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“If I was a winemaker and I made wine that tasted the same five years in a row, I would consider myself a failure.” This statement was greeted by a soft gasp of shock and then an uncomfortable silence that settled around the dinner table. The identity of the person who made the opening statement will forever remain a mystery, but I will try to shed some light upon the unique (and sometimes volatile) relationship between the winemaker, the marketing team and the consumer.

‘Death of a Salesman’ is a 1949 play written by American playwright Arthur Miller. It tells the story of Willy Loman, a failed salesman, who ultimately commits suicide. This flawed, but valiant deed marked the end of an unremarkable sales career. The reality is this: salespeople in the wine business are still under increasing pressure, as is the winemaker as well as the consumer. Seeing that the consumer has to fork out hard earned cash to enjoy some wine, it is up to the marketing team to convince the consumer to buy the winemaker’s wine. It is thus clear that there needs to be very good communication between the winemaker and the marketing team. All of this is old hat. What might not be that apparent, is that there exists two extreme opposite paradigms in the winemaking world.

Paradigm one: Based on extensive market research, the winemaker obtains information on existing markets and what their requirements are. Here the winemaker relies heavily on the interpretation and rendition of current markets by die marketing team. Past experience, current trends and forecasts are buzz words here. A quality level for each market segment is determined and wine is made and marketed according to the consumer preference of each segment. Forgive me, for I’m of course greatly reducing the complexity of the science that is involved in marketing and market research. If I may simplify even further, within this scenario the winemaker makes what the different markets want.

Paradigm two: The winemaker makes wine according to his taste and whims. The market is ostensibly much smaller than those described in paradigm one, seeing that consumers need to share the taste of the winemaker or need to adapt. During my stint in a big cellar in California, I met a highly eccentric winemaker who personified the second paradigm of winemaking. He was of the opinion that winemakers like him are part of a dying breed and winemakers should not be dictated by market preferences. In his own words: “If you like my wine, you buy it. If you don’t like it, *$#@* off!” I really liked this cowboy and I decided to stir the pot a little by pointing out that I’ve had excellent wines from wineries/winemakers representing both of the above mentioned paradigms. You can just imagine the earful that I got then…

Let’s revert to the opening statement: “If I was a winemaker and I made wine that tasted the same five years in a row, I would consider myself a failure.” Theoretically, an exceptional year will yield exceptional wine. This will probably change (improve?) the taste of the wine, if compared to a standard. The million dollar question is: Will your market accept the different taste or will you be met with a lynch mob?

You might want to ponder this whilst having a glass of wine. After all… “In vino veritas.”


Bernard Mocke is a technical consultant for Oenobrands

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