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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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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.