2021 has just started, and what a better time to look back at what has happened in the last years in trendsetting Ho.Re.Ca. in regards to wine. Let’s obviously leave 2020 aside, but 2019 has marked an all-time high in sales of the “orange-coloured nectar”.
In this article, I don’t want to enter the hot debate of whether you or I like orange or not (you can check some of the best articles in the links at the end of the page for some interesting perspectives) but rather the trend, marketing and business aspect of a new, hot, wine category. To put it simply to those less familiar with it, orange wine is a “white wine made like a red”, leaving skin-contact for a longer time, to give it a bit of colour and tannins. While it is not specific to this or that grape, but rather a way of making wine, it has definitely gathered more and more importance on the wine list of niche restaurants and wine bars across the globe. It is not something new, as it has been invented in modern-day Georgia (Caucasus) some thousands of years ago and brought back to life by the “Slovenian school” of natural winemakers such as Gravner, Radikon and others around 2000.
After some 20 years retaining its niche among natural wine connoisseurs across selected geographies, 2019 has really been the year in which most of the trendsetting restaurants wine lists as well as our instagram feed have been populated by the orange nectar.
After tasting a few orange wines (or amber wines – just to explain the total extraneousness with oranges) in the last years in different boutique stores and restaurants around Europe, I couldn’t help thinking about the marketing and commercial aspect of this growing trend. My brain went left and right thinking:
could this become the new Rosé (as a category owning a season)? or could it be the new Spritz (as a success story)? Surely it is as instagram-friendly as them but is it as sessionable? What is the drinking occasion for it?
It made me smile as I remembered the first time I ordered a spritz in Prague, some 10 years ago, in Tretter’s bar (one of the first cocktail bars in the city). Everyone looked at me weirdly while I was sipping this orange drink (probably one of the first ones the bartender ever made!). Fast forward a few years and I would have never thought to walk down Prague’s riverbank and see hundreds of orange glasses being enjoyed on a summer evening by people of all (legal drinking) ages.
Some considerations about orange wine:
1) Seeing it from a consumer, it’s fashionable and instagram-friendly with its orange (ish) color making it very easy to stand out on the table, in someone’s hand and it can sparkle a “what are you drinking?” type of conversation. It is easy to pick for people focusing more on extrinsics that want to be seen drinking something special (on the look rather than the taste).
2) From an occasion point of view, its colour misleadingly puts it into the “easy drinking” or “sessionable” occasion of an aperitif or of a summer sunset on a terrace. Rightfully so, if we forget that we are talking about a quite structured, tannic wine, better paired with a proper meal rather than with finger food. Who would drink a structured red as an aperitif? But then again, this might be the actual point of differentiation of orange wine, as surely, the aperitif occasion moves cases faster (did anybody mention prosecco?).
3) From a trade perspective, its peculiarity and its history crown orange wine as the Caesar of natural wines and its color (again!) and category (not a red, not a white) makes it easy to be picked by a sommelier as the “entry” to the world of natural wines on the wine list. As it used to be for listings of craft beers in bars, orange wine can be seen as an innocent foot in the door (or Trojan horse) for natural winemakers as it is not a red nor a white and it doesn’t jeopardise existing relationships with more established wine Maisons.
4) From a producer perspective, conventional winemakers have just started to tap into orange wine as a new line that doesn’t jeopardise their regular range of whites and reds as they have never had an “orange” in their range. Their credibility might be debatable as orange is the most natural of the natural wines and there is a risk that the orange wine category will suffer from new fakes entering.
5) From an RTM eye, orange wine availability by conventional winemakers (probably at a lower entry price) will give space to additional route to market making it easier for traditional distributors and wholesalers to stock them in their range. With their sales teams pushing it to their wider network, together with more traditional sommeliers choosing it as an easier entry to natural, will surely drive volume. In conclusion, orange wine is one of the most debated topics in the natural wines world. Some experts love it while some others claim that orange is not easy-drinking and it will stay niche. The thing with orange wine is that, instead of a method of production, it has become a wine segment on its own… there is white, red, rosé and .. orange! This has led to a generalisation of the term. There are some very geeky and purist orange wines while some others are more drinkable. As it has already peaked in 2019 in trendsetting outlets across the biggest cosmopolitan cities, will 2020 be the year when orange wine will enter a wider distribution and lower-tier types of bars and restaurants? My straight answer is yes if more and less crafty producers will make it more approachable by the masses. From a visual perspective, it is already very much so.