Birthday Week essay 2021: The WC’s plan to save the wine business from itself
These six steps will reinvigorate wine in the U.S., and (dare we hope?) make wine cool again
Dear Wine Business:
It’s time to put our differences aside. I know you don’t like me, and I certainly have countless reasons to be fed up with you. But wine’s future is at stake, so it’s time to work together to solve the existential crisis facing something that we love and that makes our life that much more enjoyable.
Younger consumers don’t drink wine, don’t want to drink wine, and don’t care about wine. It’s not just the infamous Gallup poll that showed this, which described the typical wine drinker as a 50-something, college-educated woman and that young people – if they drink – barely drink wine at all. There’s also this from the Wine Intelligence consultancy, which says that wine has lost the two generations younger than the Baby Boomers.
Hence, as the blog celebrates its 14th annual Birthday Week, the Wine Curmudgeon’s six proposals to save the wine business from itself – and to make wine cool again:
1. Market wine to younger consumers in language they understand. Wine is notorious for crappy marketing, with its one size fits all, scenic vineyards and deep-voiced narrator approach. Wine is fun; why not sell it to Gen X, the Millennials, and Gen Z that way? How about showing young people – some of whom aren’t white -- drinking wine together and having a good time? It works for Coke, and we all know how unhealthy soft drinks are.
2. Bring back the Fighting Varietals, but in 21st century guise. How about a California version of the La Vieille Ferme red, white and rose wines – quality, cheap bottles with a cute animal label? That fits what one of your own pleaded for a couple of years ago: “some sexy brands at $7 or $8 per bottle.” Because that’s exactly what the Fighting Varietals were in the late 1980s – affordable, quality wine that was so affordable and so well made that they helped jump start the 25-year-long Wine Boom.
3. Embrace the health message. Driving drunk was a rite of passage for the Baby Boomers; Gen X and Millennials invented the designated driver. The wine business has failed to acknowledge this difference. Spirits and even beer have a robust health message associated with their product; wine has a line on the back label. Encouraging moderation is not only the moral thing to do, but it could even sell more wine.
4. Really embrace the health message. One of wine’s most important analysts has long pleaded with the business to sell wine as the most natural of all alcoholic beverages. Which, of course, has fallen on deaf ears. Most younger consumers almost certainly don’t know how natural wine is – no added sugars, no artificial ingredients, mostly just yeast and grapes. Compare that to a hard seltzer, which contains sugar, “natural flavors,” citric acid, and sodium citrate.
5. Stop ignoring the neo-Prohibitionists and their exaggerated claims about the dangers of moderate drinking. How can you let them get away with saying wine with dinner is all but binge drinking and that drinking any amount of alcohol is as deadly as cigarette smoking?
6. Ingredient and nutrition labels. This is 2021, not 1971. There is no reason not to use those. None. How else will younger consumers know that a glass of wine has only 125 calories, while one canned cocktail brand, boasting just 5 percent alcohol, has 180 calories and almost 10 times the U.S. recommended amount of sodium?
I hope this helps. Yes, you may have screwed the pooch with younger people, as one editor put it to me. But it’s not too late to change. As always, let me know what else I can do.
The Wine Curmudgeon
More Birthday Week perspective on the wine business:
• Wine as expensive shiny baubles instead of something to savor and enjoy
• How do you write about quality cheap wine when the system is rigged against it?
• Have we reached the end of wine criticism?