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What The Market Says
Talking with English Wine Merchant, Noel Young
Friday, 11th August, 2006  - David Farmer

The following comments are general thoughts offered by the Cambridge (U.K.) based retailer and wholesaler Noel Young and are from a recent interview in the Barossa. They cover thoughts on his own business, views on the British trade and how he sees the appeal of wines from various countries.

If I was to mention one important fact that I gleaned it was that drinkers are concerned about the amount of alcohol they consume and associate certain wines with healthier drinking even if they have the same alcohol as standard wines. Wines that are light and fresh, such as rose seem to appeal because the consumer feels they are less harmful.

This type of interview and commentary may interest those in marketing and sales. Some of the topics discussed arose from questions that I asked.

"Currently and in fact for the last 18 months I have found it a difficult market and you have to work hard to attract customers. The market is very Ďofferí driven and customers are buying day to day and are much more careful how they spend. The last easy year was 2003.

It seems I am hearing this world wide from merchant retailers like myself. Basically there are bargains everywhere in the wine world.

The British supermarkets now offer a vast range of up-market wines and they target specific wine market regions such as Cambridge. A group like Waitrose has a small up-market wine buying team-basically they want it all.

My shops do not stock wines under £3.99 and for mail order nothing under £4.99 and apart from a few do not stock big strong brands. Currently I range Yellowtail and Penfolds Koonunga Hill. The supermarkets are still looking at their range and appear to be slowly contracting it though they can then expand into another area.

Sherry sales are stagnant. I stock about 20 decent sherries but sales have levelled off and it is a hard sell. People are very conscious of the alcohol content so it has everything working against it. It is also a difficult taste and the famous brands are dying with their customers. 95% sells as presents at Xmas.

Spanish wines give good value and will be a big threat to the Barossa with their wealth of old vines and the revolution is underway. I have increased the range slightly but how many old vine garnacha do you need. This variety is still not an easy sell.

Portugal is all the talk so the Douro is converting to table wines but the market is still tiny. Germany is interesting as I see a rise underway and it may be associated with the light taste and lowish alcohols. I now sell more German wine than Californian.

Champagne is strong and the alternatives just do have it. Though English sparkling wine is increasing in sales. The top new world sparklings have slowed up though the cheap bottom end is going well.

Italy is moving ahead particularly the whites. Once you could classify them as cold and wet but now they are well priced with pretty good flavours. Pinot grigio is their Jacobs Creek and was fresh, crisp and utterly banal but had nothing wrong with it and was big in the late 1970ís and 1980ís and now it is back, like chardonnay was in the 1990ís. Perfect for the non-educated, every day wine drinker. Itís still boring but better than Liebfraumilch, itís dry and crisp with an origin versus a concocted, sweet, sugary substance. I have not stocked Liebfraumilch for ten years and have not been asked for it for five years.

The educated drinker is back buying the best of the low alcohol Germans.

People are more aware of alcohol in the wine and do not want an alcoholic wine mid week.

As for South America, Chile is now making wines of interest. Bulgaria never changed and for a long time it looked like Chile never would but a lot of interest is now emerging even blends of marsanne-rousanne. At last they are fulfilling the promise and the wines are progressive and interesting. As for Argentine nothing is happening yet.

The surprises have been the growth of dry rose, a sort of Provence style, German riesling and the Austrian gruner veltliner. The last really surprised me when people wandered into the shop asking for it.

My thoughts on supermarkets are that they will get bigger but hopefully customers will still want individuality. We have seen a boom in organic, free-range, rare breed and heritage vegetables so the desire is out there. They could get to 65%-70% by volume which will be about 50% by value. Some off licences are closing and some come back re-badged with a big brand.

There will be great opportunities for the specialist but off a smaller base and the supermarkets have set a standard benchmark for service etc.

Pinot noir will keep growing, its funny really people going back to where they started.

As for wine writers that are on about globalisation and global tastes meaning all wine will taste the same, and that there is a globalisation wine formulae, well even if itís so itís dwarfed by so many other wines. Basically the idea is bollocks as there are all manner of flavours and tastes at all price points.

When I started in 1987 there was appalling stuff being sold, it was bad-bad, also wines were not part of every day life so now it is much more sophisticated.

A new wine drinker today is so much better off, starting with products like Yellowtail and if we cannot move them along to other wines we are not doing our job and are letting them down.Ē

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