We've come now the fifth rule in our Ten Tenets of Reverse Wine Snobbery and that is that the wine industry often forgets about the average consumer -- or perhaps neglect or even scorn are better words than forget. Why is it that the average consumer is so often treated as either a necessary evil or as a constituency to be gamed? As we noted in Tenet #4, wine under $20 does not have to be treated like a compromise!
The wine industry has gotten completely caught up in its imagined or ideal wine consumer: the affluent wine geek. In reality, the affluent wine geek is a tiny, minuscule portion of the entire market. This tenet is directed at the wine industry itself, but I include it here because I also think it's educational for the average consumer to know just how the wine industry markets to its audience — and how not to get caught in their traps.
The average bottle of wine sold in the United States costs $6.25. That means the vast majority, estimated at 80–90 percent, of wine sold in the United States is well under $10. Yet wines are generally marketed to look like they cost much more. Admittedly, the tiny slice of the market that buys expensive wine spends an awful lot of money doing it, so I don't blame wineries for targeting this exclusive group. However, I do find it ridiculous that wineries feel the need to copy the marketing plan of a $100 bottle for their $10 to $15 bottles.
Let's take wine labels as an example. First there's the front of the label where terms like gold edition or ultra are tacked on but have no practical meaning. In many regions (like Rioja) terms like reserva and gran reserva are strictly legislated, and very precise standards must be met in order for wines to be labeled that way. In other regions (like California), it's more like hey just slap a name on there! I imagine the marketing meeting going something like this:
Marketing Guy #1: What should we call this $8 bottle of wine?
Marketing Guy #2: It's got to be something that makes it seem exclusive...
Marketing Guy #1: Yeah, but it's only $8 and we made 100,000 cases.
Marketing Guy #2: How about we call it a reserva like those Spanish wines!
Marketing Guy #1: But those wines need to be aged in oak and bottled for years before being released; our wine is from last year's harvest. And besides, we only have one wine; how can we call it a reserva if it's our only wine?
Marketing Guy #2: That decides it then, we'll call it a reserva. Have the labels printed!
Next there's the bottle itself. Have you ever noticed that when placing several wine bottles next to each other even bottles of the same shape can have vastly different sizes and weights? The weight is what really gets to me though. There must be a marketing study somewhere that says consumers equate heavier bottles with higher quality wines because some wineries take this to the extreme. (It turns out there is just such a study!) Meanwhile, in my mind I'm thinking about how much of the money I paid for this wine must go to the shipping cost for this extra heavy bottle.
Another marketing trap are the wines so full of stickers touting those meaningless gold medals and 90+ point ratings that you can barely read the label. But perhaps the worst offender is the back of the bottle. Food pairings are a prime example. I'm sure "prosciutto-wrapped grilled peaches" are delicious, but it's not standard fare at most people's houses. I have no doubt that more people would be buying wine if the wines themselves spoke to their real world situation. What's a good wine for chicken nuggets? Basic spaghetti? Mac and cheese? Burgers and brats? All those meals can be paired wonderfully with wine; I just wish the wine industry would be willing to tell consumers about it.
Find our complete Ten Tenets of Reverse Wine Snobbery in summary form here with links to each as they are detailed.