,

Swirl Wine Group is the UK partner of D-Vine

We’re thrilled to announce that Swirl is the UK partner for D-Vine via our French partner EOC. D-Vine is a revolutionary fine wine by-the-glass system enjoying rapid growth in France, and now launching in the UK.

D-Vine has been adopted by more than 1000 clients in the hospitality sector who have seen their by-the-glass revenue increase by up to 30%, and customers delighted by the elevated wine quality, service and range. Now Swirl are excited to bring this multi award-winning innovation to the UK market.

What makes D-Vine different from other BTG systems?

D-Vine was created by a team of 3 engineers with a deep interest in wine. They asked what made a sommelier-served glass of fine wine so exceptional, and set out to recreate this experience with wine tech. Even in restaurants with a dedicated wine team, the sommelier cannot always be pouring wine by the glass. They might be in the cellar, presenting a wine pairing, or talking to a table about a bottle sale.

D-Vine’s wine range is exceptional and is produced and bottled in partnership with some of the world’s most acclaimed wine producers. The single serve tubes have a three-year shelf life.

The D-Vine uses a patented two-way temperature control system. The ideal temperature is pre-determined by the wine maker and D-Vine’s oenologist Béatrice Dominé and pre-programmed so each wine is served at the ideal temperature at the touch of a button. It also uses a venturi-effect aeration and ventilation system so that each glass is aerated as though it had been decanted three hours earlier.

And the whole process takes a mere 40 seconds.

But is it really possible to recreate the experience of a knowledgeable sommelier describing each wine; sharing tid-bits of history and anecdote? We think you can. The D-Vine’s integration of content is a really important point-of-difference. A QR code menu can be browsed by the consumer offering incredible access to the kind of information which will get them excited to try all sorts of BTG options. Members of the staff also have access to this information to improve their knowledge about the wine list and give good advice to the customers.

Why is now the right time to bring D-Vine to the UK?

The pandemic accelerated the shift in consumer focus from quantity to quality – and reported increases in by-the-glass sales are a natural side effect of that shift. The thing we find so interesting about D-Vine is that they are, uniquely in their market, focussed on preserving the quality of the BTG experience. The D-Vine system uses wine tech to give a sommelier-esque serve. So, what better time for them to launch in the UK?

How will Swirl be working with D-Vine?

We’re honoured to have been entrusted with bringing this brilliant BTG system to the UK market. Working with our French partners, EOC, we are recruiting a UK ambassador who will build the UK market for D-Vine. At The London Wine Fair in June we will be supporting the D-Vine team in their sponsorship of The Discovery Zone. We look forward to seeing you there.

, ,

Sarah Abbott MW reviews old vine wines

Last Monday, Swirl attended a party with a purpose – the Old Vine Conference’s 2022 launch, co-hosted by our founder, Sarah Abbott MW. Here, Sarah shares her personal notes on the wines featured on the evening. If you’d like to know more about how you can support this initiative, visit the Old Vine website.

Vecchie Viti, Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore 2020, Ruggeri

80-100 year-old vines

I really loved this wine. I like the surprise value of a Prosecco really highlighting the long viticultural heritage of the the Conegliano Valdobbiadene region. It’s a UNESCO agricultural heritage site thanks to the centuries of viticulture carved out by man in these very steep hills; because of the way these vines are traditionally grown on really unique grass terraces, and with a really deep interaction of farming and land. It’s a side of Prosecco almost ignored – even denied – by the mainstream. That’s why it’s so great that Ruggeri, a great producer, are maintaining these old vines when absolutely everything must be done by hand. They feel so passionately that this is a link to their heritage and the highest quality aspirations of what Prosecco can be. It’s an absolutely delicious sparkling wine – brilliantly fragrant with this lovely stone-fruity quality, and a really delicate texture and fine mousse.

Sparklehorse 2018, Ken Forrester

48 year-old vines

This is a Cap Classique traditional method wine, made working with really old Chenin – and people loved it. There’s almost a kind of prejudice against traditional method sparkling wines which use what are considered to be ‘aromatic’ grapes. It’s like it’s a dumbing down. I absolutely resist that assumption – it’s not true. I loved the interplay between the savoury autolysis on this wine with the gorgeous ripe quince, classic Chenin aromatics. An absolutely stunning wine.

Centenaire 2021, Domaine Lafage

95-100 year-old bush vines

This wine is made from 100 year-old bush vines in the craggy, wild Catalan terrain of far southern France. Winemaker Jean-Marc is from this area, and he’s a very smart switched on business man and winemaker. Having worked globally, he’s now returned to build up his family’s domaine as well as a highly respected negotiant company. This is from the domanie vines. He’s given them a new lease of life by making this absolutely delicious, peachy, sort of sneakily aromatic dry white wine.

Malvasia 2020, Abel Mendoza

35 year-old vines

This is a white Rioja from old Malvasia vines. I loved the understated freshness and intensity of this wine. It’s a great example of the really resurgent and strong old vine movement which is really taking off in Rioja. It’s absolutely cracking value for money and really shows that white Rioja can be one of the fine wines of the world.

Vineyard Collection Carignan Gris 2020, Domaine Jones

Over 100 year-old vines

Cariangn Gris is an unusual variety, relatively rare. This wine is from really old vines, over 100 years old – I find that there’s something very exciting about the old vine quality in white wines. It gives really pure depth. A cracking wine, with only 800 bottles made and, again, it really shows the freshness and tension which old vines bring to wines from this rich, historical area of southern France.

Ossian 2018, Ossian

Up to 200 year-old vines

Spain has so many great old vineyards, but it also has so much pressure to abandon or dig up those vineyards, which is why growers like Ossian are so important in Spain. This is from extraordinary un-grafted, pre-phylloxera 200 year-old vines. The soil here is so sandy that phylloxera can’t get to the root of the vine. A really unusual plot – and what an interesting and delicious wine. So full of tension and this delicious paradox between very exotic pear and this lovely green, grassy, almost oxidative notes. But it’s still so fresh. An absolutely unique style of Verdejo, and it really goes to show how great old vines show a whole other side of grape varieties which are otherwise overlooked or dismissed.

Optenhorst Chenin Blanc 2020, Bosman Family Vineyards

70 year-old vines

From 70 year old vines – some of the oldest Chenin vines in South Africa, planted in 1952. They only make 260 cases. They were acutally planning to dig this up, but the winemaker said to the owners – let me give this vineyard a try, let me bottle is separately. And since then they’ve kept it going. It has this incredible combination of richness and depth and freshness.

Domaine de Cébène, Belle Lurette 2020, Brigitte Chevalier

80-100 year-old vines

Gorgeously aromatic but refined southern French wine from Faugères. It really shows that old vine quality isn’t just about body and concentration – its’s about a certain complexity and a kind of serenity.

Vagabond Grenache 2020, Thistledown Wines

80-100 year-old vines

An amazing wine from a superb project initiatied by Giles Cook MW and Fergal Tyan MW, working with growers in the McLaren Vale. They go in and identify these great old vine parcels, making single vineyard wines from this old vine fruit which was otherwise disappearing into blends. They’re able to pay the growers more for the fruit, and work with them to help them improve their viticulture. This is a wine which shows the incredible elegance and kind of lift old vine fruit can give to a wine. It’s one of the best Grenaches I’ve had for a while. It’s interesting that Grenache, like Carignan, is one of those varieties which can be overlooked. They’re kind of like delinquents which come good with some maturity.

Vieilles Vignes Cinsault 2019, Domaine des Tourelles

50 year-old vines

Cinsault was one of the original ‘settler’ vines in Lebanon. Lebanon has really long old vine heritage. It was one of the centres of viticulture in Roman Empire. That really indigenous viticulture was severely disrupted when Lebanon became part of the Ottoman Empire. But in the 1800s, Jesuit settlers brought and planted Cinsult from Algeria, so Cinsault is the second generation of native vines of Lebanon, if you like. This is from vines 50-100 years old. Again, it’s a wine which combines a rich perfume with a delicate texture. A real favourite of people on the evening, combining that gorgeous Lebanese exoticism wth freshness and balance.

Les Vignes Préphylloxérique 2013, Plaimont

150 year-old vines

An incredible piece of viticultural history, this is another pre-phylloxera vine wine. It’s from a single vineyard, planted in 1871 – it was so rich and intense and sort of sedimentary, filled with lovely dark dark blackberry fruits. Very compacted but fine grained tannins. A really incredible wine, but still a baby so I’m looking forward to seeing how it ages.

100 Year Old Vine Carignan 2018, Alchemy Wines

100 year-old vines

This wine had a lovely, welcoming, juicy, rich concentration with a lovely peppery finish. It’s incredible value for money.

, ,

Our February Newsletter: tech is wine’s new frontier

In our February newsletter we consider wine’s new frontier: technology.

This coming month we have an event which shows how some of the technical adaptations forced on us by the pandemic are here to stay. We’re hosting a Gunma Craft Sake tasting on the 8th March in London, a hybrid event with brewers joining the tasting virtually from Japan. It’s a small example of the hybrids now colonising the event industry – and we think that the wine trade is ready to catch up.

Tech is wine’s new frontier, with all the rewards and hubris of a gold rush. But there’s a sticking point: our trade’s definition of ‘technology’ is imprecise. The ancient Greek tekhnologia (τεχνολογία) referred to the consideration of a systematic whole. And the systematic whole is where wine and tech disintegrate.

As digi-wine expert and 5 Forests founder Polly Hammond pointed out to Sarah at Wine Paris, the reason for this is wine’s fragmented regulatory structure. It prevents the systematic integration of different types of technology, limiting the success of said tech – and also limiting the appetite to invest in tech R&D and implementation in this space to begin with. What’s the motivation to invest when it is impossible to scale up your product globally?

Despite this obstacle, tech is still something we’re positive and excited about. There are areas of our trade where we’re seeing a well-developed, systematic application of scientific knowledge – and it’s happening in vineyards. Take Saturnalia. Using satellite imaging of vineyards, they are seeking to link vineyard practices to the eventual score a wine gets. Now they just need to persuade wineries to allow the publication of the data linking to those vineyards, (but that level of transparency would be worth a whole new newsletter).

A lot of what we think of as ‘wine tech’ is just existing tech applied, currently somewhat awkwardly, to wine.  Founders which have come from other industries were a common theme among the start-ups in the Wine Tech area at Wine Paris a couple of weeks ago. Engineers, gamers, designers. The D-Vine Pro – a new client for us – integrates electronics, engineering and content to address wastage and staff knowledge in wine service, promising to boost wine list profitability alongside customer experience.

Others are applying their tech expertise to wine in one of the most essential areas of the industry: communication.

AI is the basis of two interesting new ventures. The app WineSee, founded by a gaming entrepreneur, aims to make the gathering of wine tasting notes and data seamless and connected. Currently the app is being used for running wine competitions, but they aim to use their data learnings to generate predictive suggestions for consumers. Ultimately, they hope it’ll make the often-confusing world of wine more accessible.

Pix is having MW David Round teach their AI model how to recognise, categorise and recommend wines on their platform. One of the key problems in the wine industry is that data isn’t properly aggregated and linked to CRM systems. At the moment, that’s because the cost of integrating that information is prohibitive given wine’s slim margins. It’s a strange quirk of wine – by all measures a luxury good, full of diversity and specificity – that it’s treated as a low-margin product.

Pix’s AI product could bridge the cost-benefit gap which would bring wine’s communications to the level of comparable industries. So, it makes us question the validity of the heated hostility we see towards tech in wine in general, and AI in particular. Without it, it’ll take us decades to work out the customer journey. And decades to get profits up. And that should worry us all.

, ,

Our January Newsletter: coming up in 2022

New year. New contracts. New clients. We’re looking into 2022 with great optimism – and are excited to share details of our work and non-profit projects with you. Please do get in touch if you would like to know more about any of the events or projects.

Georgia

We’ve worked with the National Wine Agency of Georgia for six years. The first few were all about making Georgian wine (and Georgia) more familiar. Georgian wine was either weird or unknown to our market. (In the early years, one trade show listed the Wines of Georgia stand under USA in their brochure index.) Georgian wines became seen as intriguing, perhaps, but not as commercially viable. But we’ve worked hard to show that Georgian wine isn’t like that at all. It has its quirky, idiosyncratic wines, but it’s an industry rejuvenated by its drive to find new export markets.

We think that 2022 is the tipping year for Georgian wine. In 2021 exports to the UK increased by 72% on the previous year, to 730,000 bottles. We are now the fastest-growing of Georgia’s new western markets. Wine is critical to Georgia’s agrarian economy, and we’re inspired by sharing the pride that Georgians have in their identity as the world’s original winemakers.

Our priority for this year is to build on the work we’ve already done to make Georgian producers more visible and accessible. The Georgia Trade Guide (powered by the Global Wine Database) is part of this, a trade resource listing over 90 producers and their wines. Georgian Wine Connect, our trade hub, enables buyers and media to research producers and join us virtually for tastings through the year. We’re also thrilled that the in-person press trips can begin again – Georgia really is a place like no other and planning for our visits in Spring and Autumn is happily resumed.

Conegliano Valdobbiadene Superiore Prosecco DOCG

This year is our fifth working with Conegliano Valdobbiadene, and we’re gratified that the premiumisation of prosecco is really taking off in the UK.

Italian sparkling wine of all denominations is establishing an overarching ‘brand’ in the UK, and a lot of our work is behind the scenes, helping great wines find representation in the UK. Prosecco is still criticised for being too easy – but there are many nervy, distinctive, worthwhile wines made which are finally being more widely distributed here. We want to show in the UK the very best of what prosecco can be.

To do this we’ll be carrying on with masterclasses on focussed themes such as rive, as well as resuming trips to Conegliano Valdobbiadene. We will be putting a big focus on the details, such as terroir, because, with Conegliano Valdobbiadene it’s the beauty that’s in the detail.

Conegliano Valdobbiadene Superiore Prosecco DOCG has welcomed a new director, leading agricultural scientist Diego Tomasi, and we have agreed with him that cultural partnerships will be a key part of our work. We’re excited to be partnering with If Opera, an amazing company which works to make opera accessible and available to a wider audience. Opera and sparkling wine partnerships are nothing new, but If Opera’s ethos chimes with our aim to make the finest Conegliano Valdobbiadene Superiore Prosecco DOCG wines visible and available to all.

Expanding our work in France

Last year we began a partnership with EOC International, a global exports consultancy for French wine, drinks and food. We are delighted to be EOC’s partner for the UK market. We started working with them with on Alliance Riceys, a collective of grower Champagne producers from this historic and exciting part of the Aube. We’ll be working with EOC to take a group of buyers and media to the historic city of Troyes and the vineyards of Les Riceys, as well as showing the wines at trade fairs.

D-vine Pro

With EOC we’re also bringing D-vine Pro to the UK market. D-vine is a significant innovation in wine service that has the potential to transform the offering of single serves and portable wine tasting portions. We are recruiting the brand ambassador as part of ongoing team building in the UK.

Japan

Japan is a paradigm-shifter in many wonderful ways. We started working with Japanese wine (and we’re doing more tastings with them later this year), but on Sarah’s travels in Japan she fell for sake. We’re now working with a group of Sake producers from the prefecture of Gunma, helping them bring their craft Sake to the UK. We held our first event virtually – and producers found new importers as a result. This year, we are kicking off with an in-person masterclass at Pantechnicon. The brewers will be joining virtually Gunma by live link and we are offering the option of a virtual tasting on catch-up for those who can’t make it to London in person.

Old Vine Conference

2022 is set to be a really big year for the Old Vine Conference. Sarah co-founded the non-profit in 2021 to raise awareness for, and create a category for, great old vine wines. The fact that old vines have been in place for such a long period brings with it an embeddedness – in their place, their culture, community, and in local cultivation techniques. Old vines represent a long-term view of farming grapes which is fundamentally regenerative – it’s more than just sustainable, it’s a transcendence of quality and meaning.

Last year Swirl co-hosted three online conferences which attracted huge support from the industry and media. As a result of that support and funding the Old Vine Conference has been able to recruit the brilliant Belinda Stone as head of marketing and memberships to focus on ongoing outreach.

This year, the OVC will be hosting one expanded conference in the autumn and a program of ongoing content and tastings through the year. It’s incredible that we now have the OVC resourced so we can properly harness all the support and energy behind it.

Wine Judging

Sarah is a committee judge at IWSC – one of the most dynamic international wine competitions. The committee’s role is to guide the individual judging panels, overseeing results and ensuring there’s consistency. As she says: “I really enjoy judging the IWSC – it has small panels and everyone is paid and the quality of the judges is high. MWs, MSs, experienced wine buyers, journalists, communicators. As someone who oversees the results, the soundness of the panels’ results is high. It shows that great wine really does come from so many corners of the world. Of course, there are established reputations but they still need to be scrutinised. I don’t believe we should reserve reverence for established names. The great thing about this tasting is the open mindedness and the way we award wines from across the globe, including lesser-known regions and terroirs.”

Corporate wine events

We’ve found that demand for well-executed and fun corporate online events has soared. So, we’ve found a way to offer compelling tastings online. We’re collaborating on a series of wine events with Germany-based JI Events, putting together themed tastings with packs sent to recipients before we come together online. What we love about these events is how different parts of the wine world support each other. These events are a great opportunity to introduce people to lesser-known wines from our amazing clients.

,

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.

 

, , ,

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.

 

 

, ,

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.
, ,

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.

, , ,

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.”

, , , ,

End of term report

Sarah Abbott shares her end of term report reflecting on our work and our clients’ successes in a turbulent 2020.

2020 began in disarray. We had the best laid plans – but my fantastic team and clients kept calm and carried on. Together, we found ways to be adaptable, creative and resilient in order to deliver what was needed, sensitively.

At the time we didn’t grasp what a crucible of adjustment it was. Fortunately, towards the end of 2019, we’d become interested in the growing trend in other industries – especially events and conferences – for blending in-person events with virtual augmentation. We had begun to research it to see how it could translate for wine – which gave us a great basis for the wholesale pivot to digital everything.

Our job is to communicate and engage on behalf of our clients, as well as assisting commercially. And I’m proud that we achieved this, in a time when promoting a product, wine, which is all about togetherness, contravened the essence of our daily lives.

So, we came up with Swirl in the Cloud – proof that every cloud has a silver lining.

From the get-go we were strict about the structure. The most important thing was fostering a sense of togetherness so, at the most basic level, either everyone got the wine, or no one did. So, we really jumped on the informational webinar format. Packing these presentations chock-full of great data and information has helped us learn so much about what really engages our clients’ audiences.

A May report from McKinsey showed that in March to May of 2020, “we have vaulted five years forward in consumer and business digital adoption in a matter of around eight weeks”. I can definitely believe it. Digital events are a great democratiser. They ensure equal access for everyone – whether you’re shielding, less mobile or just can’t get child care. That’s incredibly valuable – as we recognised in the opportunity it gave us to connect with people from across the globe. For example, for Wines of Georgia, we did a webinar about Qvevri and were joined by people from 20 different countries. Among them were some winemakers who had just started making qvevri wines in South Africa, and another using the method in Lebanon. Without that connectivity, we would never have been able to introduce them to some Georgian qvevri specialists who are now helping and advising them. That feels incredibly rewarding.

Looking forward, there are several things that this year has extracted from us which I don’t think we’ll ever put back. Clients have really risen to the occasion, making exquisite videos showcasing terroir. Combining this kind of content with in-person events is here to stay. It’s hugely valuable, especially given the high per-attendee cost of in-person events. Of course, in many ways in-person events are irreplaceable. There’s nothing like showcasing wine in the context in which it’s to be enjoyed – and we want to get back to hospitality venues as soon as possible. But there’s a high level of wastage and no-shows with the current model. I predict that this will change with a swing to smaller, more flexible in-person events blended with a digital element.

Wines of Georgia 

It came as no surprise that the team in Georgia were some of the first to embrace digital innovation – they know the importance of being creative and adaptable in difficult times.

In collaboration with their team, we’ve run 13  different virtual tastings and presentations. Year on year sales of Georgian wine to the UK have increased by 240%. We now have over 60 merchants and retailers stocking Georgian wines – a fantastic result for the producers and for our wine market. We’re also so pleased to report that importers have shared what an invaluable resource the in-depth online courses and training have made to their sales.

JFOODO

This year we’ve been running two different projects for JFOODO – one on their wines and one on sake.

Just before lockdown 1, at the beginning of February, I was in Japan. I am a complete sake novice, but though the style and tone of sake is so different from wine, I find that the depth of the culture, heritage, craft and intersection of place, personality and technique is very familiar to me. It’s just as rich as wine, so I’m really thrilled to be running two events on sake later this year.

Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superior DOCG

Conegliano Valdobbiadene is the premium end of Prosecco. And latest figures show that they have maintained their 2020 exports at the same level as 2019, in which exports to the UK from this specific zone doubled in volume and increased by 80% in value.

This year, we hosted six virtual tastings and supported the Consorzio with two virtual press trips. It was revelatory that a virtual event allowed us a deeper insight than what would be achievable in person. For example, we worked with Professor Digeo Tomasi, a leading authority on soil science and its effect on wine style. Using recorded video and live Zoom we were able to take attendees all over the region, sharing technical analysis of the aromatic compounds which resulted from each different soil type. While tasting the wines from each zone. It was an enormous piece of work to bring that together but it was really worth it to feel like we broke through those last vestiges of Prosecco prejudice.

Wine GB

We’ve just completed a really interesting project with Wine GB, focussing on classic method sparkling wine. The UK is emerging as a wine making nation and it was tremendously exciting to be able to work with Wine GB to explore how to express our identity and place in the world of wine.

We devised a communications hierarchy for how to talk about and differentiate classic method sparkling wine from England and Wales. We wanted to articulate the uniqueness of our wines made in our terroir, informed by our culture. I was really keen to move away from that trite way of talking about UK sparkling wine – in comparison to Champagne. Of course, Champagne is the benchmark for great classic method sparkling – but we’re not wannabes. We have an even more extreme climate and a much younger wine culture. We revel in the audacity, the boldness and experimentation which typifies our wine culture.

We were able to show a range of wines to predominantly trade journalists, and it was brilliant to hear them saying ‘I’ve never heard of this producer before, but this wine is fantastic’.

Respected by Gaggenau

This is a consultancy project, and one I’m really proud to be a part of. I love working on projects where wine is part of the story but not the only character. It puts wine in the broader context of humanity – a world which is broader than the ‘fellowship of wine geeks’ (among whom I’m happy to live).

Gaggenau makes really high-end, craft-focussed kitchen appliances. Their ‘Respected by…’ project celebrates culinary culture, of which wine is a part, by asking three curators from the worlds of wine, food and design to judge nominations from regional experts in each field. I’m so delighted that wine is being considered in the same breath as design and culinary excellence and look forward to sharing more when the winners are announced next year.