A finger to the wind: changes
Author: Charlie Geoghegan
As we celebrate our 325th anniversary, we asked industry specialists to consider the future of wine and spirits. Here, we reflect on some of the changes that they’d like to see.
It’s impossible to predict the future, even for a 325-year-old wine and spirit merchant. Perhaps the only sure thing is change itself. And for Max Lalondrelle, our Bordeaux Buyer, that’s okay. “Our industry is very adaptable,” he says. “I have seen changes and trends in my time, and I hope to see plenty more as we adapt to new consumers, trends and technologies.”
The extent to which we – humans, industries and societies – can influence these changes varies widely. But it’s surely worth thinking about. So we asked some friends from within and beyond Berry Bros. & Rudd to tell us about the changes they’d like to see.
The natural world
Wine and spirits are agricultural products, and it all starts in a field somewhere. Matt Hastings of Nc’nean Distillery would like to see improvements from the ground up: “farmland that encourages biodiversity; promotes soil health; increases carbon retention; avoids damaging pesticides; and grows community as well as produce.”
Georgie Hindle, Bordeaux Correspondent at Decanter, hopes for a similar development in wine. She would like to see “a concerted effort by every winemaker around the world to reduce the number of harmful chemicals used in vineyards and to adopt more sustainable, environmentally friendly practices.” This is not always the easy or practical solution, she acknowledges, but “it is our responsibility to protect the Earth and to work with respect and care.”
There are positive signs that more growers and regions are moving towards sustainable practices. For some, it’s a question of small steps in the right direction; for others, it’s about immediate, systemic change. The vision that Matt Hastings lays out is “a big shift,” he says, “but the positive impact this has on our planet is enormous, and will have the largest effect on the longevity and life of our industry.”
Lightening the load
We work with some of the best wine and spirits producers in the world. Many are relatively close to home. There is a smaller, though growing, cohort of British producers, too: the vineyards of Sussex, Kent and Hampshire; distilleries making whisky, gin and even rum. But some of the most exciting makers operate much further afield. The impact of shipping wines around the globe, and visiting producers in far-flung regions, is a real consideration for the industry.
“We should all make a conscious effort to fly a little less,” says Catriona Felstead MW, one of our Buyers, whose remit spans much of the globe – from the South of France to South America. “Face-to-face contact is hugely important, and nothing beats standing in a producer’s vineyard talking to them. So, travel in moderation, and only hop on a plane when absolutely necessary.”
Much of wine’s carbon footprint relates to glass bottles. There are concerted efforts, such as those by Jancis Robinson MW and Aleesha Hansel, to highlight the issue.
There is more work to be done, believes Mark Pardoe MW, our Wine Director: he would like “for people to realise that heavy bottles need not equate to luxury or the implication of quality. It is what is inside the bottle that counts.”
The next generation
As an eighth-generation member of the Berry family, Geordie D’Anyers Willis has worked with successive generations of Berrys and Rudds. Perhaps more than most, he recognises the value in exchanges among and across generations. “We all have so much to learn from each other,” he says.
The wine world is a lot more open today than it was even a generation ago, too: growers, winemakers and merchants all talk to one another. Geordie hopes to see “even more collaboration, between producers, regions and generations.”
Tugdual Iquel is our Head of Asia, based in Tokyo. He suggests that the industry “must draw the attention of the younger generation.” To rest on laurels or become complacent is a risky business, even when it comes to the world’s finest drinks. “A luxury product is only a luxury product until it is viewed as old-fashioned and out of touch,” Tugdual warns.
Business and trade
“Wine is especially vulnerable to geopolitical impulses to protectionism and isolationism,” says freelance wine writer Simon Field MW. “Tariffs and barriers to entry need to be lifted, or at least relaxed, in a nod to the virtues of free trade.” Where there are significant barriers, the ramifications can be huge.
One cautionary tale is the recent trade dispute between China and Australia, which saw the latter’s wine exports to the former – far and away its largest market – dry up virtually overnight.
Martyn Rolph, who heads up our Commercial team, calls for “reasonable release pricing”. Producers around the world are impacted by inflation, he recognises. This continues to have an impact on the cost of production and, ultimately, pricing. “We want our customers to be able to access as wide a range as possible,” says Martyn, “including the best [wines and spirits], which are inevitably more expensive.”
The impact of inflation is palpable today. But for the most sought-after wines and spirits in the world, high and rising prices are nothing new. This is further compounded when wine is treated as an investment vehicle. Mark Pardoe MW “would love to see the ‘decommodification’ of the biggest names in wine, but supply and demand make that an impossible dream.”
Towards greater diversity
Part of the beauty of wine lies in its traditions. Generations of growers and makers tending this or that plot of land for decades or centuries.
In Burgundy, white wine has been made from the tiny Clos Blanc de Vougeot vineyard as far back as 1110 AD. In Bordeaux, the Malet-Roquefort family acquired Château La Gaffelière in 1705, though there had been vines growing on that site since Gallo-Roman times. From Georgia and Armenia to South Africa and Australia, there is a rich history of growing grapes and making wine with long-established traditions.
The flipside of wine being such a traditional industry is that it is not a particularly diverse one.
Emma Fox, our Chief Executive Officer, would like to see “more diversity – of thought, of background, of ethnicity, of gender, of age.” She’s not alone. For critic and author Jane Anson, the industry needs “more inclusivity and diversity.”
Spirits, too, would benefit from greater diversity, equity and inclusion. Rob Whitehead, our Spirits Buyer, would like to see “an even broader range of people and voices represented within every echelon of this wonderful industry. Give me a choir over a soloist any day.”
This article has been adapted from one originally published in the 325 anniversary edition of No.3 magazine. You’ll find a digital version of the publication here.