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New Horizons Q&A: Pierre Mansour, The Wine Society

Published:  16 December, 2020

With an end game to the coronavirus in sight sometime in 2021 as vaccine rollouts begin and up-to-the-wire Brexit uncertainties playing out an extraordinarily tough year, Harpers has been canvassing drinks businesses to discover their predictions for the new year.

We continue our series with Pierre Mansour, director of wine at The Wine Society.

Given this year’s struggles, from Covid to Brexit, what are your three predictions for the next 12 months?

Getting out and about. The exciting news is that life looks like it will return to some normality in 2021 which means our team of Wine Society buyers can do what they do best – travel the world, getting their feet dirty in vineyards and sniffing out delicious wines. I also predict that it will be a bumper year for physical events. We are expecting our members’ appetite for tastings and wine dinners will be insatiable in 2021.

The digital experience will accelerate even further. Watch out for some big news in spring when The Wine Society launches a brand-new website which will give our members an online experience that is as good as our wine!

The 2020 vintage will be a hit with wine drinkers. Quality is looking very encouraging indeed with successes and stand-outs in both the Old and New Worlds – in particular for English wine.

Businesses face uncertain futures. When you and your team sit around the table, what conversations are you having?

Answering this in the midst of our busiest Christmas on record, our conversations have focused on the logistical opportunities to fulfil orders to as many of our members as possible whilst working in a way that puts the safety of our staff paramount.

What is your biggest concern regarding Brexit?

No VI-1 forms please! There will probably be some disruption in the supply chain but we have built contingency in our stocks and believe we have prepared well with our European growers.

How do you think the trading environment will play out post-Brexit?

The biggest impact on the trading environment will be the recession caused by the pandemic. I expect drinkers are likely to continue buying wine for home consumption.

What areas of your business has Covid had the biggest impact on?

Without doubt on our staff who have responded brilliantly to working in new ways, whether social-distanced in our warehouses and office, or remotely from home, and they’ve done it with a smile on their face and with terrific energy.

Anecdotally, Brits have been drinking more during the pandemic – do your sales reflect that?

The short answer is yes. Looking back at such an extraordinary year when we crunched the numbers to see our members’ buying behaviour, one thing became clear: while the top sellers remained firm favourites from years past, Society members also have a tremendous thirst for trying something new. Greece, for example, is one of the two fastest-growing countries in our range. So is Lebanon. When we asked members to lend their support after the explosion in Beirut, the response was overwhelming, with a mixed case and individual wines flying off the shelves.

What have you done to take advantage of the rise in off-trade sales during lockdowns?

As a co-operative, our focus is always and will always be on doing everything we can to bring our members a fantastic range of wines from all corners of the globe (we’re proud that in spite of the challenges, we’ve maintained a range of between 1,300 and 1,600 wines) with excellent service.

If you had to pick the next big thing in wine what would it be?

Complete transparency of the chain, from vineyard to glass, and the impact on people, the environment and the planet.

If you could change one thing about the wine industry, what would it be?

The industry has done a terrific job over the last 20 years of making wine appealing to a younger audience. Now it needs to take action to broaden diversity both amongst drinkers and wine professionals.

Quickfire questions:

New versus Old World?
Old every time.

Red, white or rose?

Screw top or cork?
Cork but it depends what’s in the bottle.

Bottle versus box?

Still versus sparkling?