By Paul Wootton
Wine in cans, high altitude wines and the rise of Chenin Blanc and Gamay – all key trends likely to impact the global wine industry in the coming years.
The predictions were made by wine experts Stuart Pigott and Paula Redes Sidore in a seminar hosted at ProWein in March. They explained the trends they highlighted were driven by three factors: climate change, social change and the ever-present changing nature of the industry.
Trend one: Wine in cans
This is a divisive topic, Redes Sidore admits, explaining she grew up in an era where cans signified something cheap, where the contents of the can “weren’t worth putting in a glass”. But she says that a younger generation have grown up with craft beer and cider in cans and for them cans are an acceptable alternative to glass.
“Cans are a format and what matters is what’s inside,” she explains. “We’re seeing some really fantastic wines in cans, including single varietal, single vintage, single vineyard cans coming out of California right now. It’s really beautiful stuff that’s playing in the same league as half bottles.”
The USA has already embraced the trend and Oregon’s Union Wine Company, which began putting wine in cans back in 2013, enjoys great success with its Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and rosé in cans. The Francis Ford Coppola winery was another early adopter, with its Sofia Minis and its Diamond Collection of four single varietals.
Pigott refers to an industry report from the US that looked at the use of aluminium cans in the wine industry there. “The most important item in there was the section about the advantages of selling wine in cans. And it says the number one advantage is convenience. It sounds so harmless, doesn’t it, convenience? That you can just slip it in your pocket or in your bag and you take it with you. It’s about freedom. I suggest this canned concept has something to do with the pleasure in wine.”
Trend two: High altitude wines
The effects of climate change, with drought stress becoming a more frequent problem for winemakers, will result in a greater focus on higher altitude vineyards in the future, Pigott argues.
“When I first got involved with wine in the eighties, a vineyard that was 1000 metres above sea level seemed like a really big deal,” he says. “It doesn’t seem that way anymore.”
Illustrating his point he showed off a wine from Salta in Argentina made from grapes grown 2000-3000 metres above sea level.
“There are important differences when growing grapes at that altitude,” he explains. “The air is thinner, it’s generally dry, you have super intense sunlight and the soils drain very fast.”
Redes Sidore points out that wine students are taught there are three classic climate types: Maritime, Mediterranean and Continental. She suggests the mountain climate is now emerging as a fourth climate for vintners to explore.
Trend three: Chenin Blanc and Gamay
“These are two grape varieties which have become the 21st century mega-cool twins for sommeliers and wine freaks around the globe,” Pigott says. “Both have become fashionable partly because they were so unfashionable. But both are very interesting grape varieties.”
Pigott claims Gamay is a variety that has great potential under new hotter climatic conditions. In the very ripe 2015 vintage in Beaujolais, where most of the world’s Gamay is grown, growers found none of the wines went above 13.5 per cent abv and good levels of acidity were still present.
“By contrast, with Pinot Noir you have to race to pick the grapes early to avoid the acidity falling through the floor and the grape sugars shooting through the ceiling,” Pigott says. “I think we’re going to see a lot of exciting wines coming out of Beaujolais in the next few years.”
Chenin has its spiritual home in the Loire in France but some of the most exciting Chenin wines of the last few years have come from South Africa. Mulderbosch has established a reputation for its fine Chenin wines, having made single varietal Chenins since 1996.
Sales and Marketing Manager Sean Griffiths says, “We were at the vanguard of making world-class Chenin and we were one of the pioneers in recognising what can be achieved with the variety.”
In the last couple of years, the winery has focused on single vineyard Chenins, three of them, all from Stellenbosch.
“We’re really trying to demonstrate the difference of terroir. So we’ve gone to three of our partner growers, and we’re working with very similar age vines, we’re vinifying in exactly the same manner. So they really are an expression of terroir.”
Could Chenin Blanc one day be as popular as Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc?
“Undoubtedly,” says Griffiths. “Chenin has so many amazing complexities. It’s my go-to grape. It’s just the most incredible grape to work with because you can make anything from fresh and fruity styles to full, ripe, rich wines and on through to dessert wines. In terms of its versatility, its ageability, its food-friendliness, it’s unrivaled, I think.”
Trend four: Field blends
Field blends are inter-planted vineyards of multiple grape varieties that are grown, harvested and vinified together.
“It’s a blend,” says Pigott, “but it’s a blend where the blending is done in the vineyard, not in the cellar. And that’s the extent of it.”
As Pigott explains, field blends are not a modern development. They’re how winemaking began, when farmers and winemakers couldn’t take the risk of a single planting in case that planting failed.
“It was a bit of a safety net,” he says. “And today, that same safety net is working for the winemakers that are looking at their vineyards and saying, ‘Okay, these field plantings are giving us a bit of security in terms of the ripening point’, right?”
This is increasingly important as climatic conditions around the world become less predictable.
“Field blends are something that’s near and dear to my heart because it touches on two of the really important issues,” says Pigott. “It touches on the idea of climate change and sustainability and what we as an industry are going to be doing as we look at the fact that the climate – mother nature, which is the biggest factor when it comes to wine – she’s changing.”
Trend five: Vegan wine
This trend was not highlighted by Pigott and Redes Sidore but, in conversation with multiple producers at ProWein, it became obvious that vegan wine was fast becoming a topic of great interest – inspired by consumer demand, especially in large markets such as the UK.
“Vegan is massive in Australia, absolutely huge,” Brad Rey, director of Zonte’s Footstep winery, asserts. “I get asked for it more than organic biodynamic. Organic biodynamic is very much a niche space where they’re very focused on the land. Vegan is just straight out a dietary requirement and under the new methods using crossflow for filtration all my wines from 2018 are vegan friendly. I’m not using any kind of egg white or gelatin to clarify my wines.”
According to Rey, producers are increasingly promoting the vegan-friendly nature of their wines in their marketing and packaging.
“We are all doing it,” he says. “From these wines, I have developed a sticker, like my gold medals. Not metallic but white with a big ‘V’ on it that says ‘Vegan Friendly’. People want it. It’s not really a quality thing, it’s a health, dietary thing. The labels provide an assurance of a choice in diet.”
David Babich, CEO of Babich Wines, also sees the demand for vegan wine as a growing trend. He’s had massive interest in the UK, where veganism has exploded in the last year. He points out that it’s not just vegans drinking vegan wine.
“If you go out to dinner and there are six of you, and one’s a vegan, everyone at that table is drinking vegan,” he says. “If there are two vegan wines available, they get drunk. That’s sort of the impact. Vegan is really driven quite strongly through the on-trade because it’s a social situation but retail buyers are also asking, ‘Can you supply us something vegan?’ If it’s organic and vegan there’s a multiplier. It’s super interesting.”