So, this post is prompted by an exchange on Twitter about the wines of Alsace. The following paragraphs detail my thoughts about what Alsace producers could do to market their wines in a way that’s more relevant to modern consumers.
First, I think it needs to be admitted that there is a problem. The wines of Alsace are brilliant, but they aren’t as well known as they should be. It’s important here to realize that most consumers aren’t like us – if you are reading this blog, you are an involved wine drinker. You’re not normal. You know about Alsace and its wonderful wines. Most people don’t. They never buy them. They don’t drink them.
Some brave action is needed to make Alsace wines relevant to the next generation of wine drinkers. I’m talking here about the entry level – not the high end wines. The top wines are doing OK, and their target consumers are very different. So what would I change?
The bottle shape – this needs radical rethinking. Some people claim that the current tall bottle shape (known as ‘hock’) is a distinctive feature of Alsace wines. But to most consumers it spells ‘Germany’, and for the average consumer, Germany is bad. I’m not saying that’s right; just that that’s how it is. I’d suggest the Burgundy bottle shape.
Labelling – this needs to be modern and elegant. The important facts about the wine should be on the label, and this is where Alsace has a natural advantage: it has the grape variety on the label. So we need Alsace, grape variety and brand name all prominent – these are the three important details. Packaging really matters and communicates more to consumers than words on a label.
The contents – the problem with Alsace wines are that consumers just don’t know what they are going to get in terms of sweetness. I think that the wines at this level should be dry, perhaps with just a few grams of residual sugar to emphasize the fruit. And the fruit flavours need to be to the fore.
The varieties – these are an important asset for Alsace, and need to be communicated well. Explain what the key differences between Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer and Riesling are. These should be the first three varieties to work with. Then perhaps we can go to Muscat and Sylvaner, which will need a bit more explaining. The flavour of the wine should be varietally true, and the wine must be convincing.
The viticulture – this needs to be certified sustainable or organic. It’s important that the wines are authentic, made without too much manipulation, from grapes that are grown in a sustainable fashion. Then the brand has integrity.
There’s a place for off-dry wines, but this also needs communicating. It’s best to start with dry wines, though. And I reckon there could be a place for elegantly packaged wines (with no other names on the label other than brand, region and variety), in a Burgundy-shaped bottle, telling the story of Alsace to a new market, and priced just under £10 a bottle.