The schlock of the new

22 July, 2016

It may go against my better nature and political persuasion, but I have to admit that I love new stuff

I’m a hapless early adopter of gadgets with a fetish for the latest designs of training shoes and unable to get through a supermarket without picking up at least one tweaked variant of a breakfast cereal or chocolate bar.

Whether you see this kind of behaviour as open-minded and curious or simply credulous and greedy, you’d have to concede that for brand owners it makes me the perfect consumer: prepared to take a punt on even the most apparently ridiculous and short-lived new products.

Call it a public service… well, that’s what your average committed capitalist would say at any rate. It’s people like me who keep the wheels of the global economy turning simply by buying things we don’t need or, indeed, want.

But there are times when ‘innovative’ and ‘radical’ don’t necessarily translate into ‘must-buy’ even for me. Whole sectors of products seem immune to the shock of the new – and perhaps the most striking of all is wine.

I was thinking about this when a Spanish friend presented me with a bottle of Gïk, a new ‘wine’ brand (as you’ll see, my inverted commas are more meaningful than the brand owner’s umlaut) from Spain.

Described on the company’s UK website as “a blasphemous drink”, Gïk’s main point of difference is its colour. Not white, red, pink – or even trendy orange. But blue. It’s made by adding a plant-based dye to a base of red and white wines sourced from across Spain, plus a dose of natural “non-caloric” sweeteners. “We are not vintners,” the website continues, redundantly. “We are creators. So we sought the most traditional and closed-minded industry out there. Once having selected the wine industry as our battlefield, we set about creating a radically different product.”

My initial riposte on reading this was: “Why?” While some businesses thrive on bringing the future forward, wine is “closed and traditional” for a good reason. Along with its ties to specific locations and the natural world, its unbroken links to the past (its “traditions”) are the wine industry’s single most valuable asset, marking it out from younger rival sectors that would kill for the same kind of – for want of a better phrase – brand values.

That’s why winemakers tend to be so conservative with their products. And it’s why when change has come in the wine business (graphic labels rather than pictures of châteaux, varietal labelling, screwcaps) it’s tended to be incremental, evolutionary, rather than radical, leaving much of its existing character intact. For all that the industry occasionally ties itself in knots calling for innovation, deep down there is a sense that few producers really want to risk it losing its classical (and aspirational) appeal for the sake of a short-term sales hit.

The entrepreneurial outsider “creators” of Gïk no doubt think differently, and point to the 70,000 bottles of the concoction they’ve managed to shift already in Spain. But I can’t help thinking that, rather than “changing the world” as its makers claim, Gïk is more likely to end up as the wine industry’s answer to an equally hyped, equally colourful but ultimately discontinued liquid that once made its way into my shopping trolley. Heinz Purple Ketchup, anyone?

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