Is cheap wine bad for the wine business?
“[I]n 10 years Bronco has sold 600 million bottles of Two-buck Chuck. Whatever good the brand has done in introducing wine to people, it's hard to look at that figure and not think that a few million bottles of other wines would have been sold if Two-buck Chuck wasn't around."
It’s an intriguing argument from one of the most perceptive writers in the business, and it’s not uncommon. It made the rounds last fall, when the George Taber book “A Toast to Bargain Wines” sang the praises of inexpensive wine and received scathing reviews for its point of view.
What’s interesting, though, is not the question, but why people keep asking it. Why does it bother so many people that Americans drink cheap wine? More, after the jump:
Know, first, that it’s almost impossible to answer Gray’s question. Two-buck Chuck, the $1.99 wine sold at Trader Joe’s (and that costs as much as $3.49 elsewhere in the country) is California wine. How can sales of California wine hurt the California wine business?
In this, the question assumes that there are two kinds of California wine – cheap wine and real wine, and that Two-buck Chuck (as well as every other best-selling brand, whether Yellow Tail or Barefoot) is not real wine. This is the au courant approach to wine, in which a variety of evil multi-nationals bamboozle the consumer into drinking grape-a-hol instead of what they’re supposed to drink.
Which is, of course, not cheap wine. Or, to paraphrase a comment on Gray’s post, Americans are too stupid to care about quality. All we want to do is guzzle cheap wine in the same way that we want to scarf down fast food.
This assumes two things, neither of which is true: That all cheap wine stinks and that all wine that isn’t cheap is wonderful. As regular visitors here know, plenty of cheap wine is wonderful and plenty of expensive wine stinks. Price long ago stopped being a reliable benchmark for wine quality (which is about the same time that the slithery grape-a-hol merchants got into the expensive wine business).
The question that I think Gray wanted to ask was this: “Why don’t more people drink honest wine?” That’s the stuff that those of us who love wine appreciate, that tastes of place and time and terroir and that you can find in a $10 ugni blanc-colombard blend from Gascony as well as a $100 Napa cabernet.
The answer to that question, as regular visitors here also know, is that the wine business has little interest in helping consumers figure it out. It’s easier to sell grape-a-hol and wax indignant all the way to the bank.
Cartoon courtesy of JuliaWertz.com, using a Creative Commons license