The WBWE Presents: Deborah Parker Wong
Deborah Parker Wong is one of California’s most prestigious wine specialized journalists. This year, she will attend for the first time the WBWE attracted by the leading role that the US market will have throughout this year’s fair.
On the 10th anniversary of the world’s biggest trade fair devoted to the bulk wine business, it is a privilege for us to have an American expert such as Deborah, who will also participate in a round table discussion. Deborah Parker Wong will as well be part of the jury at the IBWC (International Bulk Wine Competition).
Today she answers for the WBWE to a series of questions about the present and future of the industry, which has evolved so much throughout the WBWE’s 10th years of existence.
Deborah Parker Wong, DWSET is a global wine editor for magazines such as SOMM Journal, The Tasting and Clever Root, where she reports on the wine and spirits industries with an emphasis on trends. As a Wine & Spirit Education Trust Approved Program Provider she offers Level 2 and Level 3 WSET certifications to students in the United States and she lectures as an adjunct professor in the Wine Studies department at Santa Rosa Junior College. In addition to writing and speaking about wine, Deborah provides strategic consulting services, judges wine competitions and scores wine for Planet Grape Wine Review. Her motto is: To learn, read. To know, write. To master, teach.
What do you expect from your participation at the WBWE?
As a wine professional whose primary interest is wine quality, I fully expect to come away with a snapshot and firsthand knowledge of the baseline of quality for global bulk wine. While researching the bulk wine industry, in California brokers have been reluctant to let journalists (like me) blind taste and evaluate bulk wine samples although they will pour finished wines. While I see the bulk wine industry here in California firsthand, I know that the EU markets are far more mature about importing and production of finished wines from bulk, so I’ll be looking for best practices and market perspective.
How do you see the future of the wine industry?
Although there is a mounting concern about the slowing growth of the fine wine sector in the US and the impact the legalization of cannabis will have on the US wine market, I’m optimistic that wine consumption will grow as consumers continue to explore the category.
In your opinion, which are the most interesting wines now? And where they are produced?
As a global palate, I’m constantly exposed to indigenous grape varieties and I freely admit they initially captivate me. What interests me most in the long term are varieties or blends that produce complete wines without relying on oak. Carricante from the Mt. Etna region of Sicily is one example of a little-known white grape that demonstrates great finesse, good levels of dry extract and overall superb quality. Old vine Garnacha from Spain is a good example of a variety that has plenty of secondary character built in. For red blends, I’m interested in classic blends like GSM that perform well in both the Northern and Southern hemispheres. We’re seeing new development and increased production of dry wines in the Douro Valley and increased production of sparkling and rosé wines worldwide. Regions like Prosecco are on the cusp of allowing DOC blended rosé production.
Which markets are currently showing the most promise for bulk wine imports?
China is top of mind as it’s on track to move from the world’s fifth largest consumer of wine to the first in a few short years but competitive advantages there may shift on the expectation that Beijing will eventually change restrictions to incentivize imports from Chinese-owned wineries abroad. The EU countries and the Southern Hemisphere are better positioned to serve the bulk market there with Chile, Australia, Spain and South Africa currently leading bulk imports. The wines are used to blend with locally-made wines to improve quality and to expand portfolio offerings.
Wine consumption in the US through 2030 is expected to rise, see below, and that looks very promising.
Has bulk wine attained its peak in terms of its production capacity?
A predicted continuing rise in global consumption, a short 2017 vintage and new regulatory restrictions have moved the global market in favor of producers/suppliers.
To manage shortfalls, exporting countries are cutting back exports and importing from competitors to meet domestic demand. Given this scenario, I’d say that there’s still room for more production.
How can the bulk wine industry work together to build value into the industry?
An increasing level of transparency across the global marketplace that promotes ease of access for sellers and buyers should help bring more value to the Industry.
How can producers better communicate the benefits of bulk wine to suppliers?
The consensus among bulk brokers is that consumers don’t really care where the wine is coming from as long as the quality is there. While that may hold true for certain price segments, consumer interest in organic and sustainable (two things that imply a concern about source) continues to grow. I see this as a tremendous value add for producers. Producers who are farming specifically for the bulk market and for long-term contracts have a vested interest in quality and that applies to the market as a whole. The benefit for suppliers lies in bulk that overdelivers in quality for value although with mounting price increases that dynamic is going to be challenged.
What impact do you think the United States has on the bulk wine industry moving forward?
It’s likely that the US trend of importing bulk will continue making us a buyer and not a seller. According to a paper by UC Davis professor James Lapsley, Ph.D. “It seems likely that U.S. wine consumption will increase by 50% (due to population growth and acculturation by Hispanics) and that by 2030 much of the wine consumed will be foreign.” The Central Valley of California is capable of competing with imports to produce bulk table wine but it’s currently reducing grape acreage and losing ground to other crops like almonds.
The stigma surrounding bulk wines has been reduced dramatically over the past decade. Why do you think this is and how can bulk professionals best capitalize upon this shift?
Thanks to modernization, global wine quality is at an all-time high. With producers scrambling to over deliver quality at every price point, it’s never been a better time to be a wine consumer. It’s commonly said that “bulk wine below a certain price point is as interchangeable as a Lego brick.” Given the predicted rise in bulk wine prices, the overall quality of brands that rely on bulk imports may actually decrease.
What is the biggest challenge currently facing bulk wine professionals?
For brokers, sourcing and securing long-term contracts to help protect customers from price fluctuations. For buyers, anticipating and following the vintage so they can buy from a region that has oversupply. Also, sourcing varieties that are in demand for the US market like Cabernet Sauvignon which has eclipsed Chardonnay as the top variety and Sauvignon Blanc which has now surpassed Pinot Grigio in popularity.