How technology is helping wine makers bypass supermarkets

Victoria Moore, The Telegraph’s wine critic, wrote an interesting article on 20 June about European wine producers selling direct to UK consumers; naturally, we were delighted to be included – to be fair, there isn’t a long list to choose from – and to have our white described as ’beautifully crisp’.

… Social media – together with simple email – is enabling small producers to form a more intimate relationship with those who enjoy drinking their wine.

Intimate? Steady on.

Sainsburys Fulham - 02

Anything but this

In fact, the piece was given the title How technology is helping wine sellers bypass the supermarkets, presumably by a sub-editor, with the introduction “Wine producers are using social media to sell bottles directly to their clients, with no middle-men required.”

Of course, ‘wine sellers’ are not usually the same people as ‘wine producers’, as Victoria explains:

‘Bypassing retailers and agents to sell direct is hardly a new phenomenon – I think every British wine drinker is born with an ancestral memory of stopping at a French roadside for a dégustation.

‘But modern communications technology is transforming the experience. Each of us is now like a miniature station, capable of broadcasting the minutiae of our lives across the world on multiple channels from Snapchat to Periscope to Instagram. This is enabling a joyful inversion of Amazon’s “long tail”; instead of one faceless retail giant amassing volume by selling tiny quantities of a large number of lines, social media – together with simple email – is enabling small producers to form a more intimate relationship with those who enjoy drinking their wine.

‘It’s a mindset that Naked Wines, with its emphasis on the relationship between drinker and winemaker, has successfully tapped into – but of course Naked, like any other merchant or agent, is still an intermediary. Direct is only direct when you’re buying straight from the producer, and I think we’re going to see a lot more of it.

Hear hear.

One such producer is Justin Howard-Sneyd, who has a proper job in London but has a small vineyard in the South of France.

‘Five years on, Domaine of the Bee has its own website and its own club, with about 150 members. The couple invite them around to their home in south-west London about twice a year and hold a boules tournament in June – and now, more often than not, they don’t know the people coming through their door.’

When I read that, I thought, how bizarre to let people you don’t know come through the door to your home. Then I realised that’s precisely what we do ourselves, albeit in the countryside outside Bordeaux, not in sarf London.

‘Howard-Sneyd says one appeal of the direct sell is the chance to engage. “When I worked as a winemaker (for other people), I was hugely frustrated by the lack of feedback – you do your best work, send it off on a lorry, and then… silence. With a good website as well as amusing emails, phone calls, tastings, dinners and events you can really get to know your customer (and they you). What they want is not just a bottle of wine but a bottle of wine with a whole lot of ‘lovely wine stuff’ around it.” ‘

That’s true, although we ought to do more of the ‘lovely wine stuff’, whatever that is. In all seriousness, we’d love any suggestions that are a bit more creative than ‘free wine’ (to gavin at bauduc dot com, Gavin Quinney on Twitter or Facebook, or please comment below).

Victoria then talks about us, and I even get the last word. (Why I mentioned the cost of managing an email list of more than 5000 people is beyond me, but at least I didn’t use the word ‘terroir’.)

‘Another Englishman who has been successful at building a network of supporters is Gavin Quinney, who makes wine in the Entre-Deux-Mers region of Bordeaux. His beautifully crisp white is proudly on the menu at both Gordon Ramsay and Rick Stein – restaurant listings have become an important kudos and authority marker for the producer managing his own sales.

‘Quinney’s lively newsletter goes out to 4,600 people – “I prune it because I’m vain,” he says (I think he means he only wants to write it for those who want to read it). “Also the charge for more than 5,000 is a few more bob.” He sells 80 per cent of his wine directly in the UK, three-quarters of it in private sales and the remainder straight to restaurants.

‘The other 20 per cent is sold through agents overseas – plus a couple of hundred bondholders effectively pre-purchase eight cases every year for four years (Quinney is opening a new bond offer in the autumn – I recommend it). In other words, sales come from a broad base but the control is good for the producer and the sense of being involved in a thriving small agricultural business is rewarding for all.

“I’m not sure why more people don’t do it,” says Quinney. “But you’ve got to have the stomach for it – and the patience. It takes time.” ‘

Shortly, I’ll write a post about what we’re planning to do about our use of technology, and why, and – of course – there’ll be a lot more about the Bond in the autumn. But we don’t want to tempt fate before the harvest.

Thank you, Victoria. Now I’m off to look up Periscope.

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