Category Archives: Wine trends

Update: Wine prices in 2015


wine pricesAt the beginning of the year, I wrote: “[T]he producer strategy for wine prices in 2015: Stealth increases — introducing new brands as well as new varietals and blends within existing brands to get us to trade up to a $15 bottle from $10, or to an $18 bottle from $15.”

The new brands bit was correct, but I missed on the stealth thing. Price increases this year, thanks to producers, distributors, and retailers eager to raise prices, have been anything but stealthy. They’ve been, plain and simple, price hikes like we haven’t seen in a decade. How about two Dallas-area grocery stores charging $16 and $18 for two French wines that cost $10 a year ago? Or a new Italian brand, priced at $12, that isn’t any better than the $8 Italian wine cluttering grocery store shelves? Or, and the saddest, a long-time Wine Curmudgeon California favorite that raised prices a little but also used much cheaper grapes to squeeze as much margin out of its product as possible?

Everyone I have talked to in the wine business has said the same thing: Get used to it.

• Forget the stronger dollar, which should make European wines cheaper. Producers are keeping the difference, and neither distributor or retailer is passing on any savings.

• Forget the past three record California harvests, which means none of this is about a phony grape shortage. In fact (and, as Steve McIntosh predicted in January), all those cheaper grapes are being used to cut costs, so that wine quality is suffering. I’ve tasted more crappy $12 and $15 wine this summer, bitter and unripe, than I have in years, and they’ve apparently been made with grapes usually used to make much cheaper wine.

• Forget the idea that consumers won’t spend money on something they don’t know. I tasted a $16 Spanish white, made with verdejo from the Rueda region, that tasted like pinot grigio, and I was the only one who thought it might not sell. I don’t know if arrogance is the right word, but I’m talking to a lot of producers who assume consumers will pay what they’re told to pay because the wine is so special. Special, of course, not having all that much to do with quality but with marketing.

Yes, producers can charge as much as they want for their wine. But there’s a difference between short-term gain and long-term profits, which is how the best businesses are run. When you run your business for short-term gain, you shouldn’t be surprised that wine sales have been flat for several years, or that consumers are more willing to try something besides wine, or that more than one expert is bemoaning wine’s future.

Just don’t say the Wine Curmudgeon didn’t warn you.

Post-modern wine marketing

wine marketing

Wine marketing is not just about shelf talkers anymore.

Wine marketing, like the rest of the wine business, has always been done the same way — some junk written on the back label, mostly useless, and the cute labels that have been the biggest innovation over the past couple of decades. Otherwise, unless there is a shelf talker (the printed card attached to the shelf under the wine with a score or description of the product), you’re on your own.

That was always fine with the wine business, which assumed that anyone who went into a store was going to buy a bottle, so what was the point otherwise? There is even a term for this — “building a brand,” in which the distributor and retailer work together to sell you certain wines.

This is one reason why there has traditionally been so little advertising, TV or otherwise, for a $40 billion industry. Ketchup ads are everywhere, even though the ketchup market is 1/80th the size of wine.

All of which is changing, thanks to our friends at Big Wine. They understand, in a way that their forebears did not, that wine has become just another category in the food business, and it needs to be marketed like ketchup. We may not see TV spots with fresh young things touting wine the way they do yogurt, but we’re going to see more and slicker efforts to get us to buy specific wine brands.

Perhaps even more important, these ads will focus on consumers who don’t buy wine in the small retail shops that have traditionally been the backbone of the wine business. As an executive at one of the biggest wine companies in the world told me a couple of weeks ago, the future of wine retailing is Costco, Total Wine, and grocery stores, so expect Big Wine to target consumers who shop there. This is revolutionary for wine, where it has always been about making a decision on brand in the store. You may want red wine for dinner, but which red wine? Big Wine, knowing no one is around to help you pick a specific red wine at a supermarket, wants you to decide on their brand before you go to the store. It’s all about brand loyalty, the same way it is with Heinz and Tide.

Hence, these two marketing efforts, which are just the beginning. This spring, Little Black Dress, the $8 brand owned by Fetzer (which itself is owned by Chile’s $1 billion Concha y Toro), did a spa day sweepstakes, where “entrants will be asked to tell Little Black Dress about their best friend and why she deserves a day of pampering for a chance to win two $300 gift cards to a local spa.” I can’t imagine too many of the Winestream Media’s favorite “oaky and toasty, redolent of cigar box aroma” wines doing this.

Or baseball wine. Seriously. Nineteen teams have official wines, made by some company called Wine by Design and part of the “MLB® Club Series wine collection.” Who cares what the wine tastes like? It has my team’s logo on it, so let’s buy a case.

Again, this is about cutting the tie between retailer and consumer, which has always been essential to selling wine. Big Wine doesn’t need the traditional retailer, and it’s going to do everything it can to usher in post-modern wine marketing.

For more on wine marketing:
Chateau Ste. Michelle, wine marketing, and wine blogging
Diet wine, and why we’re stuck with it
When Blue Nun ruled the world

Kerrville 2015: We don’t need no stinkin’ brose


Kerrville 2015What happens when you taste two Texas roses — two terrific Texas roses — at Kerrville 2015, the annual Texas wine panel at the event’s fall music festival? You understand cool in a way that the hipsters who run around Brooklyn drinking pink wine and inventing words like brose never will. Or, as I noted on Saturday: “Cool is not Brooklyn. Cool is drinking rose listening to live music at Kerrville.” Because the Wine Curmudgeon knows hip when he sees it.

The other highlights from Saturday’s seminar included:

• The roses — from McPherson and Brennan — demonstrate just how far Texas wine has come since I started writing about it when one of the panelists was in junior high school. First, these are dry roses, a concept unthinkable to Texas producers 20 years ago. Second, they’re made with the Rhone grapes that Texas winemakers have embraced over the past decade, and not leftover merlot that someone wanted to get rid of. Third, there is an audience for it, something else missing 20 years ago when Texas wine drinkers thought pink was for old ladies with cats.

• Texas farmers in the High Plains, who have been at best ambivalent about growing grapes, seem to have changed their minds. Lost Draw Cellars’ Andrew Sides, whose uncle Andy Timmons is one of the state’s top growers, said the difference between then and now is amazing. When Timmons planted his first five acres of merlot (when Sides was in junior high school), the cotton farmers thought they were crazy. Now, says Sides, they’re asking he and his uncle how they can take out cotton to plant grapes.

• Tim Drake, the winemaker at Flat Creek Estates in the Hill Country, came to Texas from Washington state, hardly the obvious career choice. But, he told the audience, Texas offers him the opportunity to make more interesting wine with different grapes, something not always possible in the cabernet sauvingon- and chardonnay-driven industry in Washington.

• Why is so much Texas wine still comparatively expensive? Once again, the Kerrville audience asked a good question, and we had a fine discussion about economies of scale; that is, how a million case winery might pay $1 for the same glass bottle that costs a Texas winery $7 or $8. In addition, since grapes are in short supply in Texas, they’re relatively more expensive than they would be in California, further raising the price of the wine.

For more on Kerrville and Texas wine:
Kerrville 2014: They really like Texas wine 
Once more on the wine trail in Texas
Kerrville 2012


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