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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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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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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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What Does Biodiversity Mean To Our Trade?

In our May newsletter, we consider the significance of grape diversity and drinking bravely ahead of World Biodiversity Day on May 22nd.

Humans find efficiency reassuring. We crave certainty. Diversity bristles against predictable order. But the disorder of diversity makes us robust; it is here that we thrive, rather than survive.

Tomorrow is World Biodiversity Day. Is this a day the wine trade would have taken note of a few years ago? Consumers increasingly analyse the environmental and social impact of their food choices. Until recently, wine has avoided that scrutiny. But we no longer have a free pass. There is an increasing concern with the water use, packaging, carbon footprint and environmental transparency of wine. Such concern is behind success of wine brands whose proposition is transparency. The response of some in the wine trade is, naturally, sceptical. Of course, most wines meet these environmental and health credentials, we say. But can we really complain about perception? As a trade, we have failed to communicate information for which many consumers thirst.

We wish biodiversity didn’t feel like a political statement. Because it is fundamental to the world of wine. Biodiversity touches the life in our soil – in our vineyards. It’s a great measure of how sustainably and regeneratively we are working in our vineyards, and in our markets . And we have the ability to communicate our biodiversity to consumers in a unique way: grape diversity.

This quest for diversity is critical to wine. Despite the accusation in articles such as this (published, with blithe irony, at winesearcher.com) that we are fools for thinking anyone cares about protecting the variety and diversity of wine.

We talked to grape diversity champion Emma Dawson MW about how a diverse approach from both producers and consumers pays dividends.

Wine is waking up to our biodiversity crises, and treasures. In Soave, a concern for sustaining agricultural heritage alongside their communities and land led to the development of a biodiversity accreditation for grape growers with the help of the World Biodiversity Association.

In Argentina, Laura Catena asserts that grape genetic diversity and heritage vineyards are essential if wine is to adapt to climate change. In Spain, Torres are championing the genetic diversity of recuperated Ancestral Varieties.

Such leadership should inspire us all.

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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.

 

 

 

 

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Supporting Black Wine Professionals

Image via SevenFifty Daily

In support of black wine professionals.

Black Lives Matter is having its #metoo moment: we think it’s about time that systemic racism became as unacceptable as everyday sexism. Black wine professionals are marginalised in our industry. We shared the following comments and resources for self-education about racism in the wine trade in our June newsletter on 12/6/20. The final two links are articles which have since been published which are also valuable reads.

The bald fact of it is that the wine trade, especially in the UK, is overwhelmingly white. We have thought long and hard about whether we, as a company run by white women, ought to comment on the global narrative and action which has arisen as a consequence of the murder of George Floyd. But in the words of Julia Coney, ‘it’s not that hard to stand up for what is right”.

Privately, we have committed to a revaluation of our business practices. We actively support other women in wine. We know we could and should be doing more to celebrate BAME people in the same fashion. We will be taking our time to evaluate how best to pursue this responsibility moving forward, in tandem with private self-education.

Publicly, we wanted to share these wine-trade-specific resources for self-education and support of black wine professionals. We have also shared a number of social media hashtags which we have also found useful.

First watch this IGTV from Julia Coney.

This post from her listing some notable black wine professionals (also see the comments) is a good place to start introducing diversity to your bottle-heavy Instagram feed. This is another post from Vinepair doing the same.

Dottie Gaiter’s 47 years as a journalist are worn so lightly. This piece, Being Black in the White World of Wine, was as moving as it was matter-of-fact. “One would think any industry that revolves around hospitality would want to be viewed as progressive, anti-racist, and inclusive [… But] inclusion simply is not on the minds of many in this industry.” Side note: we have also ordered a copy of Dottie and her husband John’s spine-tingly-feeling book: Love by the Glass: Tasting Notes from a Marriage.

Follow Julia’s new platform, Black Wine Professionals.

These hashtags have been a good resource for us too: #blackwineprofessionals #blackwomeninwine

With so many anti-racist texts currently sold out in the UK, we’ve also been exploring some great podcasts seated at the intersection of race and wine:

Hip Hop and Wine is awesome. The tagline describes it as a ‘blending the worlds of fine wine and popular culture’ and it does it so well. Episode 28 was particularly interesting because it brought together Amelia Singer (of The Wine Show fame) with rapper JR Boss. Host Jermaine Stone and JR Boss have a fascinating, if brief, discussion about the fact that wine is not brand-centric hampers it’s discovery by a host of new drinkers.

The Colour of Wine is another must-listen. We are slowly listening our way through the back catalogue, but particularly liked this episode featuring Brenae Royal of EJ Gallo. She touches on the value of her relationship with mentor Deborah Juergensen: “Deb started out as one of the first few women winemakers in a very male-dominated field. It’s been amazing to have her as a mentor both professionally and personally.”

Does The Wine Industry Have A Racism Problem? An article from Forbes featuring Brenae Royal, Wanda Mann and Regine Rousseau. Examples of systemic racism in the industry which keep recurring revolve around black people being questioned about their qualifications and right to be in a wine space; the suggestion that a black person is included in a wine space/ panel/ etc as a diversity token. A valuable read to check the way we approach black wine professionals.

What Being An Ally Really Means, by Shakera Jones aka @BlackGirlsDineToo. The article includes a call for influencers to use their platforms to drive social change, rather than shying away from race-related statements for fear of losing followers or potential work. A good example of concrete action she references is certain wine influencers requesting a statement on their response to #BlackLivesMatter and diversity policies from brands before they agree to work with them. A simple but powerful action.

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Mindful drinking: how and why you should try it

Mindful drinking sounds like a fad. But we’ve found that it can really enhance your drinking experience. In our June newsletter we explored how and why you should try mindful drinking.

Have you ever tried to eat a Lindor bar mindfully? It’s a ruinous experience. Tune into the full experience of a single bite and you start to notice how the chocolate clags at the back of the throat; you notice the cloying sweetness – the saccharine lack of complexity in its flavour.

On day seventy billion of lockdown (or a post-Barnard Castle approximation of it), fatigue is palpable. As a society we seem to have cycled through phases of excess and abstinence in infinite repetitions. It’s unsurprising that the internet is awash with articles tackling the mental impact of alcohol, advising people to drink ‘mindfully’.

But what does that actually mean?

Being mindful, fully engaging with the sensory and mental experience of what you’re doing, is challenging. That’s why we began with chocolate. In spite of the dopamine hit you experience when you eat chocolate, it doesn’t affect your mental faculties as much as alcohol. Because drinking mindfully is hard. Really tasting every sip, appreciating the balance of flavours and the structure of the wine without making it a WSET exercise.

The concept of mindful drinking is also mentally entwined with the sober-curious movement. But we feel that drinking mindfully needn’t be associated with problematic drinking: in itself, it can be a joyful and empowering experience. To really focus in on what you enjoy about a sniff and sip of wine is a very powerful means of focusing your attention and creating a lasting memory not just of a drink, but of a moment.

So how do you drink ‘mindfully’?

A lot lies in the preparation. Bring the wine to the perfect temperature; choose your finest stemware. Settle yourself somewhere comfortable with no distractions – that means no music, no TV, no distractions. If you are happy to, it’s actually fun to drink alone in this way. Settle yourself with your glass and consider the aromas, the flavours as you take a sip. It doesn’t have to be great wine – though we’ll wager you’ll choose better wines going forward if you drink in this way. Consider every facet of the wine. What is the texture like? Waxy? Chalky? Oily? Does it make your mouth water? What do you taste? Take the time to tease out the flavours. How does it make you feel? (The idea is not to answer “a bit pissed, to be honest.”)

Join @GroupSwirl on Twitter, for an experiment in group mindful drinking, this Thursday 18th June at 7pm. We’ll be using the #mindfulglass hashtag to share what we’re sipping, and why it’s meaningful to us.