Practically every month the wine world awakens to yet another winery merger, acquisition or partnership.
Big “ wine organizations “ seem to be getting bigger and richer, while medium-sized operations are being marginalized more than ever.
Who benefits from these so-called partnerships or joint ventures?
As far as discernible these partnerships involve a more inclusive distribution of the wines of both partners, at least in free alcohol-beverage markets. Quality improvements, as always claimed, are marginal at best and often fail to materialize.
There is no shortage of technically well-trained and competent winemakers. The science of wine making has been studied and well recorded. More importantly, the information is readily available.
Thirty years ago, only a few people had heard about the School of Oenology in Roseworthy, or for that matter of the Institute for Wine and Soft Drinks at Geisenheim, the department of viti-and viniculture in Conegliano and University of California-Davis. Today, young, talented winemakers are sent to these venerable institutions including the University of Bordeaux, University of Dijon and University of Motpellier, to further their knowledge and make technically better wines.
However, the most important thing in winemaking is still the grape. If the soil and climatic conditions (terroir) are unsuitable, no amount of winemaking expertise can compensate for the lack of it!
The fabled house of Antinori of Tuscany in his winery in Napa Valley California cannot produce Sangiovese remotely resembling those from Tuscany; the same is true for Robert Mondavi and Frescobaldi in Tuscany.
The Mondavi-Frescobaldi joint venture produces very fine wines i.e Lucente and Luce but they cannot be pinned to a locality or region.
Mondavi-Errazuriz joint venture on the other hand improved quality because the fruit grown by the Chilean counterpart was superb in the first place.
All these famous consultants like Michel Rolland, Helen Turley or Ezio Rivella are so busy that they cannot possibly travel to all the wineries. So who does the consulting? The answer should be clear – their assistants. So what is ultimately the objective of joint ventures or employing famous consultants?
The first involves widening distribution. In the U S A today there are only five regional distributors and they are very powerful. They can afford to lobby politicians to ban direct shipping to end-users and maintain large enough sales forces to ensure appropriate shelf-space for their products.
When it comes to famous consultants, the idea is that the publicity resulting from the fact will impress consumers sufficiently to buy the wine.
In the U K and Australia the situation is the same. I Canada government monopolies mitigate the situation to some extent.
Wine producing countries, with the exception of Germany, do not import much bottled wine; therefore, distribution as a marketing tool remains insignificant.
It was, and remains clear that in wine making the most important factors are:
Winemaker’s contribution is estimated to me no more than 10 percent at best.
As the saying goes: A good winemakers is an interpreter of nature.