The “new normal” in the world of wine

There is much more light than shade in the future for wine, as long as genuineness and transparency prevail 

Fabio Piccoli – Wine Meridian

We will soon be entering into the second year of the pandemic that has had such a profound effect on all our lives, including our work and our markets.

It is obvious that, in general, wine could not remain immune to an attack that was so strong and – in many ways – surreptitious, and about which even now we still know too little.

For the first time, at least in modern times, we have felt simultaneously sentiments such as fear, uncertainty, shock, and resignation.

But it is not on the feelings I have just mentioned that I want to draw your attention; indeed, I think it is more useful to try and explore what lies beyond these negative sentiments; not just to seek to be optimistic, but to face up to reality without being conditioned by the filter of fear.

Even if fear can in fact represent a positive feeling when it helps us to steer clear of greater danger or to react swiftly to the possible assaults of life, it risks becoming a dangerous burden or constraint when it has a constant bearing on our decisions. Indeed, in this latter case, fear inevitably leads to paralysis.

So, what can we see through the (certainly still very small) crack that projects us into a world beyond Covid-19?

Above all, that there is light, and lots of it. And in this case, too, this light is not only an optimistic projection of our minds but the result of a concrete realization that even in this last extremely difficult year – and taking advantage of the figures that the wine industry provides – we have seen how consumers have never become disaffected with this extraordinary product. On the contrary, in some ways so-called “home consumption” has led many consumers, all over the world, to observe wine in a new light, buying it at the supermarket, certainly, but choosing it with greater care and thinking of matching it with a lunch or dinner that have never before been so rich in new dishes.

It is no accident, in fact, that for wine – even bearing in mind the many difficulties of this period – the process that goes by the name of “premiumization” has never been interrupted. Which, translated from the jargon of marketing people, means that very gradually (but for some years now) consumers have continued to choose wines in the premium bracket, taking away market share from the “entry level” ones. Obviously, not everyone behaves in this way, but many people are looking for higher quality rather than just quantity. And this trend is another demonstration of the “light” I referred to earlier.

Seeking higher quality should not in fact not only be seen from an economic point of view – even though this aspect is undoubtedly important – but as the demonstration of a cultural evolution among consumers.

It is also true – apart from seeking wines of higher quality and being prepared to invest a few Euros more – that consumers are becoming much more aware of the importance of sustainability: no longer in an abstract manner, often conditioned by a sort of ideological creed, but as a concrete new sensitivity regarding the protection of the planet in all of its aspects, starting obviously with human health.

In this “sensitivity”, in my opinion, will reside much of the “new normal” situation so often talked about in recent months.

From my point of view, though, I do not think that the so-called new normality will take the form of a reduction in relationships between people, in a lesser desire to travel, or in a lasting fear of frequenting theaters, cinemas or restaurants.

I am not at all convinced that this will happen. Rather, I think that the need for relationships, for conviviality, for enjoying an excellent play or concert, or a dinner at a restaurant with friends will be even more evident in the era of the new normality.

What will be “new”, therefore, will be found in our new consciousness and awareness regarding the quality of life.

Never more than in this incredibly difficult year have we understood the importance of being in good health, not taking it for granted any more. Never as during the hardest times of the pandemic, when we were under strict lockdown, have we understood how important our relationships are: those with our friends, but also those that are work-related.

But especially we have become fully aware of how fragile we are, and it is this very thing that, in the end, may give us a new strength, one that is more useful and credible than the often only apparent one of the past.

We have seen how fragile we are compared to nature which, for too long, especially in this period of history, we have ceaselessly mistreated, without any restraint.

We have also been divided with regard to an extremely serious topic like climate change, which is having a profound effect on our times, and in particular on those who are involved in wine production and in agriculture in general, the principal protagonists of what some refer to as “the open-air factory”.

But it is in fact the farming spirit that is making a great contribution to us all: that mentality, that awareness which always allows you to deal with the force of nature, with patience and courage and the determination to start again from scratch, even after a hailstorm has destroyed all your harvest.

So, the new normality (which the world is already starting to show us) is not represented by negative things, but rather by finding once again a sense in all of our everyday actions, from the smallest to the most important: a sense that already right now many of the world’s consumers are finding in two fundamental characteristics, which can be summed up in the words “genuineness” and “transparency”.

I mean genuineness in the sense of coherence between what people say and what they do; a real revolution, therefore, also in the communication of wine producers who – quite rightly – will be increasingly forced to tell the truth. Truth, then, and no longer just vague illusions, will provide the convincing content in the wine world’s communication. But equally important, in order to demonstrate that one is genuine, will be transparency: wineries in the age of “the new normal” will have to appear to have glass walls, so that everything they do is clear and visible.

As we have seen in the last few months, social media may finally become an extraordinary instrument, especially for demonstrating in a transparent manner the genuineness of businesses, beginning with the women and men who work in them.

This revolution has actually been taking place for some time, and this pandemic – which we hope will leave us alone soon – has only accelerated a process that will be increasingly unstoppable.

Is the world of wine ready for this revolutionary wave?

It contains within it all the right characteristics for being able to accept this great change. But to do so it must abandon its fears and, after many years in which it has only focused on the quality of the product (which is undoubtedly extremely important), from now on it will be increasingly crucial to highlight the quality of people, their expertise, their courage, and their genuineness.