palates to the rewards of Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore.

Any irritations or errors in this newsletter are absolutely NOT OUR FAULT.

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Our work: Elevating prosecco, with Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG

“[Prosecco wines] are delicious; they seem to make happy moments happier” – Andrew Jefford, Financial Times [paywall].

Today, on National Prosecco Day, we have shared in our newsletter how we think Awareness Days like this are a great opportunity to tap into a new audience, drawn in by the fun of a social-media driven ‘holiday’. In the newsletter, we drew a parallel between the way ‘Days Of’ function in marketing, drawing people into a deeper, richer seam of information, and the way prosecco opens minds and palates to the nuances of Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore.

Does a wine have to be ‘serious’ to be good?

Andrew Jefford’s glowing Financial Times article shows that the perceived levity of prosecco, it’s apparent lack of ‘seriousness’, is no longer an impingement to its popularity even among the most highbrow wine drinkers. His exploration of the complexities of the wine as you move from the DOC plains to the precariously steep hills of the DOCG gives a feel of unpacking a Russian doll. There’s always more to learn, another incredible wine to discover as you climb ever steeper into the mountains. But that’s balanced by the everyday pleasure to be had in the easy-going lift of familiar prosecco.

Our work with Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore

Swirl Wine Group has been working with Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore for several years and over that time we have held strong to one essential truth: very few wines ever gain cultural relevance. Most wines are not household names (unless you’re round ours with the other wine geeks!). Prosecco-with-a-small-‘p’, or prosecco DOC, has become a cultural phenomenon. It represents a carefree happiness – it represents fun. One the one hand, this can only be a good thing. But on the other, when prosecco begins to appear as a label on bath products, cakes, even paint colours, this success begins to erode the connection of the wine to its agricultural heart. With a ten-fold increase in exports in the last decade, it’s no wonder that, as Jefford puts it, prosecco seemed to ‘dance away from seriousness’.

When we first began working with Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore it was essential to us to address this perception. The DOCG hills, despite their deep-rooted cultural and historical relevance in the region, had given their name and image to a wine style which became associated with quite a shallow approach to wine drinking.

So, our mission was to unpick this.

How did we do it?

First, we tackled the prejudice against prosecco of all types by wine professionals and those who felt themselves ‘discerning’ drinkers. In every kind of art or cultural creativity there is an inherent dichotomy between the elevated, uncompromising and aspirational and the quotidian and accessible. We see it in literature, we see it in food, we see it in art and music and wine, too. We made it our mission to show that this principle – this dichotomy – applied to prosecco.

We did this, perhaps counter-intuitively, by embracing complexity.

We focused on the mountains, describing Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore as ‘mountain wines’ – a visual way to describe the difference between lowland plain DOC and DOCG wines. We focused on the complexity of the winemaking process. On the centuries old UNESCO-recognised system of grass terracing. On the single vineyard Rive. On the staggeringly steep vineyards which have to be maintained by hand.

How is prosecco seen now?

What we’ve achieved, as seen in Jefford’s article, is a shift change in the way that prosecco – especially Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore is seen. We’ve embraced all the nuances of the DOCG with the confident geekiness you’d usually find applied to regions known best for their top fine wines. We think we’ve shown that fine wine can come from anywhere – even places where the market is most familiar with entry-level, accessible wines. And this National Prosecco Day we raise a glass to the gate-opening simply delicious proseccos, as well as the filigree-fine, elegant mountain wines of Prosecco Superiore.

 

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Only connect: our July newsletter

We’re happy to share our July newsletter below:

The UK is officially open for business. For better or worse, the majority of the restrictions we’ve lived with for the past 18 months have been lifted.

So, we thought it was the perfect time to ask for a little feedback about the virtual events which have come to dominate our lives – and the in-person events many of us have been raring to get back to.

Last month, we surveyed a tight pool of UK trade professionals who had attended a Swirl event in the past 12 months. The findings were illuminating.

When we developed Swirl in the Cloud in the first months of the pandemic, we wanted to make the most of the opportunity to introduce event attendees to winemakers who wouldn’t typically be accessible without travelling to their vineyards. It was gratifying to see that 68% of respondents really valued this opportunity. Though, interestingly, having the opportunity to meet winemakers and importers in person was also ranked as the top reason for attending in-person events.

It shows that personal connection has a higher value than convenience. In a time where we are all starved of human contact – where we all newly appreciate the sheer luxury of setting the world to rights over a glass of wine – this finding feels especially prescient.

But accessibility and sustainability are still important values for us as we move into uncharted COVID-restriction-free waters.

70% of respondents said that they would welcome hybrid events in the future. To reach the portion of potential attendees who are unable or unwilling to travel, virtual events via Swirl in the Cloud will continue to be part of our offering.

You can see the full report on our survey’s results here.

At a time where we’re reflecting on many months of virtual-only events, we’ve also explored how the digital leaps we’ve made during COVID have enable us to host a global conference virtually.

The Old Vine Conference was a huge success – not least because the digital format enabled us to achieve things we wouldn’t have been able to at an in-person event.

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How we hosted a global conference digitally

We explore how the virtual format of The Old Vine Conference created an environment in which the conference’s aims could thrive.

The Old Vine Conference was created with a singular aim: galvanising a global movement to nurture and value great old vines, and their wines.

With a global outlook at the heart of their ethos, a digital conference was a great opportunity to give their message a truly international reach and focus with Swirl Wine Group acting as conference and PR partner, executing the events and securing coverage.

An incredible global response

We had an incredible response to the first Old Vine Conference, with over five hundred guests from more than twenty countries. It would have been unlikely to have achieved such a range with an in-person conference. We achieved 29 pieces of coverage for our client, in publications including The Telegraph and the Financial Times. Not to mention extensive features in the trade press.

Even more significantly, The Old Vine Conference also received hundreds of emails from new old vine champions all over the world who had been able to tune in and learn about why this ancient vines are so vital.

Connecting likeminded experts

The really transformative, powerful thing about this conference being held digitally was its ability to foster connections which otherwise would have been challenging. In almost every region and every country there are passionate, visionary individuals with a deep level of knowledge of their own specific old vines who had no idea that there were people like them, doing similar things in another part of the world. There was a parable send of excitement – of gratitude, even – when people were able to learn from each other in this way.

Changing perceived wisdom

Prior to this conference, there had been a palpable sense that the trade was acquiescing to the loss of these heritage vineyards. There was a belief that it was too hard to communicate to consumers why old vines are so special, an attitude which had bred apathy in some quarters.

But by bringing together people like Marco Simonit in Italy, Dylan Grigg in Australia and Jean-Philippe Roby in France – highly respected practitioners with incredible applied knowledge and understanding of how to cultivate these old vineyards – has completely upended accepted wisdom.

The digital format meant that these experts are no longer lone voices in the wilderness. They have been presented to the trade as a united, loud front.

As Sarah Abbott MW says:

“Since our first event in March, we have been contacted by passionate winemakers and old vines experts from around the world who want to engage with our initiative. This shows that there is a real need to harness this passion and turn it into real actions that can help secure the future of old vines around the world.

We have already started to build a network of regional ambassadors and producer sponsors around the world which will allow us to continue to develop future events and connections.”

But in-person meetings are still important

The one failing of this digital conference format is that we couldn’t share the selection of old vine wines we wanted to. While each of these wines may seem disparate, when united in a tasting under the banner of ‘old vines’ you can trace the effect these heritage vines have on their wines.

This future hope was reflected in our recent survey of virtual versus in-person events. 68% people said that the ability to taste and connect with others could not be replicated online, an important lesson as we come to plan future Old Vine Conferences.

View the coverage

You can view the full coverage from the first and second Old Vine Conferences here: Conference 1 and Conference 2.

 

 

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Survey results: virtual vs in-person events

Last month, we conducted a survey to explore attitudes to virtual versus in-person events in the context of the governments’ easing of COVID-19 restrictions.

We surveyed a tight group of people: only those who had attended one of Swirl’s events in the last 12 months.* This decision ensured that the results were highly relevant to Swirl and could help us make decisions in a couple key areas for us: creating events which serve our attendees best, and making eco-sustainable choices.

But while these results are highly specific to Swirl, we still think they’re worth sharing for their general relevance to our industry.

In-person tastings

We asked respondents to rate the following topics, ranked here in order of importance:

  1. Opportunities to meet winemakers and importers face to face
  2. Opportunity to network and discuss wines with peers
  3. Ability to taste at own pace
  4. Tasting from full bottles
  5. Opportunities to sample wines with food

Notably, 68% of respondents highly valued meeting winemakers face-to-face. 54% of people also liked having the ability to taste at their own pace, and enjoyed networking opportunities.

On the other hand, 68% of people didn’t relatively find it important to be able to taste from full bottles in-person. 88% of people also said they didn’t value tasting wines with food. In a later question, 68% of people said food at tastings isn’t relatively important, but it is nice to have (see chart below). This was an interesting finding for us, as clients often ask us to present food specifically paired with the wines at in-person tastings.

Other key findings regarding in-person events included the following charts which show that respondents are generally flexible about how in-person events are structured – they’re mainly just happy to be back!

Virtual Tastings

We asked respondents to rate the following topics, ranked here in order of importance:

  1. Opportunity to meet a wider range of winemakers live virtually who perhaps wouldn’t be so easily accessible in UK
  2. Convenience and accessibility
  3. Health security in times of COVID pandemic
  4. Pre-recorded multi-media that you can access at your convenience after the tasting
  5. Tasting and discussing online with others

A key contextual takeaway is that for the whole survey it was apparent that people were evenly split in terms of the importance they placed on COVID-19 health safety at the time of taking the survey. Given that by mid-June over 60% of UK adults had been double vaccinated, this reflects the public mood.

For the purpose of thinking about virtual events long-term, 70% of respondents comparatively thought that hybridised events should continue to be offered:

 

This tallies with the 54% of people who said that, relatively, the accessibility and convenience of virtual events was of most appeal to them. We had a number of additional comments which pointed out that, geographically, in-person tastings tend to be London-centric, which means they’re not as accessible for people not living in the capital.

But for us, one of the most interesting findings was that 68% of respondents said that, similarly, the opportunity to meet ‘live’ a wider range of winemakers who perhaps wouldn’t be so easily accessible in UK was the main appeal of virtual events for them. In tandem with the finding that another 68% of people relatively valued in-person tastings for this very same reason – to interact with winemakers, we know that having this connection in any way possible is very important for event attendees.

“I would just like to add that the only thing that is not useful about virtual tastings is allowing winemakers to talk endlessly about how wonderful they are. Swirl is very good at making them keep to the point!”

A key concern for the Swirl team when we created our digital arm, Swirl in the Cloud, was replicating as best as we could the experience of chatting to peers you’d experience at an in-person tasting. While necessity is the mother of invention, it’s still notable that now virtual tastings are no longer the only option, 60% said that, comparatively, discussing wines online with others was not important to them.

All in all, virtual tastings present a very efficient use of time but they’re still not seen as a desired alternative to the ‘real thing’ – in-person events.

Sustainability

Sustainability, in both environmental and business terms, is vitally important to Swirl’s future. We’ve noticed a sharp uptick in awareness of eco-sustainable practices in terms of sample delivery and the execution of events. In this context, there are benefits to both virtual and in-person events.

Virtual events reduce travel, especially air travel. But it’s necessary to send samples out individually, whereas in-person tastings require only a few bottles.

We found that, comparably, 75% of respondents rated recyclable packaging as very important. But, given everyone has different means of processing information, opinions were split on the relevance of printed materials.

Other feedback

We were really happy to see some lovely feedback about Swirl in the Cloud events, and in-person Swirl events.

“I love Sarah’s presenting style – the combination of wine, geo-politics, history and culture is always fascinating. More of that, please!”

We also got some valuable feedback on what key information is vital for event attendees. Of particular importance was the label information breakdown: grape, ABV, RRP, vintage. Tasting notes and further background was considered less important.

These are valuable insights for Team Swirl. If you responded, thank you very much for your input. We hope wine trade colleagues find this information as useful as we do.

*50 respondents from across the UK wine industry who had attended a Swirl Wine Group led event in the past 12 months.
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The power of stories

“Stories are powerful because they transport us into other people’s worlds” – Paul Zak

In the UK, our wine industry is anything but ancient. Perhaps that’s why it’s hard for us to get our heads around how wine can be as integral a part of a culture as Christmas rituals, or the way we greet friends at a bar.

But that’s how wine is in Georgia. It’s a fundamental part of their culture. So, when we were thinking of ways to further the (already impressive!) market share of Georgian wines in the UK, we knew we couldn’t turn to ordinary solutions. We needed to find a way to communicate the cultural relevance of these wines in their country of origin.

The answer? Storytelling.

Of course, in a market like the UK, simply making good wine is not enough. We’re a market of sophisticated consumers who demand access to reliable wine information – and story-led marketing. Stories have become much bandied about marketing ‘concept’. But their power has real neurological basis.

Georgia had the wines. It even had the stories. But it didn’t have them in an easily digestible, saleable format. So, we created Georgian Wine Connect.

Fundamentally, Georgian Wine Connect is an online platform to develop and share the details of wine and winery that have proven difficult for trade buyers to find. But we also worked with over 50 export-ready producers, surveying them (in Georgian where necessary) to identify their most promising wines for the UK, and to present their story and offer in the most accessible way.

Our hope is this story-led approach will become the norm, especially for emerging regions where wine is culturally embedded. Where wine is part of their story.

You can read in more detail about Georgian Wine Connect here and explore the portal here.

This month we also talked to the winners of the Indie Trade Alliance Fund. This fund offered small and medium independent UK retailers the opportunity to apply for a grant towards increased promotion of their Georgian wine listings.

We had some fantastic entries, but together with our client, Wines of Georgia, we whittled it down to the strongest proposals. We talked to the winners about the impact of pandemic restrictions on their marketing plans and how they’ll use Georgian Wine Connect.

Of course, we also spoke about how wine is at the heart of Georgian culture and how they communicate that to their customers.

 

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Pioneering producer connections

At Swirl Wine Group, we specialise in helping emerging wine regions reach their full potential in the UK wine market. For ‘emerging’ or lesser-known wine regions it can be a battle to match the great wines we know are out there with the passionate sales people who we know will get those wines into people’s glasses.

One of the biggest barriers that we encounter is extracting the compelling, saleable story behind great producers – and then presenting clearly to potential stockists. So, for one of our key clients, Wines of Georgia, we devised a pioneering solution: Georgian Wine Connect.

Georgian wine in the UK is booming, but it remains a small, young market. The old markets of Russia and the CIS still consume the majority of Georgian wine. But the new markets of Western Europe and North America are where sales are growing most rapidly.

The Georgian National Wine Agency has pursued this strategy of market diversification for ten years. The health and survival of their wine sector depends on it. It is impossible to overstate the importance of wine to Georgia’s culture, identity, society and economy.

Of course, new markets demand new approaches. Good wine is not enough. Markets such as the UK require consistent access to reliable wine information, and story-led marketing. Georgia has the wines. But not the information. Georgian Wine Connect is a project and online platform to develop and share the details of wine and winery that have proven difficult for trade buyers to find.

We are inspired, of course, by the excellent platforms run by the generic bodies of major wine exporters. Australia is a fine example, (we promise that we didn’t mean to copy the name!).

But our work with Georgian Wine Connect has required that we didn’t only provide a platform for producers and buyers to connect. We have worked with over 50 export-ready producers, surveying them (in Georgian where necessary) to identify their most promising wines for the UK, and to present their story and offer in the most accessible way with producers filterable by winery size, wine style and positioning.

The Georgian Wine Connect platform combines a producer directory and events hub. Our program of in-person and virtual tastings are hosted on the platform, as well as a series of monthly Doing Business webinars that will start at the end of June. UK buyers, journalists and educators are invited to log into the hub, join events, and request information, live chats or a zoom call with the representatives from wineries.

Together with the Indie Trade Alliance initiative, the winners of whom we interviewed this month, we’re providing a progressive, user-friendly way of grabbing one of key clients even more market share.

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Interview: the winners of Wines of Georgia’s Indie Trade Alliance Fund

Each month we speak to a someone doing things a little differently in our industry. Usually, this takes the form of an interview with an interesting woman in our trade, but this month we decided to do something a little different. Our newsletter highlighted the novel approach we’ve taken to connecting export-ready producers with UK retailers via the Georgian Wine Connect hub. Wines of Georgia are one of our key clients, and we’re proud to showcase how their trust in us has enable us to come up with a pioneering solution for a common issue faced by producers in emerging wine regions: how to get their wines in front of consumers in key markets.

In tandem with Georgian Wine Connect, we also worked with Wines of Georgia to develop an Indie Trade Alliance fund giving small and medium independent UK retailers the opportunity to apply for a grant to use to increase their exposure of Georgian wine to their customers. We had some fantastic entries, but, together with our client, we whittled it down to the strongest proposals.

This month, we talked to those winners about how initiatives like Georgian Wine Connect and the Indie Trade Alliance can have a positive impact on their business, showing why they’re such an important part of what we do at Swirl.

The typical way to get people interested in wines from new places is to get them to taste taste taste! But the pandemic has put restraints on these sorts of marketing activities – so we asked the winners how they’re adapting their marketing of Georgian wine to mitigate these barriers.

Danilo di Salvo of Georgian Wine specialist Gvino UK admits that they’ve pivoted to be fully online. “We have invested in a part-time Marketing Director who looks after our digital marketing activities [and have] re-vamped our website for a better use experience. For example, we have included filters to choose a specific bottle of wine based on the questions that we get asked most face-to-face. We have also had to turn to online wine tasting, which we were nervous about at first. However, our online wine tastings have been very successful (with fantastic support from Swirl). We will do more of these in the future.”

But Danilo isn’t the only one who’s innovating. Duncan Findlater of Smith & Gertrude says that “we are going to be taking the wines to people in their own homes through our wine club and through the weekly cheese and wine packs that we send out.” While Chris Coombes of Turton Wines says they’ve initiated “Home Tasting Kits, Online Tastings [for] private and Corporate clients, Mystery Cases with online Youtube Channel presentation, and targeted staff tasting sessions.”

The latter investment is repeated by Emily Silva of The Oxford Wine Company who says part of their grant-winning strategy is to focus “heavily on staff training, which will provide our lovely, enthusiastic staff with all the information they need to spread the word about delicious Georgian wine”.

But there’s also a clear desire to offer ‘normal’ in-store tastings where possible. Tom Boronat of The Salusbury Wine Store & Bar admits “[they’ve] channelled [their] efforts into a higher social media presence and began writing more frequent newsletters […but they’ll] host the event in store as easing of restrictions means we can get away with an indoor tasting’.

One of the most powerful things about an initiative like the Indie Trade Alliance fund for an emerging region like Georgia, is that it gives indies the opportunity to do what they do best: hand sell compelling stories. Wine is enmeshed in Georgian culture in a way that’s quite unique, so the winning plans all explore this significance.

Danilo of Givno UK is putting a strong focus on the cultural importance of wine: “The cuisine from Georgia is absolutely incredible and so we are going to use our generous funding from the GITA to commission a short series of YouTube videos celebrating the relationship between Georgian wine and food from a famous Georgian chef.” Les Hall of The Wright Wine Company agrees: “[I’ve said before] that in order to promote Georgian wine I felt that Georgia as a whole should be promoted and that there should be an exploration of the absolute bond linking family, hospitality, food and wine. Doing all that in a shop is certainly going to be a challenge. But we’re up for it!”.

This cultural focus also rides on the coattails of sweeping wine trends – something Carrie Carruthers of Carruthers & Kent will definitely exploit. “We can’t quite believe it ourselves how through the roof [the rising demand for natural and Amphora wine has] gone, in particular with young people.”

Speaking to the winners of the Indie Trade Alliance has also highlighted how powerful a tool this will be to enable Georgia, a still ‘emerging’ region to gain even more market share in the valuable UK wine market.

Isa Bal of Trivet restaurant says “we have plans to work with a number of producers directly at this point in time it gives us a good idea what we can do.” Emily of The Oxford Wine Company agrees, saying the tool is “very efficient and a great way to connect without needing to travel either abroad or to London” – highlighting the success of portals like Georgian Wine Connect which engender personal connection in tandem with the ease and accessibility of online tools.

Danilo of Givno UK says it all with his comment: “This is a fantastic innovation – well done to all of those involved. We have plans to increase our wine variety significantly over the coming 12-18 months and so this tool will be invaluable. We currently source our wines through our relationships in Georgia, which has both pros and cons. One of the cons is that we may miss out on bringing some fantastic wine to the UK because we simply don’t know about it. This tool will help us mitigate this issue.”