Last week, Barefoot was annointed as the No. 1 wine brand in the country by SymphonyIRI Group, which tracks wine sales. At more or less the same time, the Wine Enthusiast ran a story that said restaurants "are where wine trends are generated and brands are built."
Can any two statements be more contradictory? Barefoot, which costs about $6 a bottle, is the ultimate anti-restaurant wine, a brand that has made its mark in grocery stores and is rarely seen in restaurants — and certainly not the kinds of restaurants that the Enthusiast writes about. This difference in perspective is Kakfka-esque, and it demonstrates once again why the wine industry is at odds with itself, and why wine continues to lag as the drink of choice among Americans.
More, after the jump:
The Wine Curmudgeon has noted this contradiction more than once. The Winestream Media, which insists it is the voice of the consumer, pays almost no attention to brands like Barefoot, which are the wines most of us drink. Barefoot, reported SymphonyIRA, sold almost $260 million worth of wine in the 52 weeks ending June 12, but you'd never know it be checking the leading wine magazines. A Google search turned up nothing from the most important wine magazines about this, though the listings did show Decanter stories about Gina Gallo's babies and Pinot-gate (E&J Gallo owns Barefoot).
How can this happen? And no, it has nothing to do with the quality of Barefoot's wines. Instead, it's about the people who drink Barefoot wines. The Winestream Media doesn't think they're good enough. They don't make enough money, aren't educated enough, and don't have nifty enough jobs. For example, the Enthusiast's average subscriber is a 47-year-old man with a household income of about $200,000.
In other words, the magazine is geared toward four percent of the U.S. population. Is it any wonder most Americans consider wine to be elitist? The irony here is that even that demographic drinks cheap wine. My numbers, as measured by Quantcast, are just below those of the Wine Enthusiast, and about the only thing our editorial content has in common is the word wine.
I'm not making a value judgment about who the magazines write for. They want those Lexus ads, and they're certainly entitled, under our system, to get them by appealing to middle-aged men with six-figure incomes. My point is that this approach limits wine's audience. The Wine Magazines, whether true or not, are seen as the public face of the wine world. And it's not a welcoming face for newcomers and aspiring wine drinkers. The winespeak is bad enough, but the bigger obstacle is the wine they write about, which is pricey and often hard to find.
The result? We have two wine worlds — the wine people drink and the wine that the magazines write about. Which is bad enough. What's worse is that too many wine producers figure the latter is more important than the former. They live to get a good score, even if it's not necessarily going to help them sell more wine.
Everyone in wine talks about how beer is slumping, and how wine will eventually overtake beer as the U.S. beverage of choice. Really? Then why is per capita beer consumption almost four times more than per capita wine consumption, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism? I'm convinced it's not cost, since a six-pack and a cheap bottle of wine are about the same price and provide more or less the same buzz. Rather, it's barrier to entry. You don't need to decipher the beer world to pop open a cold one. And the wine business doesn't seem to have any desire to lower that barrier to entry.