small is beautiful
For many, success in business is built around scale. We normally measure success numerically; making accountants and shareholders happy with upwards movements on a graph focussed on metrics; turnover, profit, capital. With scale comes the economic benefits we learn about at school; falling relative costs, increased profits and revenue increase achieved through competitive pricing.
The business of wine developed quickly from a local sustainable one to mass industrialisation at the same time as export markets rapidly expanded in the 80s and 90s. As a beverage, wine found itself in previously unconsidered homes whilst, at the same time, domestic- producing markets began to consume less than their 'long-lunch' parents did before them. To 'grow' a business successfully you needed scale, and the ability to understand that wine is a global commodity.
As with the industrialisation of any industry, machines replaced humans in production and , in the offices, computers replaced minds. It could easily be argued that we witnessed mathematics and science replacing heart and soul. Globally the wine shelves expanded, prices fell, consumption rose; the industry grew. However, It would not be wrong to generalise that with scale we lost quality and story. We lost the intrinsic strengths that wine has over the rest of the drinks industry, that complicated depth that confuses as much as it fascinates.
As the wine industry now struggles to find growth and sees other drink categories steal its share, where is its salvation? In my opinion, strangely enough I believe it will find it in the ‘small’, those fragments of the industry that remain unchanged through the growth revolution and, in their own way, continue to make wines reflective of their place, of their family and of their history. More than ever, the industry needs to find its voice again, and tell a story of 'terroir', a story of personality, origin and craft. The wine industry may be a global industry but its future, more than ever, lies in the hands of the small.