More than 250 wines, 112 grape varieties, and 38,000 wine glasses ― the four days of the 10th MW Symposium were a logistical challenge. The program was eclectic and the 500-strong audience from 47 countries varied. From regenerative agriculture to the delights of Riesling, the subjects on offer had the participants talking long after the day had finished. This year, the Symposium was held in the pretty town of Wiesbaden, Germany, thanks to lavish sponsorship by the German Wine Institute. The Symposium also scored a coup in getting actor and director John Malkovich to talk about his wine venture in Luberon, France, to a packed room.
Held every four years, the Institute’s flagship event, hosted in different locations around the world, bills itself as “intended to be an outspoken and explorative event, where opinion formers from around the world can engage”.
The talks and panel discussions were a little light on the provocation, but there’s no doubt that the Symposium is a place for opinion formers — access to the audience is already worth the price of admission. Many of the world’s most interesting and storied wine professionals were in attendance, there to immerse themselves in conversations with their peers. The mood was upbeat, and the discussions out in the foyer between the sessions were excellent.
Here's a snapshot of two sessions:
The wine retailer
The session, moderated by Richard Bampfield MW, concerned the role of the retailer in wine sales and marketing. “If wine is to have a future, wine retail has a critical part to play,” he said in his introduction.
Systembolaget’s unique data: KPIs for each target area
Marcus Ihre, the Sustainability Manager of Systembolaget in Sweden, began his presentation by discussing how the Swedish monopoly invested in technology four years ago, which has allowed it to collect data from producers and combine it with other types of external data. This means they can now understand the environment in which wine is produced much better, which has led to fewer third-party audits of wineries. It’s also allowed a more granular understanding of specific regions and markets, so Systembolaget can create KPIs that are appropriate for the target area.
Water usage, for example, is evaluated after looking at the local situation. “We have this global risk data related to where water scarcity is really severe,” and so producers in high-risk areas face specific demands to verify “how they work with water, how they save water, how they conserve water sources, et cetera.”
Systembolaget also taken pains to highlight sustainably made wines, both on store shelves and online.
Systembolaget also taken pains to highlight sustainably made wines, both on store shelves and online. Not only do they highlight green credentials, but also “social performance, human rights, labour conditions, environmental impacts and, of course, climate,” Ihre said. “In addition to that we have specific requirements related to the packaging; in very concrete words that means that this product should not be bottled in glass of more than 420 grams,” per 750ml bottle.
The results have been remarkable, he said. Although certified sustainable wines represent just 20% of Systembolaget’s assortment, customers are buying disproportionate amounts of them. Partly as a result of this, more producers are signing on to be certified. Where certifications are weak or non-existent — with regard to waste treatment or freedom of association for example — producers have been willing to strengthen their standards voluntarily.
Systembolaget’s customers are buying disproportionate amounts of certified products.
Systembolaget is also working on building models that will simplify data collection and synthesise the information more effectively, which will cut down the requests for information being made of producers.
“We should not forget what happens in science and research have an impact on the media and public opinion, and on what politicians are doing in terms of regulations,” he said. “So the last thing I would like to point out is that it's very important to have collaboration in place. We need to do this journey together.”
Whole Foods Market: The coming of ingredient listings
Next up was Doug Bell, Senior Principal of Adult Beverage Innovation and Product Development for Whole Foods Market, the upscale American supermarket chain owned by Amazon, that is known for its organic and sustainably produced products.
“Both transparency and sustainability are extremely important to our company. Both are literally stated and our core values and our mission statement,” he began. “And we like to think that as the way Whole Foods has changed the way we eat, that the adult beverage team can change the way we enjoy and consume adult beverages.”
Whole Foods, Bell says, rejects products that have any of 260 additives or ingredients; their 100,000 SKUs are carefully sourced and vetted, including their lotions and supplements. And now, Whole Foods are going to demand ingredients transparency in wine.
Geisenheim University: alternative packaging formats
Another point of view ― that of retailers and producers ― was explored by Professor Simone Loose from Geisenheim University. She presented the current ProWein Business Report 2022, which studied the planned market introduction of various alternative packaging formats and their acceptance by consumers. The results will be reported separately.
A cool future for Pinot Noir
The red wine tasting, moderated by Jasper Morris MW, was entitled “A Cool Future for Pinot Noir” and presented eight wines from eight different countries. Morris MW opened the tasting by regaling the audience with entertaining anecdotes from Burgundy including the story of how Duke Philip the Bold, Duke of Burgundy had Gamay uprooted for being “disloyal”. After a quick historical tour of the region, he got into the nitty gritty.
“There are a few cliches about Burgundy which need to be put to rest,” he began, one being the way people speak about Burgundy as “the Holy Grail. If you’re making Pinot Noir in any other country, you need to be making the best New Zealand or Japanese or German or whatever Pinot Noir, and not emulating Burgundy.”
He noted that Burgundy itself has 3,000 winemakers, which “guarantees 6,000 different styles”, and that plantings around the world are up by 53%. Morris MW added that Burgundy’s wines had also improved in the past four decades, as winemaking professionalised and hygiene took hold. Finally, he celebrated the diverse range of Pinot Noir styles available now.
To prove the point, he began the tasting of the eight Pinot Noirs from around the world, made by four winemakers. The conceit was that each winemaker made wine in two different continents, showcasing how Pinot expresses itself differently depending on terroir, even when made by the same hands.
Jane Eyre: Burgundy and Australia
Australian negociant winemaker Jane Eyre, whose Beaune 1er Cru Avaux 2021 and Jane Eyre Yarra Valley Pinot Noir 2021 were the first wines featured, said that winemaking has changed markedly in the past two decades.
“If you look at how wines were made across the board 20 years ago, people were doing a lot more extraction, a lot more punch downs, a lot more new oak,” she said. “So the wines are quite different. I think it’s almost by accident that the wines are little bit more elegant, because people are taking the pedal off.”
Eyre said her winemaking is much the same, regardless of where she makes the wines, so the dramatic differences between the two wines — the first elegant and savoury, the second light and crunchy — are solely because of their different terroir. But, critically, what’s changing rapidly are the price of Burgundy’s grapes; in order to get the quality she needs from the growers she prefers, she’s having to pay drastically more, and this has to be reflected in the final price of the wine. The takeaway from this portion of the tasting is that there is no relief in sight — the economics of production mean more price rises to come.
Etienne de Montille & Co: Japan and California
As the tasting progressed, the wine that got many people talking was the De Montille & Co Hokkaido Pinot Noir 2019 from Japan, notable not just for its elegance, but also its spicy, peppery notes. Winemaker Etienne de Montille, whose Racine Sanford & Benedict California Pinot Noir 2019 was also served, said it was clear the effect that climate change was having on Burgundy was “scary” and it had persuaded him to venture to other wine regions, looking for places less subject to climate. Before he takes on a project, he is looking for fresh water, and a cool climate, and he’d found a very cool climate in Japan. “It has been a great learning curve,” he added. “I have learned more outside Burgundy than in.”
Ross and Johner
As well as those already mentioned, the other two wines presented were Zena Crown Oregon Pinot Noir 2019 and Hamilton Russell Hemel-en-Aarde Valley 2018, discussed by winemaker Emul Ross; and Johner Lime Hill Marlborough Pinot Noir 2019 and Johner SJ Blauer Kaiserstuhl Spätburgunder 2017, presented by Karl Heinz Johner.
Waiting for Malkovich
For many, the highlight of the conference was the hour-long interview John Malkovich, who makes small quantities of idiosyncratic wines in the Luberon. That session can be found here.
Thanks to the team
Then only the acknowledgments remained: Julian Gore-Booth, IMW executive director, congratulated Caro Maurer MW, Alison Flemming MW, Belinda Eaton and the whole team on bringing together such a compelling series of tastings and seminars: “We’ve been delighted by the resoundingly positive feedback we’ve had over the four days. The quality of insight and expertise on show has reinforced the International Symposium’s status as the flagship event in the world of wine.”
Next stop: Adelaide
The host region for the 11th IMW international symposium will be Adelaide and will take place in 2026. “Australia, and Adelaide in particular, is at the forefront of so much innovation in the wine world so it is a natural destination for the next symposium,” said Gore-Booth.
Dr Martin Cole, CEO of Wine Australia said, “We’re thrilled that the IMW symposium is coming to Adelaide in 2026 and look forward to showcasing Australia’s world-class wines and wine regions. It’s such a fantastic opportunity to bring leaders in wine together and share our passion for Australia’s diverse and exciting wine scene.”
Adelaide was due to host the conference in 2022, but it was cancelled because of COVID-19.
In the coming weeks, we will report in more depth on further symposium topics
Meininger's International was media partner of the event.