• Simon Reilly

Is craft wine a thing?


There has been a bit of talk about craft wine in the wine press in the last week or so. Both Jancis Robinson and Victoria Moore wrote last week about how the wine industry can perhaps get some marketing tips from the craft beer boom.

This was largely driven by the release last week of Aldi's "craft wine" range. These are four wines made to look like craft beers. Beer bottles, beer caps and craft beer style labels.

The only problem is the price. Aldi has priced a 500ml bottle at £2.99, obviously priced to be at the same level as a craft beer. But this misses the point. People who pay £3 for a craft beer are paying 2 or 3 times the price of a standard (and perfectly good) beer like Heineken or Stella. They are willing to pay this as it is a unique, small batch, quality product. So going big on the packaging and filling it with cheap and nasty, mass produced wine is just bollocks.

I'll make a confession here, I haven't actually tasted the Aldi wine, but I don't want to. Its just too depressing. I was whingeing about this farce to Forest Hill's resident retail expert, Gemma Pengilley (45), at the weekend, "they've got their brand architecture all wrong!" she exclaimed. Quite right, people who buy craft beer are willing to splash out for a quality product, so if you want to expand your wine buying customer base to these people, sell them a quality product at a premium. They are more likely to buy that.

Alas, I do think that the wine industry can learn some lessons from the craft beer boom and introduce new customers to interesting, off the beaten track wine. Due to the small size of many of the craft beer producers many do not have an online retail facility for customers to buy direct, but rather "beer merchants" like Honest Brew, Craft 52 and Beer Hawk offer to hand pick beers for you on a regular basis and deliver them to your door.

This concept is nothing new for the wine industry. From small independent wine merchants like Red Squirrel and Stone Vine & Sun to the people who invented the concept of the "wine club" Laithwaites, most wine retailers offer to deliver a mixed case to the uninitiated or indecisive.

However one product has come my way recently which looked and felt like something a bit different and definitely felt more like a "craft wine" offering that borrowed from the craft beer ethos is Le Petit Ballon. Originally created in France, it is a subscription wine club run by sommelier Jean-Michel Deluc. They are now rolling it out in the UK. For £25 a month you get a white and a red, smartly packaged with tasting notes and a magazine called "The Gazette". They are also a wine merchant so you can buy more if you like what you are sent.

Here is September's edition, with accompanying tasting notes:

I thought it was actually a pretty good read, although its more of a pamphlet.... It has a few wine tips like how to build a cellar and which wine regions to visit as well as a number of good looking recipes, which would go well the wines. There is also a wine and music matching bit at the back, aimed at people like me, it seems. The albums featured were by The Avalanches and Steve Gunn, both personal favourites.

And what about the wines?

They were pretty good. Interesting and reasonably on trend. A good Fleurie by Pierre-Marie Chermette who is no slouch and a pretty, fresh low alcohol Loire Chenin Blanc called 9.5, named after its ABV%.

This is the sort of package that would appeal to the craft beer brigade. The wines are interesting and different to what you get on the supermarket shelf and are packaged in a neat and helpful way. And the two bottle case is a nice way to ease new customers in. Two bottles for £25 seems about right for those dipping their toes into wine, when a case of six or twelve might seem a bit daunting in terms of volume and financial outlay. If they like it they can always order more.

So craft wine isn't really a thing, but the wine industry can learn some tips from the success of craft beer and take on some of their bearded followers into the bargain. But it is interesting, quality wine that will cause them to wipe the froth from their whiskers, not cheap, bland stuff in fancy bottles...

#craftwine #craftbeer #lepetitballon #cheninblanc #beaujolais #fleurie #anjou #loire #aldi

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