VINUL.RO EXCELLENCE AWARDS 2011 – PROVISORY CONCLUSIONS
The PREMIILE DE EXCELLENTA VINUL.RO 2011 was for me a fantastic way to get more to know about Romanian wines and wine business. Since 2003, a lot changed in Romania and it is good to see that the Romanian wines are getting much and much better. This is mainly due to the enormous efforts (and investments!) for restoring or increasing the quality of the vineyards and wine cellar technology. The marketing and the packaging are nowadays also much better and adapted to the demand of the Western market. In 2003, I was really shocked by the very old-fashioned cheap looking labels everywhere… At that time, only 2 companies were already working with ‘re-looking’ of the Romanian wine labels, SERVE and VINARTE… MURFATLAR was also starting with their much fresher labels of the – at that time – ‘revolutionary’ SEC de Murfatlar… In 2011, I was really glad to see how many companies are using modern and well-designed labels.
RECAS COCOSUL LABEL
For the Western market this is absolutely essential for all the companies aiming to sell wines in the supermarkets (80-90% of the sales in Europe!). Consumers do not take much time to buy their goods. It is not really realistic to think that all consumers will take the time to read a wine label! They just decide mostly instinctively and quickly, mostly based on the holy trilogy of price, promotion and label… If the label is not appealing, the chance that they buy the wine is dramatically reduced.
Retail versus Horeca/CHR
I consider the number of ‘retail’ wines which we did reject during the competition quite alarming. Winemakers do their best to produce a good wine, unfortunately not every supermarket or warehouse seems to be able to keep the wines in good conditions of temperature, light and hygrometry. That is very sad! However, it is too easy to blame only the supermarkets and warehouses when it comes to ‘defects’ in the wine. One of the most important unwritten rules in marketing and sales is that the real sale starts when the client receives the wine. Follow-up, point of sales promotion (check!), store-check (double check!) and maybe also advice and support are essential for a good long-term collaboration between producer and retailer!
Tradition? Which tradition?!
In all the old Comecon wine producing countries, you still can feel the ghost of the old Soviet times… Too many wines, in all price categories, still show too much alcohol, a strong bitterness from unripe tannins, unbalance and over-concentration. The used oak (and I am not only talking about ‘barrels’) is not always first rate. Oak is not ‘necessary’, and if one wants to use oak, it must well done. The oak should be only the frame of the painting, not the painting itself! All this used to be ‘tradition’… People are used to it, and not only consumers! Some oenologists are still perpetuating the same processes in the name of ‘tradition’. Which tradition? The one of the old Soviet Union or the one before the Soviet Union? Romania has to rediscover its OWN way of wine making, its own style. I saw that most companies do already have special lines for the domestic market and the export to ex-Comecon countries besides other lines for the Western market (including also the better domestic Horeca/CHR market). That is great! The Western consumers nowadays are getting tired and bored of all those old-fashioned ‘New Wine World’ type ‘blockbusters’. Wines with too much of everything, wines that can get high points in some guru magazines, but wines that are so heavy that you don’t fancy a second glass of it. Those wines are perfect for showing and speculating but are not really made for the joyful table dishes… Western consumers want more and more often fruity, fresh, well-balanced, elegant and gastronomic wines.
The real tradition of Romanian wines …
Stirbey Vineyards © Prince Stirbey
Romanian or International?
I strongly believe in the use of autochthonous grape varieties. Romania has the great luck to have plenty of them, with some really good and valuable ones.
A forgotten paradise: Dragasani region
© Prince Stirbey
I know it is not easy to sell wines made from unknown grape varieties, especially when their name is nearly unpronounceable for the most consumers. But is blindly following the trends of monovarietal wines with international grapes a good choice for the long term? Producing ‘international’ type of wine enhances the consumer’s choice for buying ‘varietal’ and/or ‘brand’ wine instead of ‘original’ wine. In the short term, this is a very successful story for many big producers, but I really wonder what will be the positive impact of this on the revival of the Romanian wine culture in the long term. At the moment, I am not really optimistic about that.
It is, to my humble opinion, a dangerous way. Not for the big international companies, of course… If the grapes and wine making turns to be better and cheaper in China or India, they just can switch to Chinese or Indian cabernet, merlot, pinot noir, sauvignon blanc, chardonnay and so on. I am not sure that consumers will protest against the switch and regret their good old ‘Romanian’ wines… The big wine producers will always find their way to go on producing their ‘brand’ wines… But what about the local wine culture? What about the economic, social and even political impact of a worst case scenario like big foreign investors leaving the country and moving to another country like China or India? Can you imagine?
Chinese Cabernet wine for sale in the Belgian Delhaize hypermarket
That is why I really would like to see more Romanian wines from good and valuable autochthonous varieties like feteasca neagra, babeasca neagra, novac, negru de Dragasani… crâmposie, feteasca alba, feteasca regala, tamâioasa româneasca, grasa, francusa, etc. This is not only a Romanian issue; it is a worldwide problem of globalisation and standardisation… Producing good and valuable wines is a good thing, but if everyone proposes the same type of wine, the consumer will just opt for ‘brand’, ‘price’ and ‘promotion’. Not for a producing country or region… For the big companies, no problem at all, they will always find their new wine Eldorado. But for the local opportunists who just followed the easy way, it might turn into a real disaster.
Back to the present
I really think that Romania deserves more respect on the international scene. But respect is something you really have to work for. The present is already difficult, but the future might be even more stressing! It will be even more necessary to observe, analyse and understand the markets you want to sell to. Each market is unique and needs a unique approach. What works for the USA and Canada won’t automatically work for the UK, Germany, France or the Netherlands. The future shows us already a few distinct trends:
– Increasing demand for BULK wines, not only for cheap low quality but also more and more for higher, premium quality.
– Increasing demand for MDD wines (Marque de Distributeur), wines produced for a specific client (Tesco, Ahold, Carrefour…) with an exclusive label. Big volumes and low to average prices.
– Increasing demand for sustainable, bio/organic wines with a good packaging and a good story. Good value, niche market and lower volume but loyal markets.
I am convinced that there is a great future for companies who really listen to the market and produce good wines for an acceptable price and a good packaging. A (super) premium wine with an obsolete and/or cheap looking label and packaging will not work… Marketing is getting essential, the competition between producers and between big and small companies is getting harder. Only pro-active companies, big or small, will survive in the big wine jungle out there. The rest will have to go on producing anonymous wines for the bulk and MDD industry.
If Romania wants to sell to the Western market (especially the continental part of it, you know, the one where people do drive on the right side of the road – grin), it will have to increase the proposition of good wines: fresh, fruity, gastronomically enjoyable, with an own, unique character. Romania has the terroirs, the grapes, the good oenologists… I am fully confident about a good future for the Romanian wine industry. As I wrote before, the bad image of the past is for many bigger companies still a huge handicap. The boutique wineries do not have so much image problems. Big companies will all have to split their offer and presentation… Murfatlar, Halewood, Recas and some others did it already and this will definitely be good for the future image of Romania.
I do wish this great country with a rich history and culture a fantastic future!
In these festive times, I will end with a warm toast to ROMANIA!
Vă doresc un Crăciun fericit
şi un An Nou binecuvântat!