Tag Archives: wine marketing

Wine prices in 2015: Stealth increases


wine prices in 2015Wine prices in 2015 for the wine that most of us drink will do what they’ve done the past decade or so, which isn’t much. The exception will be wine that costs $20 or more, where there could be substantial price increases — as much as one-quarter to one-third, according to one distributor.

That’s because producers remain leery of raising prices for wine that costs less than $15, worried that those of whose drink those wines will switch rather than pay more. That’s the consensus from the experts who follow and work in the wine business that I talked to this week.

Hence the 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. In this, the people I talked to used terms like “sneaky” and “surreptitious” to describe the strategy. Not surprisingly, these new brands will have clever names, cute labels, and demographically-inspired marketing. How does “perfect for the woman who enjoys an active, healthy lifestyle but also seeks time to relax and rejuvenate” sound?

One retailer, who works for a 100-plus store chain, said he is already seeing this, particularly from Big Wine. His concern is that this approach could confuse consumers and ultimately backfire, and “prove damaging to the existing brands from whence they spawned.” In addition, despite the industry’s firm belief that consumers trade up, there has never been any evidence that it happens. We may splurge with a more expensive wine, but we tend to buy the same priced wine more often than not.

In this, you can forget all the foolishness over the past several years about grape shortages. The past three California harvests were the three biggest ever; combined with the on-going grape glut in Australia and a bumper New Zealand harvest, that more than makes up for shortages elsewhere. Plus, reduced demand from a poor economy and changing lifestyles means European producers need to keep prices low to compete in the U.S.

So there are lots of grapes available to do new labels. Said one consultant: “The number of ‘instant successes’ from new brands, concepts, regions. or varieties should make retailers and wholesalers more open to new and unusual wines. It might be easier to introduce a new wine at $10-15 with a good story than to raise an established brand’s price from $10 to $12 these days.”

The one exception for wine prices in 2015 is for wine that costs $20 and more, which is still struggling to regain pre-recession prices and market share.

“The perception is that the economy is doing well, gas prices are down, and there is more disposable income in folk’s pockets,” said the distributor. “The suppliers want to reach into that pocket and get some while the time is ripe. I think there are going to be more price increases than I would have originally thought.”

In all, good news, and it’s remarkable how wine prices are still about where they were a decade — or even two decades — ago. There’s just one caveat: I’m not the only one who has a sneaking suspicion that quality will suffer as producers keep the line on prices, letting their $10 wines suffer in favor of the new brands and new labels. But I’ll be around to call them on that next year.

Redd’s Wicked Apple: “Let’s make fun of wine”


Redd's Wicked AppleFar be it for the Wine Curmudgeon to criticize a multi-national company and a marketing campaign devised by people who are brilliant enough to work for it, when I’m just a guy at a keyboard who writes about cheap wine. But a recent Redd’s Wicked Apple commercial reminded me how creatively bankrupt so much of post-modern media is: “Let’s sell our product by making fun of wine!”

Original, isn’t it? And the commercial, like most wine humor, isn’t funny. It also borders on homophobic, implying that wine drinkers are somehow not complete men, and it uses African-Americans as a foil to show how cool Redd’s Wicked is. This approach, if I’m not mistaken, went out with “Super Fly” and the original “Shaft.” Unless, of course, you’re selling malt liquor to black people, which is what Redd’s Wicked is doing.

Not surprisingly, Redd’s is a product of Big Beer, desperate to find a way to stay relevant in the 21st century as its audience goes elsewhere. It’s hard to believe that the company that gave us the classic “Tastes great, less filling” commercials is reduced to this.

Carmen Castorina: When a legend retires


carmen castorinaThe first rule of sportswriting used to be “Don’t god up the ballplayers.” Which meant that athletes were not necessarily better or worse people because they were ballplayers; they were just different, and you needed to keep that in mind when you wrote about them.

That approach has served me well over the past three decades, because it made sense for everything I’ve written about: politics, business, film, music, food (especially food), and wine. Perspective is all, and just because someone is a fine winemaker doesn’t mean they’re a good parent or friend or colleague.

So how do I write a piece honoring perhaps the best wine PR person in history without godding him up? Carmen Castorina, who retired earlier this month after some three decades at E&J Gallo, was adored by his colleagues (three farewell lunches); admired by his competitors (“Whenever I see Carmen I smile and feel good”); and apparently returned every phone call he ever got. Would that some of the ballplayers I dealt with were half that talented.

Which is not to say that Carmen and I never had a disagreement. Writers and PR people are born to trouble as the sparks fly upward. But what made Carmen the best, and why he was so respected, was that he never let those disagreements get in the way of doing his job. No grudges or snide remarks, and certainly not any of the punishments so popular today — being excluded from events or not told about news because the writer wasn’t “part of the team.”

Carmen always had a story, whether it was the time we were having lunch in Troy Aikman’s booth at a Dallas restaurant and Aikman, the former Cowboys quarterback, showed up and had to sit elsewhere. Or working with Ernest Gallo — yes, that Ernest Gallo — to market the winery’s first varietal wins and to help to take the California wine business into the 20th century. Or, as Carmen told our mutual pal Alfonso Cevola, how he set up umbrellas on the Jersey Shore in summer when he was a kid and that “Al Martino [of “Godfather” fame] always gave me a 50-cent tip.”

I’ve dealt with PR people since the late 1970s, and almost no one did it better. So Carmen will be missed. I’ll even miss his little digs about my failure to include Gallo’s Barefoot in the $10 Hall of Fame and his insistence that Notre Dame was as good a school as my alma mater, Northwestern. And we’ll still have lunch now and again; I just hope Aikman doesn’t want his booth. Cause he ain’t getting it.

Slider image courtesy of Afonso Cevola and on The Wine Trail in Italy, using a Creative Commons license

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