Richard Hemming MW: the sequel to the sequel
As sequels are to Hollywood, so vintages are to wine. The same franchises get churned out every year, and every year people faithfully buy into them. The only difference is, with the possible exception of heavily oaked Chardonnay, wine doesn’t go with popcorn.
OK, that’s hardly the only difference, but as with any comparison, you can engineer the similarities to suit your argument. The average cost is below £10, it’s generally a shared experience, there’s a trend towards consuming at home instead of going out, and too much of either gives you a headache. Whereas, for the sake of balance, here are some dissimilarities: cinema ticket prices don’t increase depending on the movie’s (supposed) quality, films don’t change with age, and the French ones for over- 18s generally aren’t suitable for sharing with your parents.
But the notion of sequels and vintages does seem apposite. Studios release sequels because audiences like familiarity – we are already invested in the brand – and, frankly, because it is usually easier and cheaper than coming up with something original.
So if the anticipation for a new Star Wars, James Bond or Sharknado movie is comparable to the anticipation for a new vintage of Grange, Krug or Musar, is that a good or a bad thing – and what are the implications for wine retailers?
For well-established wine brands – be they producers such as Lafite or appellations such as Barolo – each new vintage generates a great deal of attention and excitement, especially when rumour has it that the latest release could be the best ever, which is increasingly often, it seems.
Whatever the expectations, vintage variation is one of the enduring fascinations of wine.
Capitalising on new vintage releases can be a handy way to give sales a shot of adrenaline: en primeur campaigns for Bordeaux, Burgundy, Rhône, port and some other places might offer woeful margins, but they do provide the chance to engage with your best customers and foster their loyalty.
Whereas for most other wines, the arrival of the latest vintage on your shop shelves gives a ready-made promotional opportunity – especially when the first wines of the current year land on our shores from the southern hemisphere (generally over the next few months for the 2019 Sauvignon Blancs, for instance).
At the same time, the ideal scenario would be to offer back vintages of age-worthy wines too – a bit like cinemas re-running classic original movies. This is more challenging from a retail perspective, since the higher price of older wines increases pressure on cash flow, plus there is the difficulty of sourcing the wines and ensuring their quality and authenticity.
Vintages make wine a fascinating but complicated retail proposition. Vintage should be an intrinsic part of the buying decision, and newly released sequels shouldn’t necessarily be accepted based on their antecedent’s success. The point is that vintages are one of the things that make wine unique – and that attribute should be a way of enhancing the wine retail experience.