The Sherry Trade is Collapsing. Let’s Save It.

The Sherry Trade is Collapsing. Let’s Save It.

Let’s be honest: sherry is no stranger to its ups and downs. On more than one occasion in its long history it has been on the brink of collapse. While ‘collapse’ might seem a little dramatic for an industry that is still supplying around 450 hectolitres (45,000 litres) a year, it is worrying that sherry has been declining since the mid-1980s.

Harveys of Bristol and the boom of Cream style sherry in the 1950s saw the sherry trade have its greatest ever volume of sherry exported with over 70,000 butts of the stuff being sold to thirsty mouths. Yet the boom was short term and, worse, has led to an inevitable spiral of price cutting and sinking demand. In the UK, its second biggest market after Spain itself, sherry has an uphill struggle against the impression of its audience – we think it’s drunk by our Grans, so why do we want to buy a bottle no matter how ‘cheap’ it is?

A small, renewed boom has happened in terms of niche sherry. For example, people are spending more money on premium, small production sherries classified as VOS (Vinum Optimum Signatum or Very Old Sherry) and VORS (Rare) that have 20+ or 30+ years on them. But the market impact is minute. Tiny. Then there’s the whole age surrounding VOS and VORS as a marketing method; I mean, what 20-35-year-old could care less about a classification in Latin? So, it’s arguably just a quick short term fix again.

Of course, there was a quick spike when the UK, especially London, saw a surge in Spanish tapas bars and sherry began to be introduced onto the wine lists across restaurants in the UK. However it’s almost impossible not to balance that with the enduring trend for lower alcohol and healthier wines that has ultimately seen fortified wine’s market share decline for the past two decades and continue to do so.

But I love sherry. I’m a young convert. It’s different, it’s pronounced and flavoursome beyond even some of the best wines when you get a good bottle. It reminds me of why I love drinking great coffee black – or why I would part with my cash for a Scotch whisky that masters the balance of mature flavour and alcohol, giving smoothness and richness on the palate.

One solution I get excited about for sherry is the craft market. Beer just saw it boom. If you look at sherry’s main export markets – even Spain itself – they’re all beer-loving countries: Spain’s cervezas, UK pubs, and the Netherlands which is home to Heineken, one of the world’s biggest beer brands.

Imagine, for a moment, seeing 500ml bottles of sherry with awesome DISRUPTIVE branding and a confidence to charge a mid-market price tag? Imagine seeing them lined up behind the bar in your favourite tapas place with bright colours, cool bottles and none of this stuffy VOS/VORS stuff. Imagine pairing them with the food we eat every day as well as the culinary adventures where they come into their own.

The only way sherry can come back is to disrupt. Perhaps going craft is the way to do just that?

Ben Franks is a digital marketing specialist and wine expert.
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