San Francisco, USA
Just a decade from now, the wine industry is likely to look a lot different than it does now. A number of important factors – including the rise of China as the next great wine nation, the global impact of climate change, and the wide-scale embrace of technological change by growers, winemakers and retailers – are making it highly likely that the way we drink and enjoy wine will continue to change at a rapidly accelerating pace. With that in mind, here’s a closer look at some of the most important factors changing the future of wine…
Don’t look now, but winemakers and grape growers are embracing innovations like drones and robots in the vineyard far sooner than anyone thought possible. In no small part, this is due to the ability of advanced technology to improve and inform the growing process. Sensors in the ground, for example, can lead to breakthroughs in soil management and help grape growers determine the optimal time to water vines. Moreover, drones flying overhead can check for signs of disease and drought, while robots with scissor-like hands can rove through the vineyard in order to prune vines. In California, for example, winery Kendall Jackson is at the forefront of the trend of using robots in the vineyard.
One big macro-factor that has really burst into the public consciousness over the past few years has been the impact of climate change on the wine industry. In some cases, this is the leading to the creation of entirely new wine regions at latitudes once thought unsuitable for making wine. Case in point: Sweden, Norway and the Netherlands are starting to develop world-class wines, thanks in part to broader global warming trends. Elsewhere in the world, wineries are heading to higher altitudes,
On a related note, winemakers are starting to embrace sustainable farming methods. In some cases, they are using solar power for their wineries; in other cases, they are adapting their logistical supply chains in the search for more eco-sustainable solutions that will minimize their overall carbon footprint. One high-profile producer jumping aboard the sustainability trend is Spanish producer Torres, which has embraced everything from hybrid vehicles to solar panels in an effort to be eco-friendlier. Not surprisingly, young millennial wine drinkers are catching on to this trend, to the point where marketing agencies and PR firms are advising winery customers to tout their green sustainability efforts right on the wine label. If given a choice between two similar bottles of wine, the typical millennial will opt for the one that is organic, sustainable or eco-friendly.
One place to see where taste trends are changing is China. Until recently, Chinese consumers only purchased red wines, typically prestigious wines from high-end producers in places like Bordeaux and Burgundy. And, naturally, domestic Chinese producers also focused on red grape varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon. But that appears to be changing. Changyu Pioneer, for example, now produces a world-class Riesling. And, in general, younger millennial females in China are embracing white wines, as they choose wines that they perceive to taste better. And, in general, there is much more experimentation amongst millennials, especially as producers from Australia begin to unlock the vast Chinese wine market.
The era of the 750 ml glass bottle may be coming to an end. The new, single-serve wine bottle is becoming more popular. At the same time, the idea of drinking “wine in a can” or “wine in an aluminium bottle” no longer seems strange. Right now, canned wines are still a minuscule portion of the overall global wine industry, and new canned wine brands are popping up all over California. It’s no longer unusual to see shelves filled with boxed wine, either, which is viewed as being more portable and convenient than glass bottles.
With the globalization of the wine industry, one trend is becoming very clear: wine drinkers don’t necessarily care about appellation or fermentation, or any of the other characteristics that distinguish a wine. Instead, they are looking for easy, approachable wines that taste good. That’s leading to the rise of new wine brands that perfectly capture this new approach to wine, such as I Heart Wines from the UK. In many ways, wine brands are becoming much more similar to traditional supermarket brands, and that means wine labels are becoming much more fun, innovative and cheeky.
If there is one feature of the wine industry that has always captivated newcomers, it is the focus on annual harvests and the designation by wine experts and wine insiders of whether a particular year is a good vintage or not. Bordeaux wines, for example, are generally regarded to be among the finest in the world. That is, with the exception of certain vintages, such as the 2013 vintage. So that’s leading to new thinking about blended vintages. If there’s a particularly bad vintage, why not blend it with a good vintage – the same way a winemaker might blend two different grape varieties to create a spectacular new product.
The typical retail wine shop has not changed very much in the past century. Wines are typically arranged by region or grape variety, and it’s up to the consumer to peruse through thousands of bottles, all of which largely look the same, to find the perfect bottle of wine. But why not re-think the wine retail concept? One idea that is growing in popularity is the notion of a wine retail shop as being similar to a modern bookstore, where books might be the feature attraction, but there is a lot of emphasis as well on experiences – such as hanging out a bookshop café, or attending a book reading at night, or partaking in a book reading discussion with an author.
For now, glass bottles are here to stay, and tech companies are coming up with innovative ways to use technology to improve the wine buying experience. One big idea that is gaining traction, for example, is the concept of using augmented reality wine labels to help tell stories about that wine. The first major wine brand to embrace this technology was 19 Crimes.
To combat the problem of wine counterfeits, another important use of technology is creating a blockchain-based authentication and trust system. The blockchain is permanent and immutable, making it perfect as a way to authenticate a particularly rare bottle of fine wine. The one blockchain-based system that is getting the most buzz right now is the Chai Wine Vault.
There are a variety of big macro-trends influencing the future of the global wine industry. From new technologies to new winemaking trends, to the emergence of entirely new wine regions, there is a lot to look forward to over the next decade in the wine industry.