Remember the Consumer ?

By | 03/02/2013

This is the transcript of my introduction of Dr. Emmanuel Bourguignon, delivered during the Pinot2013 conference.

“When Duncan called and asked me to introduce today’s keynote speaker, I assumed I would read out Emmanuel’s short biography and hot foot it back to my seat.  When I saw Duncan on Monday he asked me if I could keep it to “around five minutes”, I started to panic.
I panicked even more when I realised I hadn’t packed :
•    A hilarious video featuring cameos of winemakers or pigs
•    Any weird hats
•    A tee shirt with a vaguely inappropriate message
And although I am told that the best way to get over nerves is to imagine the audience without clothes, I can’t imagine how that would help right now. Indeed I am grateful for the famous Kiwi male reserve and am relieved to see Bob Campbell hasn’t entered in to the spirit of yesterday and isn’t sitting in the front row in a dressing gown showing off his bits and pieces.
“Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet.”  A saying for the ages from Aristotle but its application is as true now as it was then.
Anyone who makes the long, seemingly never ending journey to New Zealand from Europe arrives with their patience well and truly tested but invariably leaves having fallen in love with this beautiful country.  And in my case, a tall, dark and handsome lawyer.
I first visited in 1990 and having endured a particularly heinous flight into Queenstown, went to visit a newly established vineyard. Drinking a glass of barely red pinot noir, I thought that the watery, feeble example was truly awful and concluded that the variety had no future here. Or perhaps its fairer to say, whilst working for a burgundy specialist in London, I certainly couldn’t imagine a time when a New Zealand pinot noir could be discussed in the same breath as a classic wine from France with hundreds of years of winemaking tradition.
How wrong I was. Pinot noir is now the second most planted grape variety and our winemakers are making world-class wine. In barely twenty years, NZ pinot noir has acquired a well deserved reputation. Not a pale imitation of something else but a unique interpretation. Pinot’s mercurial nature suits the fearless personality of NZers, (and here I include all those working in NZ, not just those born here), who have pushed the boundaries to produce wines that have a real sense of identity.
This conference has brought out the very best in arguably the world’s finest variety. Winemakers have been generous with their knowledge, those attending provoked into discussion. Even the viticulturists, usually that most tactiturn group, have been cajoled into speaking.
But although everyone has agreed that our rise in quality has been meteoric, are we trying too hard to have all ends neatly tied up, everything done and dusted?
We are now rightly preoccupied with finding all-encompassing regional characters but is this really a little premature in respect of vineyards that are only two decades old at best?  Our industry is still in its infancy, nurtured and parented by loving yet anxious winemaker parents. At this stage does the human hand shape a wine more than the soil, climate and clone (hopefully clones if we listen to Matt Kramer). In the future I’m sure we’ll be able to define specific terroirs but let this develop naturally and at its own pace.
We currently define ourselves through our fixation with ratings, scores and medals. But a glowing review, massive score or five star recommendation may not be enough (probably isnt enough) to sell your wine. You need to engage with the consumer, distributor, importer and tell your story. This is a country rich with personality but by reducing wines to numbers you risk becoming just another wine with a gold medal. Leave the scores behind and start telling the tale.
Perhaps we should take a leaf from the artisan food world. The Slow Food movement encourages us to maximise the enjoyment we take in eating, and promotes the production of sustainably sourced and locally produced food. The lunch yesterday was a great example of high quality regional food, served simply, but conveying a real sense of the flavour of the South.
The best wines should always have a connection to the land that produced them and this is where our next speaker comes in. But before that a couple of other observations. (Duncan told me that going off topic was ok).
New Zealand is lucky that it has more than its fair share of magnificent landscapes. So I do think it is a real shame if each region doesn’t take full advantage of this. I was in London last week and every time my credit card was examined (I couldn’t decide if the identification chip didn’t work or had been sabotaged by my husband) I had the same response “NZ – wow I have always wanted to go there – its meant to be amazing”.  Is this why Central Otago Pinot has been so successful? Its marketing material plays heavily on the landscape and entices consumers to drink its wines and make a connection to the region. “Drink a glass of our pinot and you too can be part of the scene”. I spent Christmas in Otago and was so carried away I found myself signing up to walk the Dart track. And I’m from London and usually have a panic attack at the thought of having to walk to the bus stop..   Gifted a land of unparalled beauty, why not use it to promote your wines?
Finally if I could just make one tiny further observation. We seem to be overlooking one important group. Hardly anyone here has mentioned the consumer. And only then in a slightly derogatory manner, laughing at their choice of wine. Remember Gerald Ratner, the owner of a highly successful British jewellery business? He described his products as ‘crap’ to investors and his words came back to haunt him. Ratners plummeted gbp 500 million in value and almost went bust.
If you don’t like drinking sauvignon blanc or cheap pinot noir that’s fine. No-one is twisting your arm. Drink wines you love but don’t be too dismissive of those who choose inexpensive or, as marketing departments call them, “low involvement” wines. Maybe that’s all they can afford. Perhaps they aren’t bothered about complexity, authenticity or sense of place. I never forget my own background – I haven’t appeared in film but if I did, I’d be played by Sissy Spacek because I am a coal miner’s daughter. My parents enjoy wine but wouldn’t dream of spending more than $20 on a bottle of wine (my dad never tires of telling me his first car only cost gbp 5) and they remain bemused by my fascination in the subject.
Every woman who puts a bottle of NZ wine in her supermarket trolley is supporting your industry. So don’t do a Ratner and talk down to them, don’t inadvertently denigrate your wines and please don’t say you never drink them. Every wine has its place and appeals to different consumers at different price and quality points. Each of those consumers is making a conscious choice to buy your wine at that price and quality. If you aren’t proud of what you make, the message is simple. Don’t make it.
But that’s me done on my soapbox.
We are here to celebrate the best of pinot noir and New Zealand. Let’s face it, there must be something pretty special about NZ because what other country could prompt a world renowned pinot noir expert, best selling author of a great book on Burgundy and our International keynote speaker to take all his clothes off and jump in the harbour.

This morning’s keynote lecture is delivered by a man whose reputation is founded squarely on his knowledge of, and passion for, soil and terroir. The son of two of the world’s great soil scientists, Dr. Emmanuel Bourguignon is at the forefront of research into the influence of soil on wine quality. He places particular emphasis on sustainability and vine health and to come back to my quote from Aristotle believes that patience and long term planning are the key to creating fine wine.
He has great enthusiasm for reviving the ancient terroirs of the Cahors, a wine region of France that once produced wines known as “Black” wines. Somehow appropriate to come then to the country that has adopted black as its national colour.  Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome to the stage, Dr. Emmanuel Bourguignon.

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