Last week on a muggy Tuesday afternoon in London I trundled along to a drinks industry event called Imbibe at Earls Court. It was primarily for the on trade and not necessarily geared towards what I do but there were a few wine stands there that I wanted to check out, plus I had been invited to the Pol Roger after party so thought it was worthwhile popping in to see what it was all about.
Whereas most wine events are primarily about wine (surprisingly!) it was great to attend an event that also had a large representation from spirits and beer brands and instead of the usual wine buyers this had a large showing of young bar and restaurant staff seeking out knowledge of the products they work with everyday. It certainly created a different atmosphere, helped by the stage in the centre of the room which had a constant stream of the bar worlds top people competing in everything from mixing drinks to quizzes about everything alcoholic.
I met up with a few people and I tried some great wine but there was something far more important that got me thinking. Why are so many wines so boring?
Just to make it clear, this is nothing to do with the way wine tastes, as I said I tried some great wine but this is more to do with the way the wine industry sells it’s product and Imbibe made it very clear.
For those of you that haven’t attended a wine event, I will attempt to paint a picture of how it normally works. The typical wine stand will consist of a table, a table cloth, some wine obviously and a team of people standing behind it pouring and answering very dull questions, if you’re lucky there will be a plate of water biscuits and if they are going to town there will be a large map of the country they primarily sell wine from. Now, this serves a purpose, clearly the primary function of attending a wine show is to display wines and allow the people who could buy them a chance to taste them and pass judgement. And I guess it works but why can’t it be a little more entertaining?!
The interesting thing about Imbibe was being very easily able to see the contrast between wine and spirits and the way in which they sell themselves and this links back to branding. Take Martell Cognac, who had a stand at Imbibe last week. They had a large range available to taste and they had exactly the same floor space as many of the wine guys. However instead of simply lining their drinks up on a table and providing men in suits to answer questions they had built a beautiful oak panelled room complete with large leather wingback chairs, a fire and cabinets of drinks from which pour samples. Now as is my usual failing I didn’t take a photo and it may be that some of those details aren’t exactly correct, however that is the impression that has been etched in my mind and now every time I think of Martell, I will most likely picture that civilised and sophisticated stand.
So why can’t the wine boy’s play this game? Perhaps some would argue cost, perhaps some argue that actually the taste is far more important than the brand. However I don’t buy either of these arguments. Firstly, yes these stands can be expensive and there is not as much marketing budget in wine as in spirits. But you can create an exciting and innovative concept without having to spend a great deal and anyway many of the wine stands were probably just as expensive without the creativity. Secondly, yes of course the way the wines tastes is important but why can’t that go hand in hand with a strong image.
Without looking through my notes I can remember 3 wines I tried and that was because they were exceptional, however I could only tell you who sold two of those wines and that is only because I already buy wine from that company. I probably tried 50 wines, most were fine, all were forgettable as were the people selling them. Yet I can describe in detail a whole host of the spirits companies, even some that i didn’t even taste.
I am a great believer that drinking is often about the whole experience. Sometimes the cheapest, most agricultural of wines can taste incredible if you are drinking them with lots of friends over a delicious meal in a Tuscan farmhouse. So why when selling wines at an event in a slightly sweaty room in London do companies not sell their customers that experience, give them something to identify with as they will be the people who will then go on and sell that story to their customers.
If you can get a customer excited about the product without actually trying anything and assuming the wine doesn’t taste of vinegar and doesn’t cost a fortune it should be easy.
I maybe terribly predictable but I am more likely to spend money whilst sitting in a leather armchair than whilst I am looking at a plastic map and talking to a dull sweaty man with a typed price list. So if you want my business go and build a stand that either looks like a gentlemen’s club or a spaceship and tattoo your prices onto midgets…at least i won’t forget you in a hurry!