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Barefoot and the wine magazines

Last week, Barefoot was annointed as the No. 1 wine brand in the country by SymphonyIRI Group, which tracks wine sales. At more or less the same time, the Wine Enthusiast ran a story that said restaurants "are where wine trends are generated and brands are built."

Can any two statements be more contradictory? Barefoot, which costs about $6 a bottle, is the ultimate anti-restaurant wine, a brand that has made its mark in grocery stores and is rarely seen in restaurants — and certainly not the kinds of restaurants that the Enthusiast writes about. This difference in perspective is Kakfka-esque, and it demonstrates once again why the wine industry is at odds with itself, and why wine continues to lag as the drink of choice among Americans.

More, after the jump:


The Wine Curmudgeon has noted this contradiction more than once. The Winestream Media, which insists it is the voice of the consumer, pays almost no attention to brands like Barefoot, which are the wines most of us drink. Barefoot, reported SymphonyIRA, sold almost $260 million worth of wine in the 52 weeks ending June 12, but you'd never know it be checking the leading wine magazines. A Google search turned up nothing from the most important wine magazines about this, though the listings did show Decanter stories about Gina Gallo's babies and Pinot-gate (E&J Gallo owns Barefoot).

How can this happen? And no, it has nothing to do with the quality of Barefoot's wines. Instead, it's about the people who drink Barefoot wines. The Winestream Media doesn't think they're good enough. They don't make enough money, aren't educated enough, and don't have nifty enough jobs. For example, the Enthusiast's average subscriber is a 47-year-old man with a household income of about $200,000.

In other words, the magazine is geared toward four percent of the U.S. population. Is it any wonder most Americans consider wine to be elitist? The irony here is that even that demographic drinks cheap wine. My numbers, as measured by Quantcast, are just below those of the Wine Enthusiast, and about the only thing our editorial content has in common is the word wine.

I'm not making a value judgment about who the magazines write for. They want those Lexus ads, and they're certainly entitled, under our system, to get them by appealing to middle-aged men with six-figure incomes. My point is that this approach limits wine's audience. The Wine Magazines, whether true or not, are seen as the public face of the wine world. And it's not a welcoming face for newcomers and aspiring wine drinkers. The winespeak is bad enough, but the bigger obstacle is the wine they write about, which is pricey and often hard to find.

The result? We have two wine worlds — the wine people drink and the wine that the magazines write about. Which is bad enough. What's worse is that too many wine producers figure the latter is more important than the former. They live to get a good score, even if it's not necessarily going to help them sell more wine.

Everyone in wine talks about how beer is slumping, and how wine will eventually overtake beer as the U.S. beverage of choice. Really? Then why is per capita beer consumption almost four times more than per capita wine consumption, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism? I'm convinced it's not cost, since a six-pack and a cheap bottle of wine are about the same price and provide more or less the same buzz. Rather, it's barrier to entry. You don't need to decipher the beer world to pop open a cold one. And the wine business doesn't seem to have any desire to lower that barrier to entry.

For more on Barefoot wine:
Barefoot wines (again): Value or just cheap?
Barefoot wines: Value or just cheap?
Wine of the Week: Barefoot Riesling NV

  • bburnsey

    Well, Gallo has finally reached the goal of selling varietals at the top (in volume), something it has tried to do for years and years. How? Remove Gallo form the name.

  • http://drinkupmag.com Russ Reyes

    You are so right on with this! I can honestly say I don’t read those magazines anymore because I don’t feel they are relavent to real world wine drinkers like me, who support the local wine economy ( I live in the Sierra Foothills) and do look for good wines under $10 when I am not drinking local!

  • http://wineenthusiast.com Adam M Strum

    Dear Jeff,
    I enjoy your blog but this time you’ve really got it wrong.
    1. I never said in my column that restaurants were the ONLY place that brands were built. Of course brands are built off premise as well and Barefoot is a great example of good quality and a great price being a winning combination.
    2. Our Wine Enthusiast Magazine circulation has grown according to BPA independently audited org to 180,000 and is now approching 200,000 contrary to that inaccurate and dated website you linked your readers to. If people did not like what they were reading our circulation would not be growing so rapidly.
    3. Sorry while it is true that there are many superb wine blogs (yours included) none of them have traffic which even is even close to the traffic generated by the two most important wine magazine’s websites.
    I suggest you check out http://www.compete.com as all intellegent advertising agencies do and enter your URL and wine magazine websites URL’s and you will learn why we are so supported by people who want to promote their brands.
    100′s of 1000′s of uniques vs 100′s on the most visited blog websites.
    Jeff, I admire what you do especially your user friendly and educational style. Keep up the good work.
    The more people who talk and write about wine the better.
    Adam M. Strum
    Chairman Wine Enthusiast Companies

  • Dwine

    I can’t agree with the fact that wines are not “lowering the barrier.”
    KJ, Gallo, Yellow Tail, Barefoot, etc have all created inexpensive, in many cases sweeter and lower priced wines to attract first time drinkers.
    The Wine Enthusiast services a different segment of the wine community. Its the collector/long time enthusiast they deliver ratings/news/articles for. No reason to knock that either.
    Both ends help us sustain and grow the industry.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/millerchristopher2 Christopher Miller

    The real issue here is the story…the first comment got it right (no Gallo on label), but there is more to the story. I don’t tend to read the wine media geared toward wine geeks, rather I read as much as possible about the trends and business of wine.
    Wine Magazines and writers look for stories to tell, that’s their job. With Barefoot what’s the story that a consumer really wants to read? The story that it’s the #1 brand is interesting to me, but not really to the consumer. They buy it and drink it because it’s easy, safe and at the end of the bottle they thought hey I paid this amount for it and it was pretty good for what I paid.
    So what’s the compelling story that you’d like to see in a magazine about Barefoot wines? Think the source of the grapes would be compelling for the consumer? Even if it was good luck getting that info…E & J were good at discovering grape sources and swooping in (Santa Margherita and Ca Donini anyone). Anyhow more expensive wines have a more interesting story, that’s why they get press. The beer media isn’t writing about the next hot light beer, their writing about craft beers.

  • J. A Stallcup

    If the beer business was as out of touch with the reality of their consumers preferences and experience, as the wine business, the official spokesperson for the beer business would be the monks that brew Chimay Ale. The monks would of course only communicate in French with a Belgian accent to insure they were being perfect clear.

  • Jeff

    Sometimes I just want a nice table wine and Barefoot many times fits that bill. The Merlot is a fantastic eg of a simple and delicious everyday wine and honestly, the price is right. My wife loves the Grigio. There are so many good sub-ten wines.
    But other times I want something complex and intricately made (many times more expensive).
    My mood and company will dictate… but I do like both.
    In the end, I simply like wine.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/jeffsiegel Jeff Siegel

    Good comments — thank you. The one thing that really intrigued me was the idea that taking Gallo off the label helped. Which may not be as true as it once was. Yes, most consumers don’t know that Gallo owns Barefoot, but I don’t know that most younger consumers know Gallo in the same way as those of us who grew up with Gallo hearty burgundy. Plus, one Gallo Family Wines was also on the top-selling list.

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