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Five things that make me crazy when I buy wine

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Which price am I going to pay for this wine? And why are there so many prices anyway? It makes me crazy.

Negotiating the Great Wall of Wine at the grocery store (or any retailer, for that matter) is difficult enough. But why is it that so many in the wine business go out of their way to make it even more difficult? Hence, the five things that make me crazy when I buy wine:

1. Wine shelved incorrectly, where Chilean wine is in the Spanish section, French wine is in the Italian section, and so forth. Some of my irritation is because I’m the son and grandson of retailers, and they taught me the need to stock inventory correctly. But most of it is because that kind of mistake makes it more difficult for people to buy the wine they want. If you’re looking for malbec, and it’s not in the Argentine section, you’re more likely to forgo wine or buy beer.

2. Sweet red wines that don’t say they’re sweet on the label. If I have trouble figuring out whether it’s sweet or dry, and I do, how much trouble does the average consumer have? Using the adjective smooth, which seems to be the winespeak of the moment for sweet, isn’t enough. You’re making sweet red wine because people want sweet red wine, so what’s wrong with telling them it’s sweet?

3. The boxed wine ghetto, where all the boxed wine — regardless of quality — is stuck on a dusty shelf in the back of the store or wine section. One reason that Yellow + Blue, a great cheap wine, isn’t better known is that it comes in a 1-liter box. That means you’ll find it with the Almaden and Franzia 5-liter boxes, and about the only thing the Yellow + Blue has in common with those is the box. It’s like putting Italian-made shoes next to flip-flops, and who does that?

4. Three — or four or even five — prices for the same bottle of wine. There’s the regular retail price. And the club price. And the sale price. And the “buy six, get a discount” price. And the “buy 12 and get a discount” price. The consumer isn’t sure what the price is, and ends up paying more than they thought they would. Which, sadly, may be the point.

5. That every winery in New Zealand seems to have a bay in its name — Oyster Bay, Monkey Bay, Destiny Bay, Cable Bay, Brick Bay, Pegasus Bay, Clifford Bay, Picton Bay, and so on and so forth. It’s one thing when the winery, like the respected and well-known Cloudy Bay, is actually located on a bay. But when the winery doesn’t exist, and the name is made up to sell private label wine or by Big Wine to establish a New Zealand brand, enough is enough.

Slider image courtesy of Houston Press food blog, using a Creative Commons license

Winebits 331: Powdered alcohol, last call, and best quote ever

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Winebits 331: Powdered alcohol, last call, and best quote ever

“Wonder what Palcohol will do to this crappy wine?”

When real booze isn’t enough: Not happy with liquid alcohol? Then how about the powdered version, Palcohol, which has been approved for consumer use. It comes in seven flavors, including “cosmopolitan,” “lemondrop,” and “powderita.” Yum yum. No word yet on whether the company will release a pink moscato flavor, with appropriate Millennial marketing: “Dude, your wine is super lame — try this.” The Wine Curmudgeon’s cynicism notwithstanding, I checked with the blog’s offical liquor lawyer, who sighed (he does that a lot when I talk to him). His analysis: “I’ll bet it lasts about 10 minutes. A few years ago all the regulators got panicky over vaporized alcohol. Supposedly made you drunk in .05 seconds and they couldn’t figure out how to make it illegal. Turns out it didn’t work and nobody gave a damn. Maybe this will be the same way, but stand by for screams of alarm.”

When regular closing time isn’t enough: How does 5:30 in the morning sound? That’s the plan for bars in several Montreal neighborhoods this summer, part of a scheme to ease congestion in those area when the bars close. The Wine Curmudgeon, despite more than a passing knowledge of drinking in Montreal (and where I have had some great Canadian wine), is still confused. Can there be a city where so many people are drinking so late into the night that last call resembles a shopping mall parking lot on Black Friday? If so, I need to get out more often. Or at least drink somewhere besides Dallas.

If not the best quote ever, close to it: Hardy Wallace gained fame — and quite a bit of notoriety — when he won a gig several years ago as the official blogger for the Murphy-Goode wine brand. Wallace makes wine now, and notoriety still follows him. Consider this, from an interview with a San Francisco-area business newspaper: “It’s overwhelming generality that vintners are doing a horrible job communicating with consumers. … You do not stand in a room and scream, ‘Buy this!’ and, ‘We sell this!’ ” Sounds like the Wine Curmudgeon on a rant, no?

Winebits 328: Scottish wine, wine marketing, lawsuits

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Winebits 328: Scottish wine, wine marketing, lawsuits

Scottish wine for a Scottish dish, haggis

Talk about terroir: A Scottish winemaker — yes, that’s correct — says climate change has made it possible to make wine in his country. Christopher Trotter, a chef and food writer, wants to grow six acres of grapes in eastern Scotland, and says that the warmest weather in centuries will make it possible. One caveat: It’s still cooler than most of the world’s wine regions, so he has to use grapes that are cold hardy and that don’t necessarily make great wine. The article, from the Bloomberg news service, is also an excellent look at how warmer temperatures around the world will affect the wine business.

A glass of Chloe, please: The Wine Group, which gave the world Cupcake, is making another marketing play, this time with a brand called Chloe. As Robert Joseph writes, the company’s approach has nothing to do with wine per se, but with how it is sold to the public. Chloe is being marketed like jewelry or perfume, costing about one-third more than the $10 to $12 Cupcake. This is The Wine Group’s particular genius, and which is rarely seen in wine, that it can position its brands as lifestyle products and get a premium for what will almost certainly be a very ordinary bottle of Italian pinot grigio (given the quality of its other wines). But, as many have noted, the people who buy these kinds of wines aren’t buying them for what’s in the bottle.

Bring out the lawyers: The Wine Curmudgeon has always enjoyed watching companies sue each other over labels and brand names, and this one is particularly enjoyable. Beverage Digest reports that Diageo, the world’s largest drinks company, says family-owned Heaven Hill is trampling on its intellectual property in Canada with a product called Admiral Nelson spiced rum, which too closely resembles Diageo’s Captain Morgan spiced rum. How many billable hours will this require? The article discusses — seriously, I suppose — that one issue in the lawsuit will be how similar the character of Nelson, the greatest hero in British naval history, is to Morgan, who was a pirate. Sadly, wigs are no longer worn in Canadian courts, or this would be even more fun to watch.

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