By Irene Graziotto
Soave is at the moment amongst the most lively Italian denominations, thanks to the important effort made by the Consortium which has been able to create a general excitement about this white wine. Particular attention has been conveyed on Soave by Volcanic Wines project which aimed at developing the knowledge on wines from volcanic soils. Volcanic Wines has then become a proper key for interpreting Italian wines in addition to gain appeal as a marketing tool. I have already analyzed the situation of Volcanic Soave in an article for Il Sommelier Veneto (“Un vulcano Chiamato Soave” n. 01/2016) but this time I have chosen to hear the opinion of a foreign expert.
That’s why I have interviewed Jane Nisbet Huseby on the subject. Jane Nisbet Huseby is a Wine Consultant specialised in wine marketing and trade/consumer relationships and works in Europe from a base in Norway. Jane is originally from Scotland and has a very international background in addition to having worked in the wine business for the last 12 years. Jane owns the wine marketing company “Brandabout” in Chile (established 2005) which offers international trade visits to more than 60 wineries in Chile and Argentina. Jane is a currently a Master of Wine student at the Institute of Masters of Wine in London and recently won the Soave essay competition sponsored by the Soave Consortium and entitled ‘Volcanic Wines, a new notion of terroir: explain how cross-territorial marketing and communication can be used as an opportunity for Soave and Italian volcanic wines’. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
How Soave has changed the image of Italian white wines? And the belief about their capacity of ageing?
JNH: “I think that Soave in fact is just on the start on their journey in changing the image of Italian white wines. Changing consumer opinions is a long-term investment. Generally speaking, we often think of a change in brand image taking about 5 years, although with social media today things can change a lot quicker. But it’s getting the message to stick that is a challenge and that´s why a clear long-term communication strategy is key. I remember studying at university and my professor saying that to change a brand image you will have to repeat the same message over and over and over again to your target consumers, and its only when you are so sick to death of repeating this same message over and over again over a long period of time that the consumers will finally get it! And I think that is very true, we sometimes forget this when we are working so hard in our own world because it’s obvious to us, we then think that everyone else understands the message too. The Soave Preview was very interesting and in fact a real eye-opener about the potential for ageing of Soave wines. Changing beliefs though will require more effort than this though, we really need not just the Press, but the restaurant trade and sommelier schools understanding the ageing potential. Soave wines have an exciting potential and future. The Soave wines that were presented at the Soave Preview that showed some ageing development should be part of a Soave roadshow that travels internationally regularly, its only when wine professionals and journalist actually taste these wines they are really going to appreciate their potential”.
Volcanic Wines as a new notion of terroir, generating a new way on interpreting white wines, especially in Italy but also abroad.
JNH: “I like the concept of terroir for Volcanic wines and the presentation and tasting conducted by John Szabo at the Soave Preview was excellent. The wines in the tasting showed a finesse, a certain pureness about them and I think it is very exciting to see how many wine regions around the world are making such fantastic and unique wines on volcanic soils. Volcanic terroir is easy to remember for consumers as well as visually communicate. Thanks to Soave, volcanic wines are becoming part of a larger group in Italy as well as internationally to communicate; this gives immense communication possibilities for each of these member regions while if they were going to try and communicate on their own about their volcanic wines, the effectiveness would be much more limited. The fact that these regions are in fact globally spread out, gives more possibilities for joint marketing.
Volcanic wines as a marketing key. What does the “brand” volcanic wines guarantee to the consumer?
JNH: I don’t think we can go so far to guarantee anything to consumers as this can be too open to misinterpretation, but what we can say is that Volcanic wines show a pureness, a concentration and very often a vibrant acidity which is really quite unique. Personally I believe that “ volcanic” symbolizes energy. This soils have been created by this deep energy within the earth, and its incredible how these soils give their energy and pureness to the vines, and not just any vitas vinifera vines, but varieties which seem to especially thrive on volcanic soils such as Garganega, Aglianico, Assyrtiko as well as Chardonnay and Pinot Gris. I believe that Volcanoes as a marketing symbol or image is something that is real and an extremely powerful imagery for wine marketing. There are endless opportunities for capturing the imagery of energy of volcanoes with the power of the wines as a way of changing the image of Soave wines, especially with the perhaps younger and active wine consumers. The locations and viticulture techniques employed are very different, for example on the Canary islands the vines appear dug into pits on the slopes of volcanoes, or into Santorini, Greece where the vines are woven into basket forms to protect the grapes. I think these types of details and conscientiousness can be a successful sub-part of a marketing strategy to communicate with both the wine trade and consumers.
What would be your main advice to Soave producers or volcanic wine producers to reach out to consumers?
JNH: My main advice is don’t be shy and start practicing communicating in English. Communicating in Italian is fine if you only want to sell to Italians, however if you really want to increase your international reach then you have to use English. There is no denying that the largest wine markets in the world all use English so your success is dependent upon this. It’s not about speaking perfect English though, it’s about being able to communicate your passion for your wines and showing a willingness to build relationships person to person without the assistance of a translator, who no matter how good will never be able to tell the whole story the way you do. I´ve experienced this first hand with my wine marketing business in Chile. One of my favourite visits is to Cono Sur and its because everyone loves Matias, one of their winemakers. Matias speaks terrible English (although he’s improved a lot the last 5 years), but I´ve never met anyone so captivating, who uses his passion for wine and organic viticulture so vividly that despite awful English errors, the journalists love him and it´s Cono Sur that gets the articles published! Another important advice would be to use grab any opportunity you have to sit and have dinner at a table with visiting journalists and wine trade. Jump out there and take charge of a table of journalists. Spend time over dinner with them talking and discussing, exchanging ideas and opinions about the market potential instead of sitting at a separate table with your wine producer colleagues who you see all the time. Don’t forget that every possible interaction with journalist and the wine trade can be your ticket to success and your next wine sales.
White wines and a climate that is getting warmer and warmer: quite a challenge. What steps need to be taken in order to avoid wines with a higher and higher alcohol content?
JNH: A good question. I´m not a viticulturist or winemaker however, from my many travels to wine regions and talking to viticulturists, the main strategies to combat high alcohol are site selection and canopy management. In order to grow high quality grapes with balanced alcohol, especially with white grape varieties there has to be a long-term strategy towards proper site selection and choosing varieties that can be grown considering predicted future temperature and water availability. In the short-term however the preferred strategies include maintaining the vine in balance with through nutritional and water supply, pruning to delay ripening until the cooler months, canopy management to protect the grapes from too much sun and earlier-picking to avoid too much sugar uptake. Climate change is a reality. At the other end of the scale, I was at the Cool Climate Wine Summit 2016, in Brighton, and I saw a presentation from Canada where they are currently researching with a 20 year perspective over 100 genotypes (cultivars and breeder´s selections), investigating the best varieties that could survive in Nebraska, and I had dinner with a Norwegian woman who has just finished planting grapevines on the west coast of Norway! Climate change gives us a constantly changing environment to work in, and the only thing we can be sure of is that the wine business is going to continue to be an exciting environment to work in.