Tag 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

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.

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