The Glass Half Empty (Or Half Full)

by | 20 Mar, 2023

The expectations of the wine world are moderately negative (I would prefer to say moderately positive). That’s what the “Prowein Business Report 2022: Out of the Crisis – The Current Situation of the International Wine Sector” points out. Prepared by the University of Geisenheim, this study is one of the most accurate diagnoses of the state of health of the wine business. It’s been carried out for 6 years now through surveys of almost 2,500 representatives of the different levels of its value chain, among them producers, importers and distributors from 48 countries.

Wine is a chronic patient. It’s always on the verge of ICU, whether due to the effects of natural disasters, armed conflicts or cyclical economic crises. When it was just beginning to recover from the ravages of the pandemic, the Russian aggression against Ukraine once again left it in a depressed state, on the brink of collapse, mainly afflicted by two major pathologies: the progressive rise in production costs (increase in prices from energy sources, for example) and disruption in the supply chain, such as transportation and logistics problems, and even the availability of basic products such as containers and bottles.

To these two great challenges, which have forced producers to reduce costs, focus their portfolios and in most cases to increase the prices of their wines, we must add the externalities of the economic crisis (inflation), the effects of the climate change, anti-alcohol policies and the gradual decrease in wine consumption, mainly among the new generations.

The wine industry has reacted to this difficult scenario. The global trend is to implement renewable energy sources and a more sustainable viticulture, reducing (or eliminating) the use of agrochemical products, carbon and water footprints, or turning towards practices or philosophies such as organic, biodynamic or regenerative.

It has also innovated by launching new products on the market that rescue the heritage of ancient vines, rediscover the potential of native vines that were lost in time, produce more natural wines (without additives and/or with a better natural balance between alcohol/sugar levels), and they bottle a new generation of dealcoholized wines that seek to cajole drinkers of kombucha and other elixirs that have become emblems of new consumers.

According to the same survey, wine producers also indicate which markets they will be targeting in 2023, and there is no good news for Poland. Of some of the main exporting countries (France, Italy, Spain, USA, Argentina, Chile, Germany, Austria and Portugal), only Spain names the Polish market as one of its priorities and only in tenth place, after the USA, Germany, Japan, Canada, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Denmark and Belgium. These results contrast with previous editions of the same study, which raised the booming Poland and its 40 million inhabitants as one of the most promising destinations for the wine world.

Why has the enthusiasm been lost? There are several reasons. The decline in economic expectations, the high tax burden and the announcement of new increases, the cumbersome system of banners for importers (it does not allow them to plan properly or react to market fluctuations), the obstacles to the dispatch of samples of products, especially from countries outside the European Union (for example, I cannot fully carry out my role as a wine critic because I do not have an importer’s license) and a lack of wine culture that is reflected in the dominant consumption of semi-wine -sweets, scarce diversity in restaurant menus (monopolized by beautiful and cheap wines such as Prosecco and Primitivo) and, above all, the perception that wine is a mere alcoholic beverage and not part of the Mediterranean diet, as in many other countries.

A few decades ago, the Chinese encouraged the importation of wine, mainly to scare away the ghost of alcoholism (undoubtedly, the authorities of the time wanted most of the rice production to be destined for the table and not for distillation stills). Today China is not only one of the main importers of wine, but also one of its largest producers. Changing consumption habits, opting for drinks with lower alcohol content and even with healthy attributes, is not only a possible path but also a recommendable one. Wine is closely linked to gastronomy (at the table and not in the gutter), to responsible consumption and, ultimately, to the celebration of life.





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