Mark Squires is an attorney turned respected wine critic and journalist whose blog caught the attention of Robert Parker, inviting him in 2006 to become a key part of the Wine Advocate team, covering initially Portugal and the Port, Greece, Lebanon, Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia, Republic of Macedonia and Cyprus before he left the title earlier in the summer. He is the latest high profile figure to share his thoughts on the challenges facing the wine industry in the build up to the Wine Future conference in Portugal in November.
Mark Squires is taking part in November’ Wine Future conference that takes place between November 7-9 in Coimbra, November. Click here for more details and to register.
From your perspective and the media side of the industry what do you see as being the biggest challenges and threats to the wine sector?
From the journalism side, it seems to be there is a proliferation of critics. While diversity in opinion is good in theory, it also means it is going to be even harder for most people to earn a living in a field that tended not to generate big bucks. That’s important because it does take some money to do it well and comprehensively. You can’t spend what you don’t have.
What do you see as the big outstanding opportunities and how do you see the industry capitalising on them?
There has to be more thought to mainlining younger consumers into wine. But wine has a reputation for being snobby and expensive.
What do you think have been the big step changes in the wine industry in the last 10 years?
A return to elegance and finesse. I think everyone is looking for lower alcohol, more freshness. I know I am.
Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the future of the wine industry in the next 10 years – and why?
Pessimistic. I think the drumbeat of health articles will have an effect and the desire for lower alcohols will lead people in other directions, including to beer and cider. No, by the way, you can’t just decide to take your 14.8% abv wine and make it 11.7% without consequences, sometimes undesirable ones.
How and why did you first get into the wine industry?
Circa 1980, I was an attorney in Philadelphia who became obsessed with wine in much the same way as that more-famous attorney from Monkton: traveling extensively in France. French sommeliers in the early 1980s assured me that their fine meals could only be drunk with fine wine, and they were quite correct. Madness quickly ensued. In no time at all, I was berating myself for actually spending $25 on a bottle of wine (some Mondavi Reserve vintage from the late 1970s or early 1980s), which was one of the first ever premium purchases I made. 1979 Mouton Rothschild, 1978 Arnoux Vosne-Romanée Les Suchots, 1970 Taylor’s and Fonseca Portos and other similar wines quickly followed, circa 1980.
By the end of the 1980s, I eventually started teaching wine courses, doing seminars and publishing articles in various publications. I later became the forum leader of the wine section of the old Prodigy service. Prodigy’s demise was the motivation for starting my own website, what would now be called a blog.
In internet terms, that was really ancient history – way back in 1995. It quickly evolved, had a professional side to it, generated a little income and got some nice reviews, being mentioned in publications ranging from the New York Times to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Business Week to Food & Wine.
Pretty soon, all of my spare time and vacation time seemed to be taken up by wine tastings, events and wine region travel. The problem was simple: there just wasn’t enough time to do it the way I wanted to do it. In many respects, it was a professional site, but it just wasn’t complete and comprehensive. Then, the expert I worked with on Prodigy, a guy named Robert Parker, finally opened up his site. I moved my site’s forum to RobertParker.com in 2001. [Mark Squires left Wine Advocate earlier in the summer].
What do you most enjoy about working in the sector?
I loved meeting and tasting with talented winemakers.
What do you find frustrating and would like to change about the wine industry?
The concept of going into a region and tasting hundreds of wines in a short time is obnoxious. I was forced to do it when I had access to the wines or I could not be comprehensive. But I hated it.
Can I ask why you want to be involved in Wine Future?
I was specifically asked about holding a tasting with wines sourced by the organisers, which has proven to be exciting, but discussion of broader issues in the industry is always necessary. Sometimes it seems like we just stumble along.
What do you hope the event can achieve for the wider wine industry?
There is a great opportunity to provide some clarity and direction for the global wine industry. The problem is that everyone is interested in surviving, and there is not often time for reflection.
- Mark Squires will be hosting a major tasting at Wine Future called The Magnificent 12, sponsored by Chai Consulting, where he will go through 12 wines carefully selected to show wines that are iconic and excellent representatives of some of the most respected countries and regions around the world. In order to show solidarity with the Ukrainian wine industry and its workers, Wine Future’s organisers will also include a Ukrainian wine in the tasting – the 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon – Iukuridze Family Wine Heritage, an exclusive collection from the founders of the Shabo Winery. The Shabo region is one of the oldest Ukrainian terroirs and its history goes back more than 2,000 years.
- The Magnificent 12 tasting takes place on November 12 between 12pm-1.30pm. The tasting is being held in recognition of the tasting hosted by Wine Advocate’s Robert Parker at Wine Future in Hong Kong where he took delegates through 20 iconic wines from Bordeaux.
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.
- To find out more and to register go to the Wine Future website here.