Why wine innovation is about much more than what is in a bottle

Genuine innovation is incredibly rare in the wine industry. So much so that when I first started writing about it I thought I was being lead down the proverbial garden path when I was told rosé wine was one of the exciting new innovations of the year.

A pretty staggering claim when you consider for all the centuries wine has been produced you still can only make wine in either white, red...or, yes, you've guessed it, rosé. 

But even now you will get a retail wine buyer or a canny winemaker trying to convince you that they are somehow "innovating" by launching a rosé wine. 

It is about as original as the latest re-release of the Locomotion -  even if it is done by Kylie.

That does not mean there has not been good innovation in the world of wine. But rarely it is to do with what is actually in the bottle.

It’s more often to do with the packaging (Tesco introducing the screwcap in 2003), the design, the price, or with the advent of online, how it has been sold and delivered (step forward Naked Wines and now Amazon Prime Now).

Grape first

When it comes to the actual wine in the bottle, one of the biggest innovations, was the move by supermarkets to start promoting wine just by their grape variety.

 Grape varieties and not brands per se is how supermarkets looked to engage with shoppers 

Grape varieties and not brands per se is how supermarkets looked to engage with shoppers 

 

Sainsbury’s House was one of the first big ranges to go live back in 2010 with a range designed to give shoppers a quick easy way to get round the wine aisle by just choosing between a Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc. It was soon followed by all the major chains. 

It is arguably what kick started the UK’s great love affair with Pinot Grigio.

OK, it was a move mainly designed to ship cheap wine, bottled in the UK, at around £5 a bottle. But it caught on and struck a nerve with the consumer. Who, as we know, when it comes to wine are pretty much lacking in any nerve at all.

It has also done wonders in educating the average wine drinker about the different styles and tastes in wine.

The trend has also seen the emergence of grape driven wine brands, most successfully with the I Heart Wine range from Copestick Murray which encouraged shoppers to get so excited about their wine that they declared their love for a particular grape variety whenever they bought a bottle of wine.

 I Heart Wines have caught the imagination of mainstream wine drinkers

I Heart Wines have caught the imagination of mainstream wine drinkers

 

Which brings me to the official launch this week of the latest grape driven branded range, Most Wanted Wines from Off Piste Wines.

On first sight it looks to have taken the genre, if I can be as bold to describe it as such, on to another level.

 The 'MW' logo makes this potentially more than just a wine brand with potential to expand

The 'MW' logo makes this potentially more than just a wine brand with potential to expand

For a start it has higher aspirations in that it is targeting the premium mass market wine drinker, aged 25 upwards, with wines priced at between £8 to £10.

Rather than plugging Pinot Grigio it is looking to mix classics like Pinot Noir with new edgier kids on the block, like Albarino and Malbec. It is also looking to subtly promote and link grape varieties to certain wine regions which is another tick in the wine education box.

But it is what it looks like that potentially gives Most Wanted wines the edge. The label’s design, and Most Wanted logo, could as easily be a fashion brand or sport brand. Its name, Most Wanted, is as much a brand statement as Nike’s Just Do It, or Sky’s Believe in Better.

It was no coincidence that the official London launch this week was in a small, trendy private art gallery where the 'MW' logo fitted comfortably in to its surroundings.

 The window display for last week's London launch in a private art gallery

The window display for last week's London launch in a private art gallery

 

We should not be surprised that Most Wanted looks like it knows what it is doing considering the people behind it. The brand name and concept comes from Rachel Archer, who also devised the I Heart brand for Copestick Murray. She is fast becoming the wine industry’s equivalent to Apple designer, Jonathan Ive, for her ability to capture the look, and feel for what consumers are looking for. Helped considerably in this instance by Collective Design that came up with the eye grabbing logo,

The wines have been sourced by Clem Yates MW who was responsible for bringing all those House wines to Sainsbury’s five years ago.

The wines have already caught the attention of wine buyers at Sainsbury’s, Tesco online, the Co-op, Bargain Booze and leading convenience symbol groups. Such quick, widespread distribution is not surprising considering this is a range that is appealing to the retailers’ target audience. The discerning B to C consumer, 25 years and older, willing to splash out up to £10 a bottle of wine.

Building an online community

But it is not just down the drinks aisle where Most Wanted Wines wants to engage with its target audience. It is also hoping to connect with them on social media and has set up its own online hub, which it hopes will act as a community where like-minded people can share ideas and experiences be it about wine or other areas they are interested in.

It has created an Insiders section of the site where it hopes customers will go a step further and really share their thoughts with the brand owners. It has noticeably used far chattier language in order to explain what it is looking to do. 

For example, the sign up page for Insiders  says: "Each month we'll ask our Insiders for help, advice and input about what we do, and what we plan to do. In return, we'll treat you like a bonafide wine VIP, with sneak previews, exclusive rewards and much more. It's the sort of cherry-on-the-cake stuff that might just help you to enjoy our wines even more."

Rachel Archer says it is about "listening and watching" what is being said rather than trying to dictate any specific messages.

It specifically wants to analyse the language they use when talking about wine and the terms and phrases they can relate to. “It might also help us decide which wines to introduce in the future,” says Archer.

“It is about giving customers a platform which they can use to have some fun with,” she added.

Now not many wine brands have that as part of their first year goals and it is what makes the launch of Most Wanted wines so potentially exciting not only for Off Piste Wines but the category in general.

A brand that is trying to look and act the same way as other successful mass market consumer brands.

Or as it says itself. Wines without the Whine.