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Austrian glassmaker proves luxury is functional: Riedel CEO found inspiration from paper for latest wine glasses

Dec 07,2018
CEO Maximilian Riedel, above left, of Austrian glassmaker Riedel demonstrates how to use decanters to bring out the flavors in wine at the company’s glass seminar in Gwangjin District, eastern Seoul, last week. People try out wines at the seminar, above right, in glasses from the company’s latest product launch.[CAVE DE VIN]
As people walked out of a wine tasting seminar held in Gwangjin District, eastern Seoul, last week, the topic on all of their lips was the difference a wine glass made to the scent and taste of the wine they enjoyed that night.

Those doubtful or skeptical about investing a little more into buying glasses especially made for enjoying wine lined up outside a seminar offered by CEO Maximilian Riedel of Austrian glassmaker Riedel to see if the glasses were what they’re cracked up to be.

To introduce its latest series of wine glasses called “Performance,” the company’s CEO came to Korea to taste wines with local consumers. About 120 people gathered in a hall to experience how wine tastes in different types of glasses.

Wine was served in plastic cups and consumers were told to pour small portions in different glasses to experience the smell. The biggest surprise came when Riedel asked everyone to put the wine in the glasses back in their plastic cup and smell it. The plastic cup filled with wine didn’t have a smell, compared to the empty glasses that only had a drop or two of wine left in them.

“We expect this ‘wow’ moment where people put their nose in the [Riedel] glass, put wine onto their palate and say, ‘This is how I like it,’ [whereas] they use other glasses and say I don’t like it,” said Riedel to the Korea JoongAng Daily, right before the tasting seminar. He added that same theory applies to drinking water, as the glasses can “zoom in and zoom out” the mineral taste in water, or carbonated drinks like Coca Cola or coffee.

“What a glass can do is show why [what you drink] is good or bad as you get the full picture by having broader spectrum of smells and tastes, which [amplifies the true character as well as] the defects.”

The company, which often releases new products or series, said that their strength lies in the fact that they react quickly to trends. The reason they are sensitive to trends is because they work with leading companies in each market that others welcome and follow.

Some companies ask Riedel if they can customize certain products for their new launch, and the CEO said those talks become the eyes and ears of the glass maker. It has worked with Coca Cola, Dom Perignon and even coffee brand Nespresso to introduce customized glasses.

“We are not a wine maker or a juice producer, so we can only listen to the market and see what it needs,” said Riedel, hinting that the next new items to unveil could come from China, as the market there is getting bigger and Chinese customers have the desire to have something custom-made or different from what they can find anywhere else.

The “Performance” series is another way the company has reacted quickly to the market. Due to global warming and new styles of winemaking that have more concentrated fruit flavors and a higher alcohol content, the company felt the need to make a glass that better presents flavors. They needed a bigger glass without having the glassware take too much space in people’s dishwashers or on the kitchen shelf at home.

Riedel said the idea first came up during the process of brainstorming on paper. Some of the papers were crumpled, and he saw a pile of wrinkled paper. It was then that he realized that the paper with a large surface space could be much smaller if it was wrinkled and crumpled up. This gives the glasses the appearance that have ripples.

The design this time makes the wine glass look like a flower with many narrow petals. Although the design was intentional, the company says it doesn’t have a so-called glassware designer.

“We don’t try to be beautiful, but instead to be functional,” said Riedel. “Every grape variety needs its own loudspeaker or messenger.”

He then added that even wine makers favor the company’s products when they are tasting their wines being fermented in different barrels to find the perfect balance.

What’s particularly popular in the Korean, Japanese and Chinese markets are handmade glasses, the most expensive products Riedel makes. The painstakingly-made glasses sell well in East Asia, making the three countries the largest markets for the company’s luxury goods.

“We can’t produce them fast enough for these markets,” said Riedel. “I guess people in these markets who can afford the glasses look for quality and uniqueness, as handmade glasses are the most difficult ones to make. It takes 25 people to make one glass.”

For those who fear breaking their expensive wine glasses, Riedel says to think of how many golf clubs they buy whenever new ones are introduced and how many tennis rackets they go through as they improve their skills.

For those who love fashion, he recommends thinking of your wine glasses like a pair of Christian Louboutin shoes - they may not be as comfortable as a pair of sneakers, but they are made to be used, look good and to complete an entire look.

“We are talking about a product of use,” said Riedel, adding that going a little luxury if you are a fan of wine can bring your wine tasting to another level.

The company will hold its annual family sale event next week. Wine glasses, decanters and any other glass or wine accessories from Riedel will be sold for up to an 80 percent discounts on Dec. 14 and 15 at the Riedel Family Sale at Sinsa-dong 666-8 in Gangnam District, southern Seoul. The store is open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Dec. 14, and to 8 p.m. on Dec. 15.

Some of the items may sell out early. For more information on products that may be available during the sale, go to cavedevin.co.kr or call (02) 786-3136.

BY LEE SUN-MIN [summerlee@joongang.co.kr]