by Juel Mahoney
There have been huge changes in the wine trade since Bibendum began thirty years ago in 1982. As we are nearing the end of our thirtieth year as a wine merchant, and at the end of one of the biggest years for Bibendum, it is time to reflect on some of the seismic shifts that have happened over the past 30 years in wine and taste.
Looking back, it was a dramatic year to start a wine business. 1982 was an important year for fine wine and was the same year as Robert Parker declared the 1982 vintage as “superb,” making an asteroid-like impact on the market, waking up the Bordelaise out of their complacency and introducing a wider market to fine wine through his 100-point system. Whatever criticism of Robert Parker today, the fine wine world was a lot less transparent and a club of a few before 1982. Bibendum rode this wave, introducing customers to fine wine from Bordeaux and what was called the “New World” – America, Australia, New Zealand, Argentina… the list is long.
The rise of Australian wine in the 1980s ushered in a new era and it can be seen by the facts below that it became a force to be reckoned with. In 1990, sales of New World wines in the UK were at only 5%. Only ten years later, imports from Australia were exceeding French imports for the first time in history. Oz Clarke was telling his readers in the early 90s:
“And, finally, Australia – will we be drinking those ripe, spicy Chardonnays, brash Shirazes, and sweetly blackcurranty Cabernets? You bet we will.” (Oz Clarke’s Pocket Wine Guide 1993, Pick of the Year)
Tastes have clearly changed over the past 30 years against a background of social and cultural change. Even television and music has impacted on the tastes of nation.
Let’s take a look at the past 30 years in the wine trade:
1982 Bibendum opens its doors in Primrose Hill
1982 A New Fine Wine World. Robert Parker announces Bordeaux vintage as “superb”
1983 Chateau Latour 1982 released for £250 per case
1984 Average bottle price £1.79 (RSP)
1984 Duty on wine 68p per bottle
1984 Supermarket house claret costs £2.95. House champagne costs £6.95
1984 Jacobs Creek launches in the UK. The Aussies are coming.
1985 The average major Supermarket has 35 wines on shelf.
1985 Blue Nun sales peak in the UK at 1.25m cases.
1989 Del Boys falls through wine bar counter in Only Fools and Horses. Wine becomes an aspirational drink.
1990 A New Zealand wine named World’s Best Sauvignon Blanc at the International Wine Challenge for the first time
1990 Sales of New World wines are 5%, compared to Old World at 95%
1992 60% of major supermarket sales are French or German wines
1992 Black Monday hits prices of French and German wines. Opens the door for new wines from Italy, Spain and the New World
1993 Tesco have 10% of wine market share
1994 A democratic South Africa joins the New World wine boom
1995 Bridget Jones column launches in The Independent. Chardonnay is everywhere.
1995 “New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc arguable the best in the world” – Oz Clarke
1996 Boli, darling as Absolutely Fabulous’ Patsy lives above Oddbins
1997 Australia wins more Gold Medals than France at the International Wine Challenge
2000 Australia wine imports to the UK exceed those from France for the first time
2002 Chardonnay jumps the shark. Footballer Wives names a character after the grape and John Major joins the ABC movement.
2004 Tax on wine more than 50% of average bottle price for first time
2004 Sideways makes Pinot Noir the world’s trendiest grapes. Move over, Merlot.
2008 New Zealand’s plantings of Sauvignon Blanc trebled since 2003
And the decade so far
2010 Pretty in Pink: Rose wine sales 2.5 times greater than in 2005
2010 Sales of New World wines 56%, compared to Old World 44%
2011 Tesco’s top selling Pinot Grigio sells 1.5m cases – more than Blue Nun at its peak
2011 Chateau Latour 2010 released for £11,000 per case
2012 Average Bottle Price £4.90
2012 Supermarket House Claret costs £4.95. House Champagne costs £16.00
2012 Duty on Wine £1.90 per bottle
Bibendum was born when a group of friends start selling a mixture of classed growths and unusual bottles to private clients. Those friends are still here. Bibendum has changed, the market has changed, but we are looking forward to the new challenges the next 30 years and beyond will bring.
Happy New Year from us all at Bibendum!