Friday, 12 April 2013

Alienating the Young: Why The UK Wine Industry Must Change

Oz and James Big Wine Adventure aired in 2006
and was a great insight to the light hearted side of wine.
As a young guy working in wine, I really think the wine industry in this country still has a long way to go in order to seem more attractive to a younger audience. And I don't even mean career-wise - even younger consumers just don't seem interested.

There may be more young wine drinkers now than ever - who drink stuff that's just passable as plonk when they get together with friends - but the sad reality of this is its just because wine can get you very drunk very quickly.

Eventually, a few people do get to a point when they think "If I knew a little more about wine, I could buy something that tastes better" - and for someone who has that spark, along with the motivation to actually find a source of information that is engaging and informative, they will benefit a lot and hopefully begin to really enjoy what they are drinking.

However, it is a very small percentage of people that care and it is the "don't give a shit" attitude which is the reason why the UK has such a strange relationship with booze, especially when you compare with countries like France, Spain and Italy.

"How come the attitude in these arcane foreign lands are so different to our own then?" I hear someone at the back with a heavy cockney accent ask. Well until recently England hasn't exactly been considered a wine producing country, so the difference is that in France (for example) the stuff is everywhere.

I'm not saying that in France younger people don't have exactly the same attitude towards their drink as people in the UK but it is much easier at an earlier age to make that progression into building your knowledge about the subject in a country with a wine producing history. The problem is that there is no real incentive for anyone to want to explore wine here and a lot of people won't, unless they have parents who have a keen interest in it and pass that on.

Supporting English wine producers such as Gusbourne Estate
is essential for developing the attitude towards
wine in the UK
Sadly our government (thats right, if all else fails, go all punk rock and blame the establishment) is obsessed with this idea that the best way to get over our almost patriotically dysfunctional relationship with alcohol is to show as little as possible about it in the media and try and pretend that the stuff doesn't exist. What this really does though is take away any sort of interest to learn, that younger drinkers might otherwise develop if alcohol was more of a positively integrated part of our society.

For example; instead of making life as hard as possible for Oz and James to do another series of their 'Big Wine Adventure' the TV folks should have encouraged it, and if they had the backing from the powers that be, people might turn the telly on and think "What's this wine stuff all about then?" They might even learn something whilst enjoying a programme that makes wine less of a drug and more of an interest - perfect!

Realistically, most ordinary young folk don't know that there is anything to know about wine. Generally, all that people see is the stuff that's on the shelf at the supermarket. Support from the media is exactly what is needed just to show people that there is more to know about the grapey stuff, without over-worrying that it's an alcoholic product so we'll all become addicts. All it takes is a small spark in someone's mind, a little glimmer that there is something more to know and in time, that spark will grow. In this country, we just need to figure out how to get that spark in the first place, without getting over excited and bombarding people with information.

If you drink more than your recommended daily allowance,
this could be your life.
I would like to say that things are slowly getting there, however in reality if things carry on the way they are going, wine may well go the same way as cigarette packets; no front labels and nothing but health warnings, taking away all the attractiveness that wine holds.  If this was to happen it could be catastrophic for the industry as already we are increasingly confronted with adverts demonising alcohol and trying to guilt-trip anyone that drinks more than the recommended daily allowance, which surely does drinks companies no good.

And it isn't the older generation this will most dissuade (who thankfully have lived through better times in the wine world, so are better equipped to make their own decisions), it's the up-and-coming wine drinkers. If you treat wine as nothing but a worrying abv percentage, that is how young people will grow to see it - and then how will you engage them past the appeal of a quick path to shitfacedville?

Wine is an interesting, exciting and inspiring subject. It is great to be able to drink good wine and it is a pleasure to learn about. I think it is evident that there is a big gap in the market for someone who is a reputable name in the wine world and who really knows their stuff to create a new way of looking at wine, simply by creating an easy way of learning about it at a very basic level. Someone who can keep it light and not forget the fun and who won't make something either aimed at completely the wrong audience or just totally patronising. 

Either way, someone is missing a trick and until people can easily find a way like this of learning about wine, our country's attitude to the stuff is never going to change, meaning English producers may not get the growth they deserve and if people continue not to care what they drink, Britain's binge drinking culture will win. And we don't want that do we?

Anyone else fancy a Jager-bomb?

Leave a comment below or on our twitter or facebook and let us know what you think the future holds for the uk wine industry.

Freddy Bulmer
Photos taken from QuaffableUKthe mocs and In Focus photostreams under the creative commons license

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