If I say it was a great wedding, I imagine that readers who’ve been on planet earth over the last few days will know what I’m talking about. The cheeky British prince; his beautiful mixed-race wife; the Trumpless congregation; the preacher and the gospel choir and Stand By Me; and the kind of weather no one dares to plan for in the UK. For everyone but the most steadfast traditionalist or staunchest republican, it was all… perfect. Well, almost.
There was one aspect that, in the view of a respected member of the British wine trade commenting online, represented a serious shot-to-the-foot. The 600 guests may have been served Scottish langoustines and Windsor lamb and Windsor pork belly from the royal estate, as well as apple juice made from fruit grown at the Queen’s Sandringham estate, but the fizz with which they all toasted the bride and groom was Pol Roger non vintage, rather than one of the growing range of award-winning sparkling wines produced in the UK.
Surely, the argument ran, this was the perfect opportunity to showcase one of the products of which Britain can be justifiably proud – especially in the run-up to a departure from the EU, which has been touted as being all about exporting to exciting new markets.
In purely marketing terms, he was right of course. It’s hard to imagine President Macron making this kind of mistake, and there’s no denying the quality of the English wines that might have been served. If my invitation to the wedding had not got lost in the post, I’d have been delighted to down several glasses of Gusbourne, Nyetimber, Ridgeview, Camel Valley or Steven Spurrier’s Bride Valley, to name but a few.
But it was not just the event itself. British wine merchants were apparently just as bad, promoting sales of Champagne rather than English fizz to all their well-heeled customers who were planning Royal Wedding barbecues in their gardens.
Setting patriotism aside, I can see the merchants’ point. They have Champagne to sell, in a market that has increasingly embraced cheaper Prosecco. It takes a lot more effort to persuade someone to buy something they don’t know and may not like.
English fizz costs the same as Champagne. Precisely the same, in the case of Tesco’s own label examples, both of which are priced at £18.00 ($24.20). For just four pounds more, the chain’s customers could have a Gold Medal-winning Grand Cru.
And, unless they are wine buffs or curious about wine, the simple, knee-jerk response for those shoppers is to buy the name in which they have confidence. In all probability, the reason no one took the decision to order an English fizz for Harry and Meghan, was quite simply that it never crossed their minds. After all, Pol Roger has a royal warrant and has been served at every other wedding. The decision to buy it reminds me of the old saying explaining why Apple used to struggle selling its then-innovative computers to office managers: “nobody ever got fired for buying IBM”.
And that, in a nutshell, is the challenge facing English wine producers. To look beyond the awards and the critical applause, and find ways of placing their wines as close to the front of their target consumers’ minds, as a Bentley or Burberry might be to to someone shopping for a coat or a luxury car. Especially if, like the owner of the recently-launched Rathfinny brand, they expect to sell half of what they produce overseas.
Getting British embassies and British government and royals to fly the flag (as British Airways does on some flights, to be fair), is a start. But it won’t be nearly enough.