A different point of view

A different point of view

Wednesday, 4. March 2015
Source: Meininger’s Wine Business International | Felicity Carter.

In mid-February, some of the wine world’s most talented women assembled in the Park Hyatt Mendoza to judge the annual Wines of Argentina Wine Awards.

The theme this year was ‘The Empowerment of Women in Wine’. It was an invitation I thought twice about, because all-female events can reinforce the idea that women are a minority group, peripheral to the business of wine. The reality is that in most of the major markets, women make up at least 50% –  if not more – of wine consumers: drivers of the market, rather than outliers.

Volcano Aconcagua and Vineyard. Aconcagua is the highest mountain

Now, though, I’m extremely glad I went, not least because it gave me a chance to meet some of the industry’s most accomplished people – the room was packed with MWs, critics and decision makers. Plus, several Argentine women told me the event sent an important signal in a country that can still be very macho, even in this day and age.

But why the female theme in the first place? It’s because every year Wines of Argentina (WofA) seeks to tap an important sector of the wine market. One year all the judges might be Chinese experts; another time, they might be top sommeliers. The tasting, organised by the magnificent Jane Hunt MW of Hunt & Coady, is set up to encourage panelists to discuss, compare, disagree and re-taste, to ensure each wine has an optimal chance. There is at least one local per panel who can explain a style or region, so I came away feeling I’d undertaken an immersive three-day masterclass.

At the end of the week, the visiting judges were asked to give a presentation at an industry seminar: either a case study of a brand that’s successful in a given market, or on what a particular market thinks of Argentina.

Market specific

Annette Scarfe MW, discussing the markets of Hong Kong and Singapore, said that consumers in those markets know little about Argentina. She advised producers to pay attention to professional women in the market, as more lawyers and bankers are signing up to do WSET courses. Scarfe added that a wine and food matching programme could be helpful for those markets.

Susan Kostrzewa, executive editor of Wine Enthusiast magazine, agreed that talking about food matching also worked well for the US’s female demographic. She added that it was important not to overlook women in the premium market, as American women are increasingly wealthy in their own right, owning more than 50% of shares, for example. She also emphasised that social media was where the conversations about wine were happening.

Shari Mogk-Edwards, vice-president of products, sales and merchandising at the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO), on the other hand, said the major consumers of Argentine wines in Canada were urban males. In her lively and data-driven presentation, Mogk-Edwards said that the New World side of the LCBO’s business was growing, although the under-C$10.00 ($8.00) segment was declining. She warned listeners that Torrontés, Argentina’s flagship white, didn’t work in her market, and also that producers should “stop with the heavy bottles”, a theme that several panelists (myself included) took up.

Critic Sara d’Amato of WineAlign.com in Ontario, Canada, said there were signs of stagnation of the Argentine segment in her market, and that consumers perceived the wines as “hot” and perhaps unvaried. Wine writer Megumi Nishida of Japan pointed to the rise of beef-eating culture in that country as an excellent opportunity for Argentina.

By the end of the morning, anybody listening knew exactly what Argentina’s strengths, weaknesses and opportunities were, in all their major markets.

The results

Argentina is a country grappling with a number of economic issues. President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner – who is proof that female leaders can be just as controversial as male ones – has imposed currency controls, while there has been falling industrial production and rising prices. As a consequence, WofA needs to do ever more work on a tight budget.

They’ve risen to the challenge. Changing the judges each year means Argentina is putting its wines in front of the wine world’s most influential people, while the seminar ensures the country benefits not just from their guest’s palates, but their expertise and market knowledge.

So how did the all-women panel do? Apparently we were less argumentative than male judges, less likely to give up when tired, and less likely to hand out gold medals than previous panels. We also awarded more medals to smaller and more boutique wineries.

It will be interesting to compare our results with those of the 2016 panel, especially if WofA follow up current proposals to demonstrate their even-handedness by having an all-male panel in 2016.