McMurtie is CEO of the world’s largest independent wine merchant – trading names include Laithwaites, The Sunday Times and Wall Street Journal Wine Clubs and Wine People Australia.
He gave an exclusive interview to Lucy Britner – who works for our sister title Harpers Wine & Spirit – ahead of his appearance at the inaugural Wine Vision conference in London on November 18-20.
Discussing the sector’s age opportunity McMurtie told Britner: “The single biggest reason why wine is growing in the UK and US is the ageing population. But age is relative here, the relevant age starts at about 45.
“The other big opportunity is still everything to do with the web,” he added. “People can enjoy searching and learning about wine all day, every day if they want to, in a way they couldn’t before.”
The UK…home to the best wine brains
Asked by Britner about the most exciting emerging markets, McMurtie name checked the US – “large and getting larger”, while he said the UK was the best source of innovation.
“Some of the best wine brains, especially marketing ones, are UK based,” he said.
There is everything to play for in India, he added, but one current problem was wine oxidization that could ruin 9 out of 10 bottles if they arrived in the country and were then stuck in a port for three weeks at 40C.
“If your base product is poor quality, it gives wine a bad reputation,” McMurtie warned.
Aspirational consumers in China wanted fast cars, large TVs, and wine was important to demonstrate success to friends, he added, insisting that he thought his 'hot list' of countries would still hold good in five years.
‘Stick to selling wine the way you know works’
Offering advice to wine industry players considering launching in emerging markets, McMurtie said it was important to gauge their potential size and understand local legal frameworks.
“The most important thing is to stick to your proven business model,” he said.
“People will tell you ‘it’s different in this country’ for whatever reason. But stick to selling wine in the way you know works. Human nature isn’t so different between countries.”
Finally, speaking as a wine merchant, McMurtie advised potential suppliers to focus on quality and distinctiveness, and counselled “ruthless efficiency in every aspect of the production process”.
“We find ourselves having to tell producers all the time that there are more cost-effective ways to do things, from filling bottles to sourcing cardboard boxes,” he told Britner.
Click on the link to learn more about Wine Vision 2013 and to book tickets.