Wine of the week: Line 39 Sauvignon Blanc 2014

Line 39 is one of five labels owned by Cecchetti Wine, which makes it a sort of Big Wine company brand. In this, the sauvignon blanc can teach the rest of Big Read More »


Winebits 407: Blue Apron wine, arsenic, airline wine

• The future of wine? Blue Apron, the home food delivery service, has added wine to what it does. This means that when the company sends you the recipe and ingredients for Read More »


Once more about wine clubs: Wine Insiders

The Wine Curmudgeon’s antipathy toward most non-winery wine clubs is well-known; too many of them sell mysterious wine for too high prices, and the wines are picked by “experts” who are rarely Read More »


Texas wine developments: 2015

Some thoughts after driving some 900 miles through the Texas High Plains in search of Texas wine: • It’s not so much that this year’s harvest was plentiful, or that quality looks Read More »


More insight into the gibberish of wine back labels

Mark Allan Thornton, the Harvard PhD student who has done groundbreaking work trying to make sense of the gibberish that is wine back labels, has done it again. His second study has Read More »

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

El Centro wine class: A new semester


el centro wine class“I’m being more adventurous in my wine drinking, Mr. Siegel,” a former El Centro student told me a couple of weeks ago. I was practically giddy; she had started the class convinced she preferred sweet wine, but has taken to heart the only advice about wine that really matters, despite the volumes of foolishness we must endure: Drink what you like, but be willing to try different kinds of wine. Which, I must confess, I repeated a time or two during the semester.

So far, this semester’s class looks like it might be more of the same. This is not necessarily because the Wine Curmudgeon is a brilliant teacher, but because my students are eager, inquisitive, and ready to throw off their wine business-imposed chains. One student, when we were discussing terroir, understood the controversy perfectly. “If you’re a Big Wine company,” I asked them, “and you have a choice between making distinctive, terroir-driven wines and making wines that taste the same regardless of where they’re from, but which you think will sell better, what would you do?” “Make wines that taste the same,” she said. “Isn’t it about making money?”

Take that, Winestream Media. They can see through your pretense. The other impressive thing? That these students are willing to taste wine when we don’t do it in class. This has traditionally been a problem when I teach a wine class. When 20-somethings go out, they don’t want to do homework, even if it involves drinking wine. But after three weeks, this class is drinking when they go out and when they’re at home. And then we’re talking about whether the wines they buy are a value, something else that practically makes me giddy.

I’ll write more about the class later in the semester, but I want to add this now: The difference between talking about wine with young people who don’t know everything, but aren’t bothered by it, and talking about wine with people my age, including the infamous old white guys, is the difference between a $10 Hall of Fame wine and grocery store plonk. And everyone knows which I prefer.

The tyranny of wine samples

wine samples

“Come on. .. they’re just wine samples. What could be wrong?”

One of the great contradictions in wine writing is that so many of us review wine that most of our readers will never drink. That’s because we don’t pay for the wine, but get wine samples — thousands a year for some of us.

The Wine Curmudgeon has always been suspicious of wine samples, not only because of availability, but because there’s not enough transparency. That’s why I try to buy most of the wine I review, and each review notes whether it was a sample. But wine samples are addictive, something I discovered a couple of weeks ago when a distributor friend brought four terrific (two of which were pricey) bottles for a dinner I was having. During dinner, as the five of us were passing the wine around, I thought “This is so nice — four wines I never would have bought, two of which are too expensive to buy, and I didn’t pay a penny for them. I could get used to this.”

The older one gets, the more the phrase “There but for the grace of God” applies (regardless of religious leanings). What if, all those years ago, I had started writing about something other cheap wine that I bought myself? What if I had stumbled upon wine samples — expensive, hard-to-find wine samples — through one of the newspapers I wrote for? In those pre-recession days, high-end wineries were throwing around $100 bottles like baskets of chips at a Mexican restaurant; what if I started pouring $60 Napa cabernet sauvignon for a weeknight dinner?

I would have become everything I hate about wine writing, of course. Yes, given my disposition, that’s not likely, but the idea is troubling. I had a lot of fun drinking those wines that Saturday night, which included a $40 sparkling and a $35 riesling, both from Germany. It’s not so much that they were delicious, though they were, but that I didn’t pick them out, I didn’t pay for them, and I didn’t have to suffer them if they weren’t any good (something that happens all too often with my cheap wine).

It was wine drinking the way everyone wants it to be — wonderful wine on the table without any muss or fuss, and I suddenly understood why so many of my colleagues accept it as normal and wonder about people like me. But, as I reminded myself when I was writing this piece, wonderful has nothing to do with it. The people who read the blog don’t get samples. They have to negotiate the terrors of the grocery store Great Wall of Wine, which is why I’m here. I’m not a wine writer to drink great wine that I get for free, but to help wine drinkers figure out what they like. And, in the end, that’s more fun than any amount of wine samples.


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