Jerry Lockspeiser is well placed to know what consumers really want to know about wine after a long and successful career in the trade, most noticeably setting up Vinceremos and Bottle Green. He has now written a book, Your Wine Questions Answered, that he hopes will help novice wine drinkers and raise money to fund new schools in Sierra Leone at the same time through his Millione Foundation.
Jerry Lockspeiser reflects on the challenges of writing a consumer wine book, and takes a wider look at the issues facing the UK wine and drinks industry.
What was the motivation for writing the book?
It’s very simple. It came from the questions I have been asked by everyday drinkers over the last 30 years. Anyone in the trade who pays the slightest attention to their consumers knows that the vast majority of wine drinkers feel confused by wine.
Many also feel embarrassed about asking questions for fear of looking ignorant. And the information they do receive is largely product based and educational.
Most drinkers I talked to didn’t want to be given a mini wine course. The questions they really wanted to know – which they pondered themselves when choosing or drinking wine – were very practical “use” questions.
Things like “What is Cabernet Sauvignon?” or “What is the difference between Champagne and Cava?”. Through to “How long will a wine keep in an open bottle?” or “Are supermarket own label wines any good?”
How did you decide which would be the 25 questions to include in the book?
I simply picked the questions drinkers have most often asked me. Some of them have been recurring for years, others such as which wines have the lowest calories are more recent. The title of each chapter is one of the questions, and I discuss the background issues around it as a way of enabling the reader to understand why the answer is what it is, rather than just stating the answer.
It’s the teach a man to fish principle.
Who do you hope will buy the book?
The book is designed for the everyday wine drinker – those people who asked me the questions. It’s the wine book for people who don’t normally buy wine books. So it’s very easy reading and quite short. Each chapter can be read in the time it takes to drink a small glass and there is a gulp size summary answer at the end of the chapter – called IN ONE GULP.
It has warm, slightly irreverent colour illustrations done by a wonderful young London artist.
The book is available in print on Amazon UK and Waterstone’s for £8.99 and in Ebook at £5.99 on Amazon UK and $7.99 in Amazon USA. But the best place to sell it is in shops that sell wine, and ideally right next to the wine bottles because that is the moment drinkers are asking themselves these questions. We are talking with wine retailers and bookshops about stocking it, and I would love to hear from any retailers interested.
Have you written books before?
I co-wrote the Thorsons Organic Wine Guide back in the days when Safeway, Victoria Wine and August Barnett were still on the scene – in fact Safeway were a key retailer for it.
How did you find writing this?
I love communicating, and especially writing, so I found this pure pleasure. I was also reminded that the actual writing is little more than 25% of the time required. Reviewing, editing, getting test reader feedback, getting the illustrations, selling, marketing…that’s where the real time goes. A bit like wine really.
Has it given you the motivation to write any more? If so any specific topics?
When this is a success there is an obvious sequel in “More of”. The concept could be applied to other product areas too – Your Whisky Questions Answered, Your Coffee and so on. And having started and built two wine businesses before selling I plan to write a popular style entrepreneurial book about that. I didn’t know anything at all about wine or business when I started, so I think there is an interesting tale to tell amongst the tears and laughter.
You are giving the proceeds from the book to a scheme in Sierra Leone and your Millione Foundation. Can you explain what that is and what will the money help do?
I have had an interest in social progress and international development since I was young. I started The Millione Foundation a few years back with old wine business friends Cliff Roberson and Mike Paul to raise funds to build primary schools in Sierra Leone in conjunction with ActionAid. We created the Millione wine brand and gave all the profits to build schools. We have raised enough money to build five shools, which are now educating over 1,500 kids, and all my revenues from this book will go towards the sixth.
The book represents the new chapter of the Millione story and a new funding route – apart from Off Piste Wines (where Lockspeiser is chairman) and writing, marketing and selling the book is going to occupy a lot of my time for the next six-12 months. Selling books has a lot in common with selling wine – standing out from the crowd and people knowing you exist is key. There are 48 million printed books on Amazon’s UK site, and another 5 million Kindle ebooks, which focuses the mind on those 2 key points. Makes selling wine look easy.
(You can watch this video to understand more about the Millione Foundation. Details of how to donate are at the bottom of the article.)
With your business experience what do you see as the big challenges for the wine trade and drinks industry?
Those of us working in the trade have spent too long bemoaning the difficulties, especially how tough it is to make a profit. This attitude is a huge danger. The market is what it is, if you don’t like it go and do something else. If we want a vibrant trade we need to see the creative opportunities, understand what consumers care about, realise “wine drinker” covers a kaleidoscope of interests, and play to our strengths not our weaknesses.
And let’s remember we are first and foremost running businesses.
Most people have no loyalty to wine, they switch between drinks as they appeal. We need to cherish the drinkers we have and attract those we don’t. Abstinence is growing, especially amongst the young, so this is becoming more urgent.
What do you see as the big opportunities for the wine trade?
As the cliché says, where one person sees a problem the other sees an opportunity. The biggest opportunity is to reach out to the 95% of people my book is written for – a vast number who want their experience with wine to be more positive, less confusing and more enjoyable, in which they have a sense of engagement, meaning and confidence. Easy? No. Possible? Yes.
What sort of wine businesses are best placed to benefit from those opportunities and why?
It’s always easier for newer, smaller, less developed businesses to be faster responding, creative and risk taking because they have less to lose and fewer organisational constraints than the big guns. That’s not to say the big guns can’t do it – they can, but it’s harder.
Another plus for the disrupters is being privately owned. Look at Aldi and Lidl. The business dynamic is totally different if half your mind is thinking about the report to the board and the corporate shareholders where short term financial measurements rule the day. In the UK anyway.
Any examples of great wine innovation that you have seen in recent years?
To my mind the most notable new business approach is Rowan Gormley’s Angel concept with Naked Wines. It appeals to consumers emotionally – helping struggling winemakers achieve the otherwise unachievable. And through their pockets they are able to be offered cheaper prices as a result, whilst at the same time providing lots of cash up front. Clever!
At a smaller level the myriad of independent retailers finding new ways to engage their customers with hybrid shops/bars/enomatics and so on, are all part of understanding that people want experience not just product.
What other sectors/issues do you think the wine trade needs to learn from to engage with consumers?
If I had a magic wand it would be to make communication about wine focus on value not price, and emotion above fact. We need a 21st century renaissance in the way consumers think about wine – to work wine into the fabric of cultural life, which is about people and experience, and away from the functional, soul less bottle of alcohol it has too often become.
What are the your favourite types of wine to drink?
I have simple tastes – generally cooler climate whites but not so cool they don’t have plenty of clear, ripe fruit flavours. I am fond of good Albarino from Galicia, Austrian Gruner Veltliner and Verdicchio.
My favourite reds are from southern France including Pic St Loup, Vacqueyras, Gigondas and lots of others in the Rhone including my friend Marine Roussel’s Domaine du Joncier made bio-dynamically in Tavel.
I especially like wines with a good story, it always makes them taste even better.
Which regions or styles of wine would you like to do better?
I don’t know if it will happen but I would like to see the return of Eastern European countries. I say return because we used to supply millions of bottles of terrific value whites from Hungary in the 1990’s before the internationalisation of decent drinkable wine left them behind. As the economies of this part of the world improve wages, and therefore production costs will rise. So the challenge will be for them to force a place in consumers’ minds at the mid-price points.
It’s also likely that climate change will play a determining factor in which regions and countries will rise and fall, and sooner than we may imagine. We should pay attention to Miguel Torres.
If you could change anything about wine trade what would it be?
Break down the barriers to consumers entering our world with confidence and joy. Keep the mystery but not the complexity and promote the stories.
What have been the big success stories for wine trade in last 10 years?
The growth of innovative independents in both on and off-trades. The new kids on the block can be thought leaders, unafraid of doing things differently and making being around wine fun again.
What have been the areas where it is let itself down?
The multiple sector has largely been unable to get out of its functional – product- price straight jacket. As they have the lion’s share of the market this is a problem for how wine is perceived generally. It’s not easy for them given the function they serve in consumers lives, but a move towards adding value through experience and emotion would be hugely beneficial.
- For a signed copy of the book then you can contact Jerry directly on email at: email@example.com
- If you would like to read more about the Millione Foundation or help donate some money then go to its website or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you would like more information about the book and the schools project then go to www.yourwinequestions.com.