“Forget climate change, dude, this is probably the biggest threat to the wine industry.” Well, it is according to leading South African winemaker, Bruce Jack. In the second in his monthly series, The Bruce Juice, Jack examines the impact the continued legalised sale of cannabis in more American states, and potentially elsewhere in the world, is already having on the alcohol industry. Beer might be feeling the effects first, but wine sales, he warns, are also going to suffer.
The biggest immediate threat to wine is not coming from the sky, or mother nature, but as Bruce Jack says, the first “new legal and widely-available, addictive alternative to alcohol” in some 8,000 years – cannabis.
Our neighbouring despot, Robert Mugabe has just been removed by the Zimbabwe military in a poetic coupling of both coup d’état and coup de grâce – where the former means an overthrow of the state by the military and the latter translates as ‘an event that finishes a deteriorating situation’. I love the French phrases we have assimilated.
As I sit on my veranda looking north to the shimmering violet slabs of the Langeberg Mountains, it puzzles me how Mugabe and all his acolytes didn’t see it coming…
There’s a light breeze bustling through the bluegums towering over the homestead. The rolling Overberg valley between my farm and those beautiful purple mountains is a mesmeric patchwork of greenish yellow and golden wheat. The light is drawing softly back, the braai has been lit, and I should be happier.
I am trying to fight off that urge to open another bottle of wine. The threat of an early wake-up is putting me off, and so is another threat – dope.
Cannabis Sativa, as an hallucinogen and medicine, has been around for at least as long as wine. It is simultaneously a social symbol, a potent religious metaphor, a fashion accessory and an addictive, and potentially harmful drug. So is wine.
There are, of course, many differences between these two globally-available highs – THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol), the active chemical in marijuana, has changed significantly over the last 30 years through selective breeding. We don’t really know what the negative effects of long-term use of the new strains will be. Economically, the main difference is that cannabis is far more illegal. But this is changing, and whatever your view of this drug is, cannabis is being decriminalised or legalised in many countries.
The future’s coming
Recent wine consumer segmentation from the US designed for NPD teams divides consumers into four broad “lever” categories. If your target NPD consumer falls outside these categories, start again.
The categories are “Future” (not consuming, as they’re under drinking age), “New” (just above drinking age), “Semi-engaged” (they drink often, but don’t really care), and “Engaged” (they drink often, and they care).
Economically, the “Semi-engaged” are far more important than us geeks, and this segment requires careful slicing and deep digging. But generally, if your business is suffering, you are probably making that classic mistake of thinking they actually care what pH your wine is. They don’t.
Much more importantly for NPD, tomorrow’s success stories will have found fans in the “Future” and “New” consumer groups. And here the puzzle begins. They view the establishment with disdain, they consume news differently and distrust much of what they are told. They communicate in bite-sized bits. Peer group endorsement rules. They would never have read an article this long out of choice. They value experiences over materialism. Most interestingly for us, they view the consumption of alcohol and other drugs very differently. In this aspect, our abnormal is tomorrow’s normal, and vice-a-versa.
We can probably adapt to the whims of this new mob, but the gathering decriminalisation of cannabis has just changed the playing field beyond all recognition. For the first time in 8,000 years there is about to be a new legal and widely-available, addictive alternative to alcohol. It is already affecting the beer business in North America and has been a recognised threat to the beer business in South Africa for decades. So forget climate change, dude, this is probably the biggest threat to the wine industry.
It’s hardly surprising that Constellation, undeniably the most adaptive alcohol group around, has just purchased a stake in Canada’s commercial cannabis producer, Canopy Growth.
Unlike Mugabe and his psycho wife, they have observed the threat, and have chosen a way to deal with it.
We all need a proactive strategy, but maybe, instead of trying to sell cannabis-infused Cabernet to protect our livelihoods and industry, it’s time to re-think what wine really stands for – to focus on the rich essence of wine beyond the buzz.
Published in The Buyer