Opinion: Which wine trends will survive post-Covid-19?

Chris Losh

Chris Losh

03 August 2020

From shorter lists and digital ordering, to natural wines and packaging, which wine trends will prevail in the aftermath of Covid-19? Chris Losh takes a look

Traumatic events have significant consequences. Some are obvious and short term, others are completely unforeseen and ripple on for decades. Not all are wholly bad. 

So it is with everyone’s favourite pandemic, which is gaily driving a coach and horses through most aspects of British life.

Some elements that we’re currently living with – perma-masks, hand-gel, temperature checks, social distancing – are (please, God) almost certainly temporary. But its impact on other areas of life could be profound.

Take commuting to the office. If Covid has revealed one thing, it’s that there are not many jobs that require bums on seats for eight hours a day, five days a week. And if that changes, it could hugely impact the make-up of our city centres.

Hospitality venues are already struggling, and many, sadly, inevitably, will close. A lack of daytime office-worker trade would speed up this process. But when new venues do re-open could we see a shift from centres to suburbs, where more people will live and work? And if so, what will become of the towering empty steel blocks of town centres?

Down-sizing

As for specific wine-related trends, I’d say it’s nailed-on certain that wine lists will get shorter. This was happening anyway – Hallgarten & Novum Wines’ Steve Daniel mentioned it to me in an interview last year – but Covid is going to accelerate it.

Restaurants don’t want to (or can’t) tie up vast amounts in stock, and many merchants have reduced their minimum drop size to take account of it. Plus, in the days of the ‘one-use’ disposable wine list, why list (and print) any more wines than you need to?

If Covid has revealed one thing, it’s that there are not many jobs that require bums on seats for eight hours a day, five days a week. And if that changes, it could hugely impact the make-up of our city centres

And of course, when it comes to scrolling digitally, rather than reading paper, a manageable size is always going to be better than a phone-book.

Shorter, incidentally, needn’t mean ‘boring’. In fact, it’s easier to make a statement of intent in a 40 bin wine list than a 200-bin one. Put 20 natural wines or half a dozen Portuguese whites on a big list and they’re swallowed up. On a smaller list they get noticed.

This trend, as I said, was happening anyway. So what of the other big wine fashions of the last decade: prosecco and rosé? These are tougher to call, not least because both have had many years of growth and were already showing signs of starting to slow down.

That said, both are well established and should continue to increase (albeit more slowly) or hold firm for many more years yet.

I’m not sure whether the same will be true of other fashions, such as orange wine, however. The latter has not caught on in the UK to the same extent that it has in the US. It’s still not terribly well understood – even by somms – and smaller lists will reduce its listing opportunities. I’d say we’d be more likely to see somms focusing on favourite regions or countries than going big on orange wine.

One feature of orange wine is that it’s inextricably (if wrongly) linked with the natural/organic/biodynamic wine movements. And the future of these is really tough to call. Producers will, I’m sure, continue down this path – it’s an ethos not a fashion, after all. But the question is whether consumers will be so open to them as they were a year ago.

On one hand, at a time when health is paramount, you could say purity of provenance ought to be a big selling point. But I’m more sceptical.

At a time when health is paramount, you could say purity of provenance ought to be a big selling point. But I’m more sceptical

With their overt hands-off approach, natural wines, in particular, could be perceived as somehow less safe by consumers. Equally, when something of the magnitude of Covid-19 is bestriding the world, non-use of chemicals in a vineyard seems rather trivial. It’ll be interesting to see whether the organic/bio/natural-hunters of 2019 double down on their commitment or fade away.

Talking of fading away, recent research from Wine Intelligence shows that almost 20% of wine drinkers – predominantly under the age of 25 – were thinking of stopping socialising almost completely as a result of Covid-19. This may be economy- rather than lifestyle-driven. But if you’re a bar or restaurant targeting these guys, it’s a shaky future, at least until the economy picks up.

New formats

So much for established trends. The question is, whether this massive re-set could provide opportunities for new ideas – or old ideas which were previously rejected.

Digital ordering is one of these, and once people get used to the idea of looking at a menu on their phone, it could be here for good. And while we’re at it, why not online booking and securing a table with a decent-sized deposit, to help dissuade no-shows? If Covid has shown us one thing, it’s that people are more adaptable than they thought.

The final area of change could be not so much the wine itself, but the format in which it arrives. During a recent Imbibe Live Online webinar, Victoria Sharples of St John restaurants pointed out that many of their customers have been quite happy buying bag-in-box for use at home.

Assuming the quality of the contents is good enough, I can see this format becoming more widely used in restaurants – particularly for by-the-glass wines, where customers are likely to be less sanguine about seeing bottles open for hours on end. The same thinking (safe, clean, convenient) could see a growth in both keg wines and cans as well. 

Having norms ripped up is unsettling, even traumatic, on many levels, and hardly anybody will look back on this period as a happy time. But resets are not without their benefits, and over time in many areas we may well look back at this as the moment when x, y and z changed for the better.

Here’s hoping, anyway. 

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