My hopes for 2013: Chris Powell, Local Wine School on the importance of wine education
In the first of a series of opinion pieces from leading industry figures looking ahead to the challenges and opportunities we face in 2013, Chris Powell, founder and director of the Local Wine School, says the trade needs to understand what consumers are looking for from wine education:
‘Wine Education' - these two words probably don't fill your mind or that of your customers with fun or exciting images, but I truly believe it is the future of a thriving & growing UK wine industry - whether we like it or not.
People like us who are already into wine don't need telling that a little bit of knowledge greatly enhances appreciation of that delicious drink. But the challenge facing us is how to convince the millions of wine consumers out there of this and steer them towards more interesting, higher quality (and margin!) and better tasting wines.
The industry has been searching for too long for a silver bullet and is in danger of being seduced by the relatively easy approach and reliance on social media. Twitter and Facebook et al, of course, have their place, but the best way of connecting with customers will always remain a human face and voice rather than endless streams of Twittering! It requires a personal and human touch by someone who has true passion for the subject and can show them simply, what they are missing - in terms (and with experiences) they can easily appreciate.
It really is that simple - the effect of little things, like a customer's opinion of a wine when sampled with some suitable food, is dramatic and has to be seen to be believed. This is especially true of French and Italian wines, a great number of which can seem relatively high in acidity, and harsh in tannin, when tasted without the food they have evolved to be paired with.
It has to be one of the best bits of my job when I witness the delight and surprise on a customer's face when they try something like an austere and sharp Loire red - then watch their broad grins after a mouthful of confit du canard! They are converted for life.
The UK wine industry needs to reach out to those consumers who enjoy drinking wine, but are not yet "hooked" into the stories behind the wines, and have yet to discover the enormous diversity of taste sensations waiting for them out in wineland.
There are some great new entrants on to this stage like the Three Wine Men consumer fairs and the more consumer-friendly events that the WSET are now promoting. I also like to think we at localwineschool.com are doing our bit to enlighten the consumer through the hundreds of wine tastings, food and wine workshops, and wine courses that we run every week at 12 locations throughout the UK.
We will be attending the London International Wine Fair in 2013 and will be filming live interviews with leading industry figures on their views on wine education. If you would like to be involved in the debate or just say hello and test your tasting skills come and meet us next May on Stand N24.