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The state of wine right now

A vinuous snapshot of the where we are right now – in Singapore and beyond.

Big business

According to market data provider Statista, Singapore’s wine revenue will reach US$734 million (S$1.02 billion) in 2020. While our city-state’s revenue is a small fraction of the US$51 billion wine revenue expected from the US, we are not far off in terms of per capita consumption at $125.53 versus the US’s $155.15. Working in our favour are the following facts: Singapore is one of the best places to do business worldwide, it’s a point of entry into the rest of the South-east Asian wine market, and prospects seem very attractive. On the ground, according to Mathias Camilleri, master sommelier and senior beverage manager at Marina Bay Sands, there is a visibly growing community that “appreciates the art of drinking wine, and actively shares new discoveries with one another”.

 

More wine on the market

The 2019 Prowein Business Report (PBR), based on a survey of more than 1,700 experts in the wine industry from 45 countries, marketing trends and the economic situation in mid-2019, has Singapore pegged as one of the most attractive emerging markets for producers. However, industry observer and master of wine Richard Hemming notes that although Singapore has a “stable government, well- established distribution, and no shortage of wealthy consumers, [it] doesn’t mean it will be easy for producers to establish themselves in what is already a very competitive market”. Meanwhile, Camilleri opines that it can only be a boon for F&B operators. “Some people see the market saturation as competition, but I think it is certainly an advantage… to be able to access such a vast database of wines, and especially those new to the market.”

 

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Inside the cellar at Champagne Penet-Chardonnet in France, which is known for its classy bubblies and top-class hospitality.

 

Even better labels

With Singapore’s cosmopolitan customer base and their high disposable incomes, as well as flat tax on alcohol (based on volume of ethanol rather than the price of a product), it just makes sense to drink better. As identified by data analytics company GlobalData, premiumisation is one of the top growth opportunities for the wine industry in Singapore. While top wines like your Lafite and Domaine de la Romanée- Conti (DRC) have always had a strong presence in Singapore, we’re now seeing better daily drinking options, including Orin Swift and Louis M. Martin – two Californian premium labels owned by wine giant E&J Gallo – that entered the Singapore market just last year.

 

Postponed events

Two upcoming major wine events meant to be held here – ProWine Asia, a trade and industry show, and Matter of Taste, Robert Parker Wine Advocate’s annual extravaganza – have been postponed because of the current Coronavirus (Covid-19) situation. While jokes about how alcohol kills viruses abound, the organisers aren’t taking chances as these events are attended by stakeholders and vinophiles from all over.

 

The future

Climate change, which can affect the entire supply chain, remains one of the industry’s biggest issues. According to the PBR, while 90 per cent of growers and winemakers surveyed are feeling the brunt of shifting temperatures, only 60 per cent of retailers and on-trade businesses seem to be affected by this. What’s more, winemakers predict a harder time overall, with the survey noting significant concerns about the increased volatility of grape yields and unpredictable shifts in wine quality – all of which call for such measures as investing in new equipment, changing winemaking techniques, and even planting in different regions.

 

(Related: Singapore’s soon-to-be largest wine club, 67 Pall Mall, is now accepting memberships

 

 

Better known for its port, Portugal’s Duoro Valley is producing wine of increasing quality, thanks to a new generation of winemakers who are breaking away from convention. Pictured: the Quinta do Crasto vineyards.

 

New grape varieties

To buffer the changes in growing conditions, including yield, ripening periods and temperatures, winemakers are exploring cultivating beyond the traditional grapes in certain appellations. Even Bordeaux, with all its entrenched traditions and rules, has allowed seven new grapes to be grown and used in some of the wines made in the region. In fact, in the PBR, a third of all producers say that new grape varieties better suited to different conditions need to be grown. Of course, this won’t necessarily change all the wines you love, since the grapes are malleable to the winemaker. In Bordeaux, only 10 per cent of the new varieties can be used in any blend, while a prime estate like St Emilion still prefers to stick to traditional grape varieties.

 

Not all change is bad (for winemaking)

While many producers are negatively affected by climate change, some benefit from warmer weather. “It depends on the timescale you are talking about,” says Hemming. Recent temperature shifts have allowed Britain to make sparkling wines to rival Champagne while Burgundy has been enjoying a run of good vintages in recent years. However, it is a different story elsewhere. “When I visited Jean-Louis Chave, one of the best producers of Hermitage wines in the Rhone Valley last year, he said he was harvesting Hermitage at the very top limit of what was acceptable. Some of his parcels reached 16 per cent alcohol,” shares Hemming.

 

Our two cents’ worth

Clearly, options abound in Singapore – from solemn temples of fine wines to too-cool-for-school natural wine bars, and everything else in between. A wild-fermented orange wine made with esoteric Italian varietals can be as mind-blowing as a Burgundy – or vice-versa, depending on your current bias. Drink well and without prejudice.

 

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