The Buyer
Don St Pierre on wine’s biggest challenges & opportunities

Don St Pierre on wine’s biggest challenges & opportunities

The Buyer continues its series talking to some of the keynote speakers taking part in this November’s Wine Future conference taking place in Coimbra, Portugal that hopes to tackle some of the biggest issues facing the global wine industry, by giving the floor to Don St Pierre, co-founder of ASC Fine Wines, one of the most important and influential wine importers, distributors in China. He explains why he thinks there are still so many untapped opportunities in the wine industry, particularly at the fine wine and luxury end of the market.

Richard Siddle
25th August 2023by Richard Siddle
posted in People,People: Supplier,

Don St Pierre will be talking at this November’ Wine Future conference that takes place between November 7-9 in Coimbra, November. Click here for more details and to register.

What do you see as the biggest challenges the wine industry is facing?

From a macro perspective at production level it is all about climate change. At a sales and marketing level it seems to be the nature of the new wine consumer, but this may be over blown and the world is a big place, offering opportunities to engage consumers differently in different markets – i.e. China vs. the US.

What do you see as the big outstanding opportunities and how do you see the industry capitalising on them?

Total Wine in the US is a retail business that Don St Pierre believes is setting the benchmark for others to follow

New forms of distribution whereby the producer, with the right partners, interacts more closely with the consumer.Consumers want to understand the producer more and more, especially at the fine wine end of the market. Technology, used sensibly, will be vital in this transition, but it will also mean producers accepting disruption and the corresponding risks, within their traditional modes of distribution.

What do you think have been the biggest step changes in the wine industry in the last 10 years?

Successful research into how to manage climate change has to be at the top of the list, with Bordeaux, and how it managed the 2022 vintage, a very good example.

Consolidation at both producer and distribution level has also been key, especially in the US distribution sector which has seen a massive change.

Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the future of the wine industry in the next 10 years – and why?

I am optimistic at the fine wine and luxury end of the wine business, as wealth should continue to grow and these consumers want the best, however that is defined.

I am pessimistic at the commercial end and expect to see significant consolidation across both production and distribution.

Why do you want to be involved in Wine Future?

Wine Future looks to address they key global wine industry issues at its event in Coimbra, Portugal in November

I spoke at the very first Wine Future and enjoyed the experience very much. A lot has happened since, and I felt it was time for me to re-engage in the broader wine industry community.

What do you hope the event can achieve for the wider wine industry?

That’s a difficult question. There are so many challenges and opportunities facing the wine industry. But having a platform like this to share ideas to deal with these issues is a very good thing. They key is what take aways are actionable and by whom?

What is the theme of your talk and why have you chosen that topic?

My theme is how to help both restaurants and importers and wholesalers find better more efficient ways to work with each other via technology. Post Covid the restaurant world is in a very different place, they need new models to reduce inventory carrying costs and give consumers a more reasonable choice at mark ups that make more sense vs. retail pricing.

How and why did you first get into the wine industry?

My involvement was based on a desire be an entrepreneur and bring new products to Chinese consumers when most of what foreigners were doing in China was related to making stuff and shipping it out of China. My father and I wanted to import things and sell into China and we decided on wine –and wefounded ASC Fine Wines in April 1996.

What do you most enjoy about working in the sector?

The people and families behind the wine. Multi-generational family businesses that are focused on craft and often intricately tied into the culture and place where they grow wine.

What do you find frustrating and would like to change about the wine industry?

Most of the things which are frustrating – e.g. reliance on traditional methods of distribution, lack of engagement with technology, fragmentation – these are all where the opportunities lie and what makes me excited about my continued involvement.

Any individuals or businesses that you most admire for what they do and why?

The Gallo Family in Modesto is one of the great multi-generational family businesses we have seen in the last 100 years.

Total Wine and Costco in the US are best in class retailers who have figured out a sustainable and profitable model for producers and consumers.

  • Don St Pierre will be taking part in a panel debate – Growing Sales in Uncertain Times – New Strategies and Trends – along with Ulf Sjodin MW, Rafael del Rey and João Gomes Da Silva hosted by Dr. Liz Thach MW at 11.30am on November 7 at Wine Future.

Wine Future 2023 – Coimbra November 7-9

Wine Future 2023 promises to be the leading event in the world to tackle the biggest challenges facing the global wine industry and what steps its stakeholders need to be taking and focusing on to succeed in the future.

It is the fourth Wine Future event to take place following other editions first in Rioja in 2009, Hong Kong in 2011, Wine Future Virtual 2021 and Green Wine Future in 2022. Founder Pancho Campo claims the ambition and overall goal for Wine Future has not changed since 2009 when, in the middle of an economic crisis, it looked to assess its impact and offer solutions and inspiration to everyone involved in the global wine industry.

Close to 25 years later and the world is again facing huge financial difficulties, rampant inflation, a global climate emergency and a declining wine market in most major wine consuming countries. It is against that backdrop that Wine Future hopes to make a difference.

Key themes to be addressed at this November’s conference include:

  • Engaging new consumers – particularly Generation Z and Millennials.
  • The impact of global economic uncertainty, especially inflation.
  • The opportunities of greater diversity, equity and inclusion in the wine industry.
  • How we can reach new audiences and better engage with existing wine drinkers through celebrity endorsements, influencers, and working with major international music and sporting events.
  • The use of digital marketing and social media to gain a new consumers.
  • Using new technologies to improve sales.
  • What can we learn from the competition from alternative beverages?
  • The human impact of sustainability.

Key wine figures lined up to take part and share their insights and hopefully offer inspiration to the sector are: Emma Bertrand, Rob McMillan, Sonal Holland MW, Ian Ford, Adrian Bridge, Frederico Falcao, Martin Reyes MW, Robert Joseph, Dirceu Viana MW, Siobhan Turner MW, Natalie Wang, Alder Yarrow, Stephen Wong MW, Ulf Sjodin MW, Michael Wangbickler and Paul Schaafsma.

The event will also hear from inspirational figures from outside the industry including: Sir Christopher Pissarides, awarded the Nobel Economy price in 2020; the Secretary General of the UN International Youth Organization, Max Trejo; and the lead singer of Iron Maiden and entrepreneur Bruce Dickinson.