There are 12 seminars in total and the entire text is quite long so I give you here a list of them so you can find what interests you most without having to read them all
They will be published in several batches as the text is too long…
Seminar 1: Michel Bettane, Wine Criticism and Ethics.
Seminar 2: Philippe Duval, the SAQ.
Seminar 3: Willy Klinger, Director of the Austrian Wine Marketing Board on the development of the wine tourism in Austria.
Seminar 4: Michael Prinz zu Salm-Salm, the VDP classification systems as marketing tools for approaching new markets.
Seminar 5: Angelo Gaja; the evolution of Italian wine.
Seminar 6: Ivanhoé Johnston, the negociants of Bordeaux; did they all develop out from what Maison Johnston started?
Seminar 7: Jacques Berthomeau; the world of wine and the governmental administrations; conflict or understanding?
Seminar 8: Jean-Robert Pitte, Wine; beverage of European identity and its rapprochement to the world’s different cultures.
Seminar 9: Olivier Humbrecht, biodynamic in viticulture.
Seminar 10: Stephane Derenoncourt & Patrick Sabaté, new technologies of the wine world; vineyard and cellar & Cork; what will be the future?
Seminar 11: Christian Roger, wine & money.
Seminar 12: Yair Haidu, “HAIDU”; a major new development on the internet.
Seminar 1: Michel Bettane “Wine Criticism and Ethics”
Michel started the seminar about this steaming hot topic with describing the wine critic as the interface between the wine and the traders/professionals. He then described the evolution of wine journalism in the following 3 steps:
1: The traditional British wine critic, deeply intertwined with the professional trade. Merchants and auctioneers setting standards for the trade based on many years of knowledge of the trade. Basing their trustworthiness on professionalism and honesty over long time. No real separation between trade professionals and journalists. Good example hereof are the numerous MW’s involved in the trade.
The great discussions about the quality of the 1982 vintage let to a change and emerge of 2 different currents of critics….
2: The consumer focused primarily American journalists. Speaking about price/quality for a change and thereby touching a new group of consumers. Looking for the best wine for the best price. Focusing on spreading knowledge and giving everybody a chance to develop their own personal taste.
3: The trade individuals and consumers using the “right” to communicate your own opinion about a wine. This group have with the new methods of communication as internet, blogs, forums etc created world wide communities, a “new order” but also an excess of information including loads of miscommunication.
This categorization led to a discussion on today’s lack of ethics and lacking code of conduct. How to maintain a high level of knowledge and professionalism? How to ensure professionalism overall? How do we ensure criticism with strength and freedom of speech at the same time?
We need serious moral and a defined code of conduct based on following 3 simple but fundamental basics:
- Good knowledge. In-depth knowledge of the product and trade. Diverse and profound knowledge of the product in all its different forms and aspects. This has to be continually developed by training and ongoing studies.
- Importance of words used. Taste is the most important “organ” used for wine journalism. We all have different genetics and personal differences taste-wise. This can be solved and levelled out by communication, but requires a huge focus on development of communication skills. Every description has to be clear, precise and sensible; giving same meaning for all. There has to be a relation between words and psychology of the writer and the reader. Criticism has to be measured as a positive thing, a way of creating an understanding. One should never loose sight of reality, but always keep in mind how important the precise description is to ensure clear and useful communication.
- Moral towards oneself. Journalist’s interests are often seriously biased. Merchant / journalist = one and same person. These persons are in general very professional but a doubt of conflicts of interests always exists.
It is of extreme importance to always be independent and judge against one’s own self esteem; follow one’s own heart and beliefs. Resist temptation to follow your consumer’s wishes or demands, to remain “oneself”.
Judging of wine is too often affected by political or traditional reasons and not only by the taste itself. Here could be mentioned the current movement towards “natural wine”. Accepting oxidised rustic wines as good, just because they are ideologically seen as “good”.
We have to leave this ideological way of assessing wines and only focus on the actual quality we have in the glass! And also have awareness of our own ability to taste; using our body’s instruments with respect and sensibility.
Several questions and discussions arose following the moderation by Enzo Vizzari that stressed that each one of us in our own world have to respond to our own situation and moral. We have to take a stand and make our opinion clear. Enzo also mentioned today’s excess of persons speaking biased about things they do not have the in-depth knowledge of. There is today too much information about everything and nothing!
It is impossible to avoid mixing roles, but the professionalism and moral should always come in first place. We should all keep a layman’s attitude; a humble and honest approach. Stick to our own opinion and be open for discussions. Real independence and transparency is the key!
A question about the need of a formal study as wine critic was raised by Gil Lempert-Schwarz and Michel Bettane replied that indeed education is needed, but that there will always be a fundamental problem here with the conflict between education and the freedom of speech/fundamental freedom. We have to be moderate and make an effort to use this freedom with honesty.
Another topic came up: is wine is judged for trading or for drinking purposes? If points given are an absolute? Whether wines not should be ranked within a context (region/vintage)? And scores given be used for ranking within this context?
The discussion continued with Stephane Derenoncourt’s comment: What does a wine critic like and what does the consumer like? Who are today’s scoring systems made for?
The discussion could have continued for hours and even days… This subject indeed is relevant!
Seminar 2: Philippe Duval, the SAQ.
Philippe Duval is president of the Quebec alcohol monopoly called the SAQ; Société des Alcools du Québec and gave us in his seminar first a very good overview of the SAQ. First a few hard facts about the SAQ: they have 10.000 different products from 2500 suppliers from 60 different countries and accumulate a yearly turnover of 2,5 billion. Wine accounts for 77.7% of the sales, 14.9% is spirits and the rest beer and other alc. beverages. The monopoly is as such owned by the Quebec people and profits from the sales are returned to the Quebec community. Philippe Duval explained us that one of the reasons behind the SAQ’s continuous success is the fact that is run as private company even though it is state owned. There is a huge focus on broadcasting a retail network based on expertise and knowledge.
A very well made short video was shown to give us a visual introduction to the SAQ and it was made very clear that the core values of the company is professionalism, expertise, contribution, dynamic and passion; a question of quality in all aspects!
Philippe Duval divided the vision and practise of the SAQ into four axes:
1st Axe: Passion and work ethics:
The word passion was repeated again and again throughout the seminar and was defined like passion for sharing the pleasure of wine. Passion about the business; a wish of becoming the best, most innovative and most professional retail chain of wine.
Another thing that was highly emphasized was the work-ethics; often a sensitive subject when it comes to state owned monopolies, but Philippe Duval emphasized the value and efficiency of their well implemented system to avoid redundancy towards this problem and also mentioned a very effective cost reducing system. It seemed very clear that nothing in the organization of the SAQ is random. Every single action, idea and system seems to be very well though trough, have a meaning and very importantly make the company successful and highly appreciated by the Quebec people, the customers.
2nd Axe: The people, the employees:
The employees working at SAQ are not just sales people, but wine experts sharing their knowledge and passion with the customers. They have a very dynamic approach to knowledge and 6% of all salaries are used on ongoing education. This is one of the clear reasons why the SAQ has a 79% customer satisfaction rate according to Philippe Duval.
3rd Axe: The knowledgeable consumer:
Attention to the fact that increasing knowledge amongst consumers creates a need for increasing knowledge of the employees has resulted in several customer surveys and ongoing monitoring of the sales plus approach and choice of the customers.
The SAQ customers can be divided into different groups that all need to be approached and treated differently. Awareness of the fact that several different customer types all need to be able have a satisfactory experience in the same shop creates a huge need for respect and patience with all customers. The main group of customers accounting for 29-52% of all sales are very knowledgeable customers that have high demands in all aspects and acknowledging this fact keeps the SAQ employees constantly active with training.
It was also here emphasized that all 414 existing shops should provide the customers with a social buying experience and see themselves as a centres for sharing of information and passion.
4th Axe: Marketing and promotion:
SAQ has a need to maintain the image and credibility on the market and invests a lot in marketing. They have amongst others their own magazine and offers wine courses to customers plus focus a lot on total corporate transparency.
They want to make the universe of wine accessible to everyone, to open the doors, to share and develop.
They recently invented a “new language” to simplify the buying experience the “Pastille de Gout” or “coloured spots/dots” that easily divides all wines into different categories and groups according to style. This was used as an example of the huge importance of monitoring customer behaviour to create a true and useful base for innovation, development and improvement.
SAQ really does work for their vision of becoming the world leader in wine retail and wholesale!
Here Philippe Duval stopped his presentation and the Q & A started.
Philippe was asked about possible plans for worldwide expansion and he replied that yes; the vision of the SAQ was to become the worldwide leader in wine retail and wholesale and in innovation! But emphasized again that the customers will decide the future of the SAQ. He sees his company’s most important role as helping the customers and secondly being a highly profitable company.1st goal is to satisfy the Quebec people, 2nd goal is to analyze and start business in other markets and make profit there.
Then he was asked about the SAQ’s approach to allocation and sale of fine wines and he explained that even rare and fine wines were sold with a fixed margin and by lottery to the customers. He also mentioned that the pricing system works with a fixed margin % based on the buying price of the wine. This system makes expensive wines cheaper than in the other states of Canada and cheaper wines the same, but again here noted their focus on adding extra value to all products “not only a bottle”.
A question was asked about the risk for corruption and Philippe Duval replied that a rigid system to avoid this was implemented years ago and in addition a very strict code of conduct.
The delicate subject of the increasing demand for champagne and the possible need for partnerships to increase and maintain allocations was touched. Partnerships can be seen as biased and has never before been common practice for the SAQ, but Philippe Duval acknowledged the need for a change. A need for partnerships and a need to get rid of arrogance!
He was also asked about the approach to journalists and explained that they tried to keep a certain distance to the wine journalists but of course needed to follow them in a certain way as they do impact costumer behaviour.
Finally he was asked about today’s role of the agent and he said that they focused on having the direct contact with the producers, but that the role of the agent has also changed and was now more like a helper than an intermediary for both them as buyer and for the producers.
Seminar 3: Willy Klinger, Director of the Austrian Wine Marketing Board on the development of the wine tourism in Austria.
Willi Klinger started giving a small overview of Austria and the role of tourism: 6.1% of the GNP is tourism which makes Austria number 8 in Europe and 12th worldwide when it comes to tourisms part of the GNP. 71% of the tourist are international and they generate yearly 13.6 billion €. Out of all this wine tourism accounts for 5%.
He showed a very humours presentation that took us through Austria mentioning the main parameters behind Austria’s success as a (wine) tourist destination. Main points were: wine is a part of Austrian culture! Salzburg and Vienna are centres of tourism that focuses on architecture, music and nature. Austria has a long history and world heritage vineyard sites in Wachau, Kamptal and Steiermark.
He emphasized again the role of the beauty of the nature and the cool climate that plays a huge role for both the wine production and the winter tourism. Austria produces 250 mill litre of wine and consumes 250 mill litres of wine, but 60 mill litres is exported today anyway! 50.000 HA are in production and 6.000 estates are bottling wine (in contrary to 164.000 HA and 2.200 estates in Australia!)
Some of the strong selling points for Australian wine tourism are:
Healthy and hearty food
Beautiful hotels and nature
Spas; wellness tourism
Plus; “Austrians are fun!” (and the whole room laughed as a slide of a bunch of partying wine drinking Austrians in traditional costumes was blasted up on the screen!
He illustrated the clear difference between Austria and the “rest of the world” like this:
Austria: Authentic, artisanal, family, individual and natural
Worldwide: Commercial, industrialized, big companies, uniform and technical.
Austria also leads when it comes to organic and integrated agriculture and viticulture with 16% totally being organic (3-10% of the viticulture) and 75% being integrated.
Willy Klinger then moved on the importance of the Austrian wine culture being popular and not elite, that drinking local wines from Riedel glasses is a common and normal part of the everyday life!
This combined with the dynamic and young wine scene is what makes Austria strong and interesting as a tourist destination. The general high quality of the wines as a clear result of the well educated, international and dynamic wine producers is also a key point.
Then he finally added on the importance of manifesting identify with indigenous grape varieties and pointed out that Austria has ideal conditions for Riesling, Grüner Veltliner, Muskateller, Blauer Zweigelt, Blaufränkish and St. Laurent amongst others.
Then Gil Lempert-Schwarz as the moderator put to question if Austria had enough “super star wines” to become “really” famous as wine country and the reply from Dirk Van der Niepoort was if Austria really needed those super stars? If Austria had not already had an impressive success in what they do? And as a wine tourism destination indeed? Dirk also mentioned the impressive fact that in Austria the success had only been possible because of an unusually strong collaboration in-between producers, government and larger companies. Something that is not seen in many other wine producing countries.
Willy Klinger said that there was of course a need for continuous improvement in the search for “perfection of the wine tourism”! Furthermore he said that it was crucial to keep on promoting local wines at the best restaurants and only export the best quality. The strategy of branding Austria as a high quality niche/boutique wine producing country should be enforced by excellence in every field; excellence in wine, in service and in communication.
Elin McCoy ended the seminar asking (or actually stating) if Austria did not already had their super star in form of the Grüner Veltliner? She saw the variety itself as the door opener for Austria as a whole. She mentioned that she noticed the “new” young consumers in the States taking a great interest in “unknown” varieties and also found the Austrian Grüner Veltliner taste-wise perfect for this upcoming consumer group.