Breaking Hearts at Bragato

The NZ wine industry’s 2018 Bragato conference in Wellington at the end of August was a huge success. 

There were lots of highlights, but three heartbreaking moments struck me.

At the start of day 2 of the conference, Philip Gregan, CEO of New Zealand Winegrowers, played a video clip that had featured in a workshop the previous day.  It was footage from The Project and featured a winery from North Canterbury.  The owners had been on holiday and had been confronted with the real-life face of women and children sold into human trafficking, modern-day slavery and sex work. Based on UNICEF numbers, a vulnerable person is trafficked or sold into slavery every 27 seconds. 

That’s today, in 2018. Gobsmacked. 

Heartbroken, but not broken by the experience, this couple created a brand called 27 Seconds, and 100% of the profits go towards helping survivors of this barbaric trade.

The other 2 ‘heartbreaking’ experiences pale in comparison. They revolve around the idea of putting the customer first, however heartbreaking that may be.

Early on day 1, Dr Vaughn Bell from Plant & Food Research presented results of his research on techniques for managing Grapevine Leafroll Virus. Vaughn used the word ‘heartbreaking’ when, instead of presenting the detailed data coming out of his work, he presented a simple table with a tick or a cross based on whether different management techniques were shown to make scientific and financial sense, or not. As heartbreaking as it was for Vaughn to gloss over the beautiful complexity of the detail, he put the audience first.  He knew that putting his passion for scientific detail second, and accessibility for the audience first, would have the greatest impact, and deliver the greatest benefit. His pain was our gain. 

Nanogirl Michelle Dickinson caused a bit a stir. Not the least with my colleague who was stoked to grab a selfie with his geek-crush. She broke the hearts of viticulturalists and winemakers in the room when she explained the motivation driving the purchasing decisions of 90% of our market. “I like the label. I buy it. If I like the taste, I buy it again. If I like it, I buy it again.” 

She explained why consumers are less interested in terroir, and vintage variation. In fact vintage variation isn’t a positive. “If I like a wine, I want it to be the same every time I buy a bottle.”  Growers and winemakers were shifting uncomfortably in their seats. 

Aside from the exact numbers, I expect she’s right. Some consumers may be interested in the place, people and process – the magic, as far as I’m concerned- and knowing it was produced sustainably is important, but most consumers are mainly interested in the brand, and the experience once the bottle is opened (preferably with the screw of a cap). Heartbreaking for many in the industry, but real. 

An important reality to consider and respond to, or not. What market are we aiming to please? Those who care about site, season, viticultural and winemaking philosophy, and who celebrate expression? Or those who know what they like, and want that experience consistently?  Neither is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. They are different consumer groups who value different things. Maybe we need to take a leaf from Vaughn’s book, understand our consumer, and put their needs first.

Getting back to 27 Seconds, if you’d like to support their cause, please see 27seconds.co.nz. Get in touch with Pete and Alanna. There are plenty of ways to help. Buy some wine. Donate. Winemakers or growers might like to donate grapes, wine, packaging or services – and thanks to those that have been helping to date.

I’m sure Nanogirl would agree, it’s a cause consumers would buy wine to support.

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