There are Two Wine Industries. We Need to Stop Conflating Their Interests.

airline wineI’m sure Robert Joseph is correct when he argues, in Wine Business International, that emerging wine regions will sell more wine by planting International varieties rather than indigenous grapes.

Did you hear about how Hilton, Sheraton and Hyatt will no longer offer international breakfast options in their Tokyo hotels, and how they will restrict their morning menus to typical Japanese fare such as steamed rice, miso soup, fermented soya beans, pickles and dried seaweed? No?

That’s hardly surprising because it’s fake news. I made it up.

Those hotels, like their Japanese-owned competitors, the Imperial and Grand Nikko, would never dream of doing anything like that – they know many guests expect to start their day with toast, cereal, muesli or fried egg and bacon.

To survive economically, big hotel groups need to give their customers what they like, rather than what they think they ought to like.

That’s the same rationale behind Turkish Airlines pouring Turkish Chardonnay and Syrah on their flights, rather than indigenous Turkish grape varieties. They need to keep huge numbers of passengers happy.

In answer to the question does the world need another Starbucks, more thoughts from Kim Kardashian, or more plantings of Chardonnay, Robert happily looks at the sales numbers and says why of course.

But that ignores the interests of the rest of the industry.  I can’t find a reliable assessment of how many wineries there are in the world. But there are almost 10,000 bonded wineries in the U.S. and the U.S. is only the fourth largest producer, well behind France, Italy, and Spain. Suffice it to say there are probably several hundred thousand commercial wineries around the globe. The vast majority of them are not selling wines to hotels, airlines, or grocery chains.

If everyone is making Cabernet, Chardonnay, and Syrah, 90% of these wineries have no reason to exist. The vast majority of the wineries in the world don’t have to keep the hordes happy. They need to build local markets and give wine enthusiasts a reason to seek out their wines. To do that they need to offer wines that are distinctive, and that means indigenous varietals must be part of the mix.

The idea that the wine world could flourish with a few mega producers selling generic juice to business travelers is absurd.

Yes, there is a market for industrial wine, and there is no reason why emerging regions shouldn’t participate. But there is a whole other wine industry out there that defines the culture of wine. What works for industrial wine doesn’t work for them.

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