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Cape Fine & Rare Wine Auction celebrates South Africa’s winemaking skill and tenacious spirit

Wine lovers will have the opportunity to get their hands on some rare gems at the Cape Fine & Rare Wine Auction on May 22.

It will take place in a hybrid format for the first time, meaning that buyers from across the world can tune in and bid for the wines online.

Some of the rarest wines that will go under the gavel of Christie’s auctioneer Charlie Foley include Chateau Libertas 1970, Kanonkop Paul Sauer 2009, Le Lude Rose Agrafe 2012, Nederburg Private Bin Eminence 1999, Uva Mira O.T.V 2015, Vilafonte Series C 2005,  and Zonnebloem Cabernet Sauvignon 1970.

The wines for the auction were selected by a panel of respected South African wine insiders, including Cathy van Zyl MW, Michael Fridjhon and François Rautenbach.

Older bottles of well-preserved South African wine are becoming increasingly rare due to a dearth of temperature-controlled cellars in the past.

Cape Fine & Rare has sourced several pristine bottles for the hybrid auction, which will see 50 bidders attend in-person. Some go back as far as the 1960s.

Foley, who worked in Constantia before joining Christie’s, expects it to be a popular event. “We’ve had more bidders and buyers in the last year than we’ve ever had before,” he told Drinks International. “Christie’s clients want anything that’s rare really. Our clientele have dinner with friends and they want to bring out something that wows. In the case of these rare South African wines – David & Nadia, Eben Sadie and the early Kanonkop wines – you just can’t find them anywhere else.

“A 1999 Kanonkop was selling in 2019 for something like £50 a bottle, but the only place I can find it is in Japan at £150. Bidding at auction allows you to get things at an amazing price that no one else has.”

Some of South Africa’s leading brands emerged in the 1990s, and there were some gems of the era, which have been preserved over the past two decades. These wines could represent a strong investment opportunity due to their rarity.

Wine Cellar SA predicts that annual long-term returns of 10% to 20% are achievable on fine South African wine.

“South African fine wines present a real opportunity for both experienced collectors and those taking their first steps towards building a collection,” said Foley, who is renowned for wearing colourful jackets during auctions. “Fine wines from the country are of exceptional quality but are the lowest priced worldwide. This makes them excellent value for money. Now is definitely the time to be trying South Africa’s fine and rare wines.”

He appreciates the potential of South African fine wine to increase in value and preserve the holder’s wealth in the years ahead, but Foley expects most bidders to drink the wine they secure.

“You always hope that the clients are drinking the wine. Some cases we see coming back of Henri Jayer and those sort of things. That’s just the nature of the blue chip market. In the case of wines at a certain price point, our clients are probably drinking them.

“South Africa has always had that place between Old World and New World. It’s got that ripeness of the New World style wines, but then also that elegant restraint of Old World wines. For the last few years, South Africa has really hit the nail on the head, offering both ripeness and restraint at the same time. You can find wines that you want to drink. I always say with investment that’s the key thing, because if you are investing in something and you want to resell it, with Bordeaux and Burgundy that’s all good – or it has been in the past – but if fails then you want to be able to drink it.”

The South African wine trade has endured a very challenging year, as production, domestic sales and exports have all been significantly hampered by strict measures designed to curb the spread of Covid-19.

“It’s terrible really, because they’ve had five restricted periods and it has been more difficult to find volume wines from South Africa on shelves, because of export issues,” said Foley. “That has been a problem. South Africa in the past few years has been trying to premiumise away from its traditional [position] alongside Chile and Australia of vast swathes of ripe wine for the supermarkets. It has interrupted the premiumisation process, which is a bit sad, but we’re going to come roaring back and that should be great.

“The whole scheme of selling wine in South Africa has changed, and this particular auction is about a panel of expert judges taking a panel of excellent wine from the trendiest producers and offering it mainly now South African privates, but the aim of Christie’s involvement is obviously international privates, because you want to get bang for your buck. They are happy to sell in rand, but would rather sell in pounds or Swiss francs or dollars.

“The thing that’s grown up in the New World that’s quite interesting, in Napa and now in South Africa, is allocation. David & Nadia is a good example of these beautiful Chenins from Swartland, made in tiny quantities from old bush vines, and you can only get them when they release their vintages to their agents. It’s the same way you can only get DRC at Corney & Barrow. If you’re not on the allocation, you’re not getting it, so the auction is a way for people to explore those wines, to get hold of an allocation, which is the future of collectible New World wine.”

The auction will feature all manner of rare wines, including Zonnebloem Cabernet Sauvignon 1961, Graham Beck Brut 1994, Thelema Cabernet Sauvignon 1994, David & Nadia Hoe – Steen Chenin Blanc 2017, Lammershoek Die Ounooi 2018 Chardonnay, Sadie Family Vineyards Soldaat 2017, David & Nadia Skaliekop Chenin Blanc 2015, Delaire Graff Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, and Kanonkop Paul Sauer Bordeaux Blend 2009.

Foley is particularly excited about the Chenin and Cabernet. “I’m always blown away by South African Chenin. The Loire is all well and good, but it’s hit and miss on various different sweetness levels, but dry Chenin from the Swartland is just amazing. I would just stock up on all of those. Cabernet has really found its way in Stellenbosch, from the Cabernet Collective. Older things from Kanonkop are good. Look out for rare things in larger formats from old vintages.”

Buffalo Trace launches second line of Kosher whiskeys

Buffalo Trace has released its annual supply of Kosher whiskey which is set to arrive at retail in May this year.

This is the second successive year that Buffalo Trace has produced Kosher whiskey and the Sazerac-owned distiller first began working with the Chicago Rabbinical Council (cRc-Kosher) in 2010.

Kosher law mandates that whiskey should not be owned or consumed by Jews during Passover. In 2012 the cRc oversaw the sale of new American Oak Kosher barrels in a contract of sale to a non-Jewish executive, Buffalo Trace distillery president Mark Brown, where they were filled with whiskey to age.

The whiskey is available in three styles: Kosher Rye Recipe Bourbon, Kosher Wheat Recipe Bourbon and Kosher Straight Rye Whiskey.

Prior to the bottling, the lines at the distillery are flushed completely to ensure the whiskey is not exposed to any non-Kosher spirits.

“We were overwhelmed with the popularity of our Kosher whiskey when we first released it last year,” said Drew Mayville, master blender, director of quality.

“We realise having a truly certified Kosher whiskey is important to not only the Jewish community, but also a broader audience, and we’re pleased that we have the ability to offer it each year to reach this audience.”

As Passover ended this year on 4 April, the whiskey will be released to distributors after bottling later this month. Bottles will sell through wholesalers and retailers before Passover begins again in 2022.

The labels depict both the Buffalo Trace logo and cRc-Kosher logos and has a suggested retail price of £32.99 per 750ml bottle.

The Savoy launches first outdoors terrace with Bowmore

The Savoy in London has partnered with Bowmore single malt scotch whisky to launch the hotel’s first ever pop up terrace called Solas.

The menu at Solas will comprise a range of Bowmore-based cocktails and expressions including the recent 27-year-old which launched earlier this year, while the dining menu will focus on raw seafood. 

Alongside the seafood bar the menu also includes three oyster selections served in a Bowmore oyster luge, and paired with a choice of whisky, lobster rolls, gravadlax and blue shrimp ceviche. 

Solas is open seven days a week until 21 June 2021.

Mezcal: Nom-199 and the ongoing regulations standoff

A U-turn on regulations for mezcal has left producers confused about quality control. Shay Waterworth reports.

On the surface, mezcal is one of the most fashionable spirits in developed markets around the world. The launch of mezcalerias in London and other parts of Europe show it’s one of the most trendy categories within the industry. However, beneath its hipster appeal and the romantic imagery of small farms and remote distilleries, administrative challenges facing the mezcal category are piling up fast.

In late February, the Mexican government did a U-turn on the implementation of a new regulatory policy called Norma Oficial Mexicana, or Nom-199. The bill was being brought in to regulate the production of all alcoholic beverages made in Mexico including acceptable chemical levels and the classification of spirits which fall outside existing Denominación De Origens. The policy had been years in the making and having only been officially introduced in late 2020, the sudden cancellation has left many producers scratching their heads. 

As a result, all Mexican beverage producers have defaulted back to the older Nom-142 policy, which is a basic regulation to ensure standard hygiene practices are met. Currently the Consejo Regulator Mezcal, known as the CRM, regulates the production of mezcal throughout its nine listed territories in Mexico, according to its own Nom-70 regulation. In order to have a mezcal registered, a producer must meet the various criteria laid out by the CRM, including sending in lab samples to check its methanol levels, having its distilling process meet certain standards, plus a host of other costly procedures. Those producers which sit outside the DO laid out by the CRM, or who do not wish to register, are classified as ‘destilados de agave’ and their products cannot therefore be labelled as mezcal, and it’s this category which appears to have suffered the most following the recent regulation changes. 

Susan Cross (pictured), co-founder of consultancy and education provider Mezcalistas, says: “It looks like Nom- 199 is gone, but producers are in limbo right now because we think it’s over with, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it suddenly comes back into play. 

“From the very beginning Nom-199 was very controversial and there was a lot of push back. Initially, any uncertified producer or one that fell outside the DOs could not use ‘Maguey’ or ‘agave’ on its labels, but instead they came up with this word ‘Komil’.” 

Komil, which has no direct translation to English, was a blanket term introduced to replace destilados de agave and would have left these producers in no- man’s land with the new labelling, especially with export markets. 

Cross adds: “Nom-199 had always looked destined to pass as law, which led the CRM to start aligning its own lab analysis standards with the requirements of Nom-199, specifically with the new levels of methanol which were being introduced.” 

The methanol debate has rumbled on for a few years now and it’s a controversial point among the wide range of mezcal and destilados de agave producers. The new regulations set to be introduced by Nom-199 had a far more restrictive limit on the amount of methanol permitted in production compared to the US and other markets. 

Ivan Saldaña of Montelobos, now owned by Campari, said at the Conferencia Agave in Oaxaca in late 2018: “Eating 1kg of apple gives you more methanol in your blood than half a bottle of non-certified mezcal. While fruit brandy can go up to three times higher in this compound – legal in the US and Europe, in mezcal we have stigmatised methanol content with no coherent reason. This is destroying historic taste in the argument for ‘quality’ and pushing producers to change the way they produce and the traditional agaves they used to produce with.” 

Pernod Ricard’s Del Maguey openly changed the methanol levels of some of its varieties in late 2018 so that it would pass Nom-199. But now that the bill has been abandoned the smaller destilados de agave producers who have put time and money into aligning with these new methanol levels have lost out.

On the flip side it could be argued that the sudden cancellation of Nom- 199 is good news for destilados de agave producers. They no longer have to worry about calling themselves Komil and they can continue making their spirits just as they have done for hundreds of years. However, with a sudden lack of any significant regulations it could put them in a compromising position.

Jon Darby (pictured), founder of Sin Gusano, has been travelling around Mexico meeting local distillers and buying single, often unique, batches of destilados de agave which he then bottles under his own brand. 

“I don’t really know what the long- term effects are [for the cancellation of Nom-199],” says Darby. “But I could see a way to construe an argument that the mezcal regulatory bodies had been lobbying for that change, so that it leaves uncertified producers totally unregulated and therefore might force their hand to certify as mezcal.” 

All the products sold under the Sin Gusano brand are destilados de agave and through a new subscription service in the UK called the Mezcal Appreciation Society, Darby is providing a far more diverse offering to consumers. 

“I want to expose consumers to the diversity of different mezcals. I’m in a bit of a race to change the perceptions of mezcal because most consumers only see the major brands, which nearly all carry similar favour profiles. So I’m trying to spread the word that there are many different styles and nuances between flavours to explore.” 

Right now destilados de agave are a recognised category in the US and they are growing in popularity given the wider pool of production methods and agave varieties at their disposal. Therefore the CRM is now seeing those destilados de agave brands as competitors and desperately trying to get those uncertified producers which currently sit inside the DO to register as mezcal. 

Cross adds: “The CRM is there as a regulatory body to protect the DO and would be very happy if every producer would certify themselves, but number one, it’s expensive to do, and while CRM can offer financial support for this, there are lots of steps which need to be taken. Palenques (distilleries) need to be certified, you have to certify where your agave is coming from and some just don’t want to change their production methods to meet criteria. 

“The CRM has also been more dili- gent when it comes to ensuring non- certified producers aren’t labelling themselves as mezcal. The body was likely involved in the establishment of Nom-199 and would have loved to have regulated who could use the words ‘agave’ or ‘Maguey’ because it would have empowered its position. That said, it’s hard to know whether it was in favour of or against the implementation of Nom-199. 

“I think what Nom-199 was really doing was protecting people from poorly made spirits and aligning itself to tax all alcohol producers in Mexico, so I don’t think it’s over just yet.” 

It appears that with the threat of broad and sweeping regulations now looming for the Mexican beverage industry, such as Nom-199, it’s the producers that currently sit under the various DOs which have the advantage. However, there’s nothing officially stop- ping the development of new ones. 

Cross adds: “It will be interesting to see if the threat which Nom-199 caused to smaller brands will catapult groups of small producers to work together and establish new appellations. That would take an awful lot of organisation and money and they would then have to hope they got recognised by other markets around the world, but it’s certainly an option to consider.” 

Around the world DOs and Geographical Indicators are established to not only protect the traditional production methods of a particular spirit, but to guarantee quality and strong regulation. 

However, it feels like in Mexico, with so many conflicts of interest between the government, the regulatory bodies and the destilados de agave producers, the development of DOs has become more about brand management rather than protecting the traditions of mezcal. In short, mezcal needs to sort out these internal discrepancies in order to fully reflect the diversity of the category on a global level.

New Zealand wine: Covid’s highs and lows

While New Zealand has managed the pandemic better than most, a lack of tourism and difficulties with shipping have taken a toll on wine sales. Martin Green reports.

The rest of the world has looked on with envy in recent months as New Zealanders have partied hard at music festivals, nightclubs and sporting events. Pictures show smiling Kiwis wrapping their arms around one another, sipping wine and enjoying life in the post-Covid era. These look like postcards from the future to many people in countries whose governments have bungled their responses to the pandemic. However, it is not all plain sailing in New Zealand.

The country initially managed to eliminate community transmission by closing its borders, so it has suffered from a lack of tourists. Some small Covid-19 clusters have also been detected this year, causing local lockdowns in certain areas, while there are still limits on public gatherings in cities including Auckland. As such, the wine industry has seen on-trade sales dwindle.

“We’re incredibly lucky in New Zealand to be in the position we are in, but there’s no denying that the on-premise channel has been impacted due to the pandemic,” says Liam Kelly, general manager of sales at Yealands. “While Covid-19 has not been eliminated in New Zealand, it has been for the most part contained, but the closure of the borders and lockdowns have had an undeniable effect on businesses reliant on tourism, including hotels, bars and restaurants. We have seen an uplift in domestic sales over the past eight or so months in retail and grocery, and, as with most other countries, online sales grew during the initial lockdown.”

Aaron Drummond, general manager at Craggy Range, says the business has enjoyed “incredibly strong domestic sales”. But he adds: “Like most markets in the world, this was primarily driven by retail. Interestingly, despite the on-trade being generally open and free to trade, the major cities have struggled.

“Most on-trade distributors in Auckland have said business has been down 10-15% in the Christmas quarter. The general view is that with more people working from home part time, and less business travel, the Auckland and Wellington on-trade has not fully recovered to 2019 levels. While domestic tourism has been strong, it has bene ted the regions primarily, rather than the big cities.

“If we look at our own experience here in Hawke’s Bay, visitation has been up despite no international tourists. While that has been incredibly positive for our wine club and cellar door, generally domestic tourists spend less in restaurants and bars compared to international and business travellers.”

LEARNING TO LIVE WITH COVID

When Drinks International interviewed Josh Scott, winemaker at Allan Scott, he was about to meet up with a bunch of friends in Marlborough, but Auckland had been locked down for a week a er a community cluster of the more contagious UK coronavirus variant was discovered. “We have minimised Covid-19 and learned to live with it, I guess,” he says. “People are socialising, going out, having drinks and trying to live life normally, but we certainly miss the tourists, no doubt. Local sales have been good, I’d say online sales have bene ted the most.

“Exports have been going OK. However, New Zealand has struggled with getting enough containers into the country. Long story short, we still haven’t enough and trying to source empty containers and vessels to get the wines on has been very challenging, sometimes delaying shipments up to a month. As this is seen around the world, vessels are also getting behind schedule and, in turn, they are omitting ports, this too leads to orders being rolled and taking longer to sail.”

More than 85% of the wine produced in New Zealand is exported, according to trade body New Zealand Winegrowers. Despite the logistical challenges, exports have remained strong during the pandemic. NZW figures show exports increased 5.6% year on year to 286.5 million litres in the 12 months to June 2020, marking the 25th consecutive year of export growth. Exports then shot up by 19% year on year in the next four months – July to October 2020 – meaning that annual export values have now smashed through the NZ$2 billion (US$1.44 billion) barrier for the first time.

“This milestone reflects the appreciation that the world has for New Zealand wine, and reinforces our international reputation for distinct, premium and sustainable wines,” says Clive Jones, chair of New Zealand Winegrowers.

New Zealand generally commands a premium compared to most other countries in export markets. For example, it is either the highest or second highest priced wine category in the US, UK, Canada, and China – o en vying with France for top spot. “We are optimistic that demand for New Zealand wine will continue to grow in the year ahead, and then it will become a question of whether our supply can meet that demand,” says Jones.

Kelly at Yealands reports that exports have been “really strong in all key markets” over the past year. “The UK in particular has seen our forecasts exceeded since the middle of last year, with Yealands Sauvignon Blanc in the UK and US growing significantly ahead of the New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc category,” he says. “We’re seeing continued export growth in 2021 and look set for another record month at the end of March. We did have to navigate the channel switch of sales to retail and online as a result of consumers’ increased at-home consumption, with the closure of on-premise business globally due to Covid-19 lockdowns, but overall we’re seeing the NZ wine category outperform the total wine category in almost all markets.

“The UK continues to look promising and exceed our initial forecasts, and we anticipate that on-premise channels in the UK, US, Canada and across Europe will begin to recover across the course of this year as the Covid-19 vaccines are rolled out in these markets and businesses can begin to reopen.”

ZERO-GROWTH POLICY

He hopes the rm’s new State of Flux range, featuring a Sauvignon Blanc produced using concrete egg fermentation and an unoaked Chardonnay, can continue to generate momentum in key markets, while Yealands is also starting to experiment with alternative varieties such as Grüner Veltliner.

Craggy Range has not fared quite so well due to its reliance on the on-trade. Around 70% of its export business goes through the on-trade, “so obviously we had a challenging time initially when major markets locked down, especially the UK and US”, says Drummond.

“We do have some great retail partners, and markets like NZ and Australia have been relatively strong across all channels, so while we were not at 2019 levels, we were OK,” he adds. “We are extremely fortunate that our business is in a 1,000-year family trust, so we can continue to focus on brand and quality, and ride the bumps without having to take short-term decisions that could be detrimental. This meant that we kept 100% of our staff employed, and were able to rebound quickly when markets reopened.

“Talking to a lot of friends in the NZ wine industry, the smaller producers have struggled, as they rely on the on-trade and tourism, while the big players who are primarily selling volume into supermarkets have been the main beneficiaries of lockdown and retail spending. So, while the industry as a whole looks pretty rosy due to huge li in the volume of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc selling into supermarkets, the pandemic hasn’t been great for New Zealand’s fine wine aspirations, especially Pinot Noir, which are largely on-trade products. I imagine this is the same the world over though. 

“Our focus has always been on the top four export markets for NZ wine, being the US, UK, Australia and Canada. We have high expectations that these markets, and the on-trade specifically, will bounce back well post vaccination, so really focusing on supporting our distributors in this rebound.”

One company that could not care less about achieving growth is Felton Road. In fact, the Central Otago producer has actively pursued a zero-growth policy for the past 15 years. Its Pinot Noir is sometimes described as the best in the world outside Burgundy. Production is capped at 150,000 bottles per year, and it is sold purely on allocation.

That could help to explain its strong showing in this year’s list of The World’s Most Admired Wine Brands. Felton Road finished 14th in the world, the top New Zealand producer.

Owner Nigel Greening has temporarily abandoned Wanaka for Devon, so he has spent lockdown in the UK while watching his friends enjoy themselves on the other side of the world. “We have been in very good shape,” he says.

“We have had what we saw as a slightly unhealthy lean to private customer and retail over on-trade for a few years now. That was a natural consequence of high private customer demand globally for us; there is more money in a distributor supplying direct to consumer or retail, when demand is such that annual allocation sells in hours or days, so the on-trade gets neglected.

“As it happened this was our good fortune. We moved a bit of wine scheduled for on-trade heavy markets to direct to consumer domestically and, of course, quite a bit of our cellar door stock to direct-to-consumer mail order. That worked well and sold out quickly. We were also lucky that most of our more on-trade markets were in Asia, where lockdowns have been brief. Our larger export markets – Australia, the UK, Hong Kong and the US – have all stayed very strong. Certainly in the UK quite a few of our fine wine merchants sold their annual allocation in hours. So we have sold through in the markets, not just out of the winery.”

Greening has been following the situation in New Zealand keenly over the past year, and says it has been a mixed bag for the industry. “Those with broad export strategies and a solid strength in retail and direct to consumer internationally as well as domestically are doing great. Those who focused on on-trade, whether internationally or domestically, can be in a lot of pain. Of course that focus may not be a strategy – often it is just a consequence of a distributor that you appoint in a market and where their priorities lie.”

He hopes to see more excitement from New Zealand in the years ahead. “I have been feeling for some time that the New Zealand wine grower is somewhat boring to the enthusiast. The consumer probably doesn’t see it that way, there is fantastic reliability and quality across the board. But not a lot of excitement.

“Partly this is because it is a mature wine production country now, where the cost of establishing oneself is very high, so tricky for new younger players. But we are definitely seeing more interesting and new ideas emerging, maybe the result of boredom over lockdown. I have been reading Rebecca Gibb’s reviews on Vinous and been struck by quite a selection of orange wines, Albariño, Chenin, Muscat, Grüner Veltliner, Viognier, Marsanne and a steady growth of good Chardonnay. I applaud this. We need more.

Tonic water’s refreshed approach in 2020

The great gin and tonic revival of the previous decade birthed a stable of high-quality, premium tonic brands, resulting in surging sales as increasingly astute G&T drinkers sought quality mixers. It’s a category that has really flourished in the on-trade, and despite bar closures and widespread disruption throughout 2020, has remained in the ascension.

According to Euromonitor, global tonic water and bitters sales grew by 3.4% last year, surpassing 2.2 billion litres. This performance is even more pronounced in Europe. According to Research & Markets, the European tonic water market is expected to enjoy growth of 9.9% CAGR between 2020 and 2026. However, this only tells part of the story.

Last year, tonic brands’ performances were fundamentally decided by their ability to quickly establish themselves within the o-trade.

“Historically, our brand has been 50:50 off-trade to on-trade, so it was quite a blow when we got that announcement from Boris that everything was having to shut,” says Andrew Ronald, UK general manager of FeverTree. “We were fortunate in doing a very good job in pivoting quickly into the off-trade and really pushing our off- trade business much harder.”

The Berlin-based Thomas Henry brand witnessed the disparity between its markets with and without established o-trade links. “For us, the German and Austrian markets were by far the most developed in the off-trade and in these markets, we only had a loss of 2%,” says Sigrid Bachert, managing director of marketing and sales.

“Then we have markets like Italy, where we are only in the on-trade. There we had a loss of about 30%, but that’s only because of the good months of January to March [2020]. In the hard lockdown months, we had zero sales there.”

As the shockwave of the pandemic lockdowns spread internationally, larger, more established brands with expansive ranges were able to navigate the challenges and remain active in the market.

“Our business is extremely diverse, operating across over 85 countries with a range of both so¡ drinks and mixers in both the on-trade and grocery channels,” says Neil Donachie, trade marketing manager at Fentimans. “This allowed us to divert resources into areas of the marketplace, both channels and countries, that were still open to reach consumers.”

For others, the ability to be light-footed and change tack quickly kept them moving forward. “The impact of Covid-19 required us to adapt our plans for 2020. When lockdown was announced, our pipeline of exciting experiential events and collaborations for the summer of 2020 were paused while we moved our world online,” says Ounal Bailey, co-founder of The London Essence Co.

The UK-based brand, which is owned by Britvic, went on to enjoy great success in 2020 after quickly taking advantage of the shift to off-trade sales. As a result, the brand enjoyed “a year-on-year increase of over 1,000% within [British] retail” for its Indian Tonic.

ACCELERATED TRENDS

The Covid-19 pandemic accelerated trends such as ecommerce and direct-to-consumer sales. “Even businesses that performed exceptionally well, this whole process has caused them to evaluate the way that they work,” says Christian Sarginson, brand controller for Franklin & Sons at Global Brands.

“It’s just accelerated things really, a lot of the stuff that might have been changed was destined to go there anyway eventually.” Global Brands launched Good Time In, its own direct-to-consumer platform, during the lockdowns.

“That became a nice outlet for us to be able to get brand in hand and to give people that at-home experience which has been so important,” says Sarginson. “Ecommerce we see as a good adaptation. It’s been interesting to watch how that’s progressed. Alcohol and mixers under-index on ecommerce quite a lot… because it’s such an impulsive category.”

Donachie at Fentimans adds: “While online and ecommerce-based sales of soft drinks had been growing for years, there was a huge explosion of growth in this channel in 2020 as consumers switched to online shopping platforms.”

“In the last year, retail shopping habits changed more than in the 10 years before. Any brand would be da¡ to not capitalise,” says Ronald at Fever-Tree, which invested in online retail platforms and increased its presence on Amazon. “We’ve all seen these changes coming, but I think it’s accelerated more. We’ll continue having a focus online and a focus on digital, because I think that we’ve all jumped into that bath in 2020 and it will continue as we go ahead.”

As other categories have seen, the online marketplace also benefits the small and the unusual. Rather than spending half an hour reading labels in a supermarket aisle, consumers can make researched choices from the comfort of their sofa.

“It’s certainly been good for small brands because people haven’t defaulted to the mainstream premium choices available in multiple grocers,” says Sarginson. “They’ve taken a bit more time to search through the thousands of products online and have been a bit more adventurous.”

While digitalisation benefited many brands, lockdowns ravaged the on-trade, with many bars unable to survive. The result will see a transformation of cities and towns around the globe, and we will emerge into a different metropolitan landscape. For tonic brands whose primary focus is on-premise, this offers a new set of challenges.

“There will be a big movement in the market, let’s say 20-30% of your [on-trade] partners are gone, there will be new partners that you have to build new relationships with, gastronomy partners and bars will need money,” says Bachert.

To support its existing partners, Thomas Henry launched Helping Hands last year, a program which gave on-the-ground help to struggling bars as they sought to get back on their feet.

“A lot of our on-trade sales force were once bartenders or on-premise owners, so when we were allowed to last year, we went to our on-premise partners and offered to help run the bar for them for three or four days, we brought [customers] in and managed their social media channels. It was very successful, and we are going to do this again this year,” says Bachert. “The guys in the on-premise liked it a lot, o¡en it’s better to be on someone’s side than to give them €200.”

Beyond bricks, mortar and bytes, consumer trends have been progressing at pace. By design, tonic brands found themselves in the enviable position to feature in a variety.

“There was a phenomenon of a lot of people drinking a lot more at the start of lockdown and after a couple of months of hitting it a bit harder than they otherwise would, either monotony or sense took over, and then we saw quite a big rise in zero per cent and low-alcohol drinks,” says Sarginson.

“It was a story of two halves. People really enjoyed a very much needed drink at the end of a day, but also the low and no occasions really grew. Fortunately, we’re exceptionally well positioned to capture all of those three occasions, be it low, no or the normal old drinking occasion,” adds Ronald.

“We saw occasions where people were still feeling like they were creating that spirit and mixer drink, but without the spirit in there. With the great glassware, ice and garnish but just having the tonic.”

LIFESTYLE CHANGES

The International Alliance for Responsible Drinking reports that more than one in three adults cut down or stopped drinking altogether during last year’s lockdowns, and according to Globescan, 31% of people say they have made major changes in order to live more healthily.

“The pandemic has definitely heightened awareness of the importance of physical health. Healthier soft drinks and lower sugar content options are set to grow as new legislation and consumer needs grow,” says Donachie.

“Drinking habits are changing as people desire a balance of both wellness and enjoyment, and this has been reflected with an increase in demand for non-alcoholic and light options,” says Bailey. “Premium tonic has definitely stepped in to meet this demand as seen with the emergence of interesting and unique flavours.”

This year, many countries are anticipating a return to normality, and a pent-up demand to get back to the on-trade may result in a summer of prosperity for brands. “Everywhere will be full of people, everyone will want to be in a bar or outside,” says Bachert. “It will be the summer of our lives. From a psychological point of view, if the pandemic situation will allow it… people will be going crazy to go out.”

The desire in consumers to go out and enjoy themselves could be a much needed shot in the arm for the on-trade. While at-home drinking has maintained the category, it’s the on-trade where most premium tonic brands have traditionally focused their efforts.

“No matter how great people have got at making drinks at home, the overwhelming majority of those will still not be to the standard of a professional in a bar. The on-trade has the ability to reinvent itself. The on-trade is the ultimate trial hotbed,” says Sarginson.

“We want to be there for all of customers, to support them as much as possible and do everything we can to get them back to running at full speed as quickly as possible,” says Ronald. “As a brand we’re excited about what opportunities lie ahead, we’re very excited about the on-trade reopening, and it’s been fantastic how much the consumer has engaged with spirit and mixer in 2020 and we’re con¦dent that will stay.”

And once normality has been realised, brands will be able to get back to the business at hand before everything was disrupted, namely, world domination. 

“From the worldwide picture, the category still has room to grow. The UK and Spain are absolutely dierent to a country like France. France only really started with gin and tonics about two years ago so there’s a lot of room to grow in some countries,” says Bachert. “In the US also, export there is the future. We try to find the niches, there are countries where there is room for improvement.”

With the on-trade reopening and the category’s position in the growing low and no-abv trends, in 2021, tonic water can have its cake and eat it.

 

Global Bartending Talent Agency launches online marketplace and Helping Hospitality initiative

Bottled cocktails created by bartenders at a variety of famous venues will be on sale at the Global Bartending Marketplace.

Consumers will also be able to purchase bar equipment and mixology books, along with Trust Water – which gives 100% of its profits to industry charity The Drinks Trust.

Consumers will be able to pay in Bitcoin, which is currently enjoying a strong bull run, or via PayPal when the site goes live tomorrow.

Former Diageo World Class manager Dan Dove launched Global Bartending Talent Agency last year. It represents some of the world’s most famous bartenders, connecting them with luxury brands and consumers, while offering consultancy services to the trade.

The organisation will take a 10% commission on all sales at Global Bartending Marketplace, and the plan is to reinvest those funds into marketing initiatives in a bid to drive future growth. It hopes the online marketplace will provide an additional revenue stream for on-trade operators as we emerge from the strict lockdown measures.

Global Bartending Talent Agency has also launched an initiative called Helping Hospitality. Joe Schofield, Lynnette Marrero, David Rios and other leading bartenders represented by the agency have created a series of videos designed to help bar operators rebound following the difficult trading conditions of the past year.

There will be tips on how to manage the effects of the pandemic and rebuild, along with ideas designed to generate additional revenue. The videos can be found at: https://japanpromotourpackages.com/

Dove (pictured) said: “After an extremely difficult year we would like to shine a light on the difficulties that the hospitality industry has had to face throughout the pandemic. We believe that also enabling crypto currency as a form of payment will open the hospitality industry to new opportunities and help set it up for the future. 

“As part of the bartending community ourselves, we want to help and give back to as many people as possible. We hope that our small contribution helps our beloved industry get back up and running and that we can provide some much-needed support.”