Hi, this is my first submission in the MWWC. Monthly Wine Writing Challenge 19 – Choice. #MWWC19
Spoilt for Choice
Is being spoilt for “Choice” always a good thing?
Over the past few decades the increase of trade between countries and lowering of tariffs has meant an increase in the selection of wines available for consumption to a greater range than previously available. One of the benefits of this globalisation is being able to purchase a decent bottle of wine at an acceptable price in most places around the World, thankfully, including Singapore, is now possible.
This is great today, but is being spoilt for choice a good thing or will it create an issue in the future, could it lead to the decline in the availability of wines that are produced by smaller, artisinal producers?
Prior to globalisation and the advent of the internet, I was lucky enough to be living in Adelaide, South Australia, when I started my journey into the world of wine. Adelaide is in the middle of a number of Australian wine regions, where there are over 200 wineries within 2.5 hours driving, so I should have been able to find and taste wines crafted by some of the smaller producers from the nearby regions, but, unfortunately, this was not usually the case.
As the smaller wineries did not have the volume needed by the various distributors their wines were not often available anywhere other than at the cellar door. So a road trip was required, which is not a bad thing as long as you could find a designated driver and hope that someone in the party knew where to find the smaller, usually “hidden”, wineries or that you would take a wrong turn somewhere and find one, the latter was usually the way we found them, it was also the most fun.
Another option was to attend wine shows / tastings, where you could be introduced to some of these smaller wineries and hopefully the winemakers. As there were usually so many smaller producers at the wine shows and numerous tastings it was not possible to attend every event or, in the case of the wine shows, be in a state that would allow you to appropriately appreciate their wine and develop a relationship with them to ensure that you were on the mailing list. If you were not on a mailing list, regular access to their wines was a challenge.
With the increase in the use of the internet to market and distribute the inability of these smaller producers to get the word out about their wines was no longer a significant. This change meant that the choices available, to everyone, were greater than ever before because you could now access wines from smaller wineries from both local and other Australian wine regions as well for the first time. Great news!
The next significant change in the Australian Market, not sure if this was the case in other countries, was the increase in the availability and decrease in the price of foreign wines. This was due to the World Trade Organisation requiring the reduction or removal of the tariffs that were previously used to protect wines produced in Australia and New Zealand (who still get a sweetheart deal when it comes to selling wine in Australia). The number of choices increased yet again. More great news.
With the internet making ever increasing amounts of information about wine available, consumers could now have confidence in knowing what other options there are to their local well known drop (Australian slang for wine or alcohol), be it another local wine from an obscure winery or a foreign wine with similar characteristics or something that they want to try because it seems so different. This is great right, but is it?
Could our need to expand the number of choices we have, have unexpected consequences?
Is it possible that the increase in availability and decrease in price of foreign wines could start to impact the smaller local wineries as they are now competing with these local wineries for the first time, and whilst competition is usually good for the consumer, will this increase in competition mean that the smaller guys are no longer able to offer a wine that is affordable and of the same quality as in the past. Will be driven to discount their wines in order to encourage the consumer to purchase their wines instead of a competitors wine that could be considered to be of better quality or more unique just because it came from somewhere else.
If the winemaker doesn’t have the cash reserves to maintain the lower price point whilst ensuring the quality of the product, how long will it be until the smaller wineries will have to merge, sell to a major producer / conglomerate or to produce lower quality wines? In my opinion, none of these options are acceptable as the number of winemaking styles will be reduced and so is the likelihood of a winemaker taking a risk to trying something different, maybe a different blend or a varietal, which would be a disaster. If people do not take a risks, progress stagnates and we don’t get to experience amazing and new products, in this case, wines.
History, and especially the history of wine, is all about people taking risks, finding by experimentation and mistake, that they can craft new and interesting wines. If, because of commercial pressures, winemakers are no longer willing to take a risk. If this becomes the norm, where will the next innovation in wine come from as we would hardly ever see a wine maker take a risk to create a high quality experimental wine? Will winemakers decide to only manufacture wines for the mass market, and decide to no longer craft wines that are unique, made from lessor known varietals or made using a different method to what is used in the mass market.
Being able to have many options to choose from when deciding on a wine is a great thing, but being able to uncover a new, interesting and quality wine to share with fellow oenophiles is even better. I hope that the demand for the unique, smaller wine makers and speciality wines increases so that there is a commercial need to continue to produce these craftsman created wines instead of wine manufactured for the mass market, as without the demand for them we will lose the opportunity to continue to increase the number of choices available as we will have driven the smaller wineries out of the market as they will no longer be viable concerns.
The best solution to this dilemma is to go out and buy a new wine today. Ask your retailer about small artisanal producers and continue on your, hopefully, never ending journey of wine discovery.