Ottawa Business Journal – Executive Dining Guide
February 7, 2007
Each January, the who’s who of the North American wine industry congregates at the Unified Grape and Wine Symposium (UGWS) in Sacramento, California for the largest industry conference and tradeshow in the Western Hemisphere with an attendance in excess of 10,000 people. Like most industry conferences, there are seminars, key note speakers, a tradeshow floor and sponsored after hour parties. During the three days at UGWS, there are very few times when your wine glass is empty.
Here, grape growers are focusing on the agricultural side of this business. They are considering fuel efficient tractors and pruning equipment (there was a pruning robot prototype on display) while winemakers are asking the experts about new yeast products and new closures (cork, glass stoppers and screwcaps). The winery owners and marketers are networking with the media, comparing wine club point of sale equipment (POS) and the latest labeling techniques.
Speeches and conversations included phrases such as ‘Flavour profiles’. ‘Branding’. ‘Tasting Room Experience’. These sound bites are indicators of trends impacting an industry that in 2006 comprised of 5,970 wineries in 50 states across the United States and 299 wineries in eight provinces across Canada (source: Wine Business Monthly February 2007). This represents a 10% growth in both countries in just one year.
The big question remains “What will be the next popular grape variety”?
This is like fortune telling and is a gamble for grape growers and winemakers as the consumer’s taste preference can change faster than the vineyards can grow grapes. A grape grower requires a minimum of four years to produce its first harvest, and in this time, a consumer’s wine preference can shift dramatically. It is still a guessing game as shown by the answers of industry experts and winemakers attending the conference:
‘I place my bet on Chenin Blanc as it is elegant, has great fruit characteristics and is delicate. People are going to enjoy subtle tasting wines again as seen with the popularity of Pinot Noir.” Jordan Ferrier, Winemaker at Hogue Vineyards, Washington
“Viognier is a wonderful grape to work with and a delicious wine to drink. The challenge is that the consumer does not know how to pronounce the word”, Ann Matson, Director of Sales and Marketing at Vino Con Brio, Lodi, California
“Reisling and Gamay grapes are underrated. They are both easy to grow in Niagara and easy to drink. They are versatile and you can enjoy them with appetizers or a full meal.” Natalie Spytkowsky, Wine Consultant with Vines to Vintages (formerly winemaker at Angels Gate Winery in Beamsville, Ontario)
“Something that is not Chardonnay or Merlot”, predicts Gordon Murchie, President of Vinifera Wine Growers Association in Alexandria, Virginia. “The native American grape variety called Morton is gaining in popularity.”
“Blends will become more popular. Winemakers have more tools to work with to create a targeted flavour profile to suit different customer segments. Today, many wines are blended and the consumer doesn’t even know it. By calling the wine a blend is a more honest approach”, Gary Patterson, General Manager at Nestor Enterprises Lodi, California
‘Wines made for immediate consumption. Less than 5% of consumers are cellaring wines. We have the technology to create balanced flavour profiles that can be enjoyed right away”, Barry Jackson, Owner and Winemaker at Equinox, Boulder Creek, California
What does the consumer want?
Simply put, the consumer is fueling the growth of this industry. The consumer appreciates the health benefits of drinking wine while enjoying the social aspect of exploring different wines from around the world. A case in point, the California wine industry was blindsided with the popularity of the movie “Sideways”, a spectacularly showcase of the little known wine region of Santa Barbara, California and its Pinot Noir wines. “Almost overnight, demand for California Pinot Noir wines increased by 20% and wineries were completely sold out’, illustrated seminar speaker Jon Fredrickson of Gomberg, Fredrickson and Associates.
Looking ahead, what are the emerging trends in the wine industry that will continue to fuel consumer demand?
Wine as considered as ‘Brands’
Like Levi jeans and BMW cars, wineries are creating brand associations for consumers to base their buying decisions. Keynote speaker, Don Sebastiani, President of Sebastiani and Sons stated, “Smoking Loon is our number one selling premium brand. Consumers are purchasing Smoking Loon for its quality. We source different grapes from a variety of countries, yet the location and grape variety are secondary or do not even factor into the consumers decision making. They are fundamentally buying the brand.” In his statement, he did not even mention the word “wine” once! Wine brands have begun to fill the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) store shelves with popular examples such as Twin Fin and Fetzer from California or Casillero del Diablo from Chile. In the future, we may be asking – what brand would you like with your dinner?
Once considered for elite wine collectors, wine clubs is a mechanism for wineries to build a loyal customer base. One winery reported that in three years, her wine club has grown to include over 600 members. Rafanelli Winery in Sonoma County, California, has a five year waiting list to become a member of their wine club! In addition to wineries, lifestyle magazines are offering special featured wines of the month club. In Ontario, wine clubs such as the Opimium Society feature international wines while The Savvy Grapes’ Savvy Selections feature Canadian wines that are not available at the LCBO.
Wine regions are rapidly growing into popular travel destinations. “Consumers are very interested in “experiencing” wine. They are traveling to the wine region, stopping in at the regional Visitor Center, winery tasting rooms and participating in vineyard seminars,” comments Mark Chandler, Executive Director of Lodi Woodbridge Winegrape Commission, California. “Consumers are very interested in making wine a part of their lifestyle and culinary experience.”
Ontario’s newest wine region, Prince Edward County, is “Ottawa’s wine region”, as it is an easy weekend destination only a three hour drive with 12 wineries, historic inns and wine and food festivals.
Different Wine and Food experiences in Restaurants
Food and wine experiences continue to grow as customers are becoming more knowledgeable. To enable samplings of different wines and food, restaurants are offering “Sharing Plates” with bite size portions of a culinary creation. Ottawa’s Novotel Hotel will be launching a new restaurant that will exclusively offer menus in this sampling style. To complement this culinary experience, wines will be sold in 3, 6 or 8 ounce portions to offer multiple wines to experiment with the different tastes of wines and food.