What can the wine industry learn from The Rolling Stones?

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Rolling Stones

Rolling Stones

My hatred of camping ensures that I don’t go to festivals but I was delighted to hear the rapturous responses to The Rolling Stones’ debut at Glastonbury.  I’m of the generation that associates the grizzly rockers with my parents’ generation, so it was amazing to see how many festival goers my age and younger had really enjoyed their live performance.  Critics are raving about it, and it seems there is no stopping Mick and Keith and the others, to whom age is just a number.

They are not the only oldies making waves at the moment – Black Sabbath’s long-awaited comeback album topped the charts ahead of Daft Punk, with crusty womanizer Rod Stewart’s latest offering also making the top ten.  Status Quo are continuing to do the same thing they’ve done for decades with great success.  And it can’t just be my parents’ generation buying their albums – like the Stones, Ozzy, Rod and the Quo must be somehow gaining a following among younger people.  Dizzee Rascal must be quaking in his boots.

Why does it make us happy to see Rod and the others still having success?  Maybe it’s the association with having their music inflicted on us when we were growing up, or some sort of instinct that kicks in as we get older that we are relieved to see that life doesn’t stop when you hit fifty.  Or sixty.  Or Sixty nine, like Mick Jagger, who doesn’t show any sign of slowing down.

Thinking about wines, as I always do, I wondered whether there were some similarities.  On one hand we’ve got the old world wines – for many years, they fell out of favour because many producers were stalwarts and didn’t want to do anything differently.  Throw in a few scandals, and the fact that Australia and Chile and South Africa had started making world class wines, and suddenly nobody cared about France and Italy any more.

The old world stalwarts had to re-invent themselves.  They had to find a new sound, collaborate with some decent producers, go on tour with Radiohead, get photographed with Will-I-Am.  Meanwhile, the New World was winning Grammys, sleeping with Spice Girls, trashing hotel rooms and conquering the US.

But then something seemed to shift.  A wave of nostalgia.  A bit of a buzz about the term ‘terroir’.  Consumers were getting bored of the same old thing from Australia.  France had quietly remained in the studio, and its wines had got quietly better.  It turned out people had been investing in Bordeaux all along.  Burgundy was cool again.  The Rhone was cool again.  ‘Super-Tuscan’ was Italy’s buzz word.   And so after a decade and more, the old world unexpectedly topped the charts for a second time with its comeback album, featuring an ultra-cool collaboration with Adele.  The new world chose the same week to release its duet with Justin Bieber, but its poor timing, combined with the fact that Justin Bieber is a perpetual moron, meant it was never going to compete for the top spot.

Now we seem to be going through a phase where Bordeaux in particular is falling out of favour again.  The diehard fans will always buy it, but more than ever there is an awareness that just continuing to do the same thing year after year and charging more and more for it won’t always lead to sales.  Like the Stones, you need to engage with your fans.  Like Ozzy and co, you need to give the fans some new material every now and then, they won’t just keep buying your greatest hits in different packaging every year.  Why would they?  You need to understand that the industry is fickle and consumers have more alternative wines than ever available to them from emerging regions.

And if you get it right, with any luck your wines will still be impressing audiences decades from now, just like the Stones.