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herd of sheepThis recent survey of American wine consumers by the Wine Institute contained some predictable information. The top four favorite varietals among the aggregate of high frequency and occasional wine drinkers were Chardonnay, Merlot, White Zinfandel, and Pinot Grigio in that order, the latter two of which belong in your drain. The noble, structured Cabernet Sauvignon and the nuanced, textured Pinot Noir were 5th and 6th respectively. The versatile, hedonistic Riesling was 7th.

American’s favorite wine styles were “fruity”, “semi-sweet”, and “smooth” which in winespeak means boring. The two most important factors in the decision to purchase a wine were price and brand, with the most common price range between $10 and $15 dollars. Brand plays such an important role, I would guess, because once you discover a brand produces wine that is “fruity”, “sweet” and “smooth” you hang onto to it for dear life. Reaching for a brand makes shopping so much easier—you don’t have to think about it.

The conclusion to draw from all of this is that most American wine consumers don’t care much about wine, are looking for an easy-to-drink alcohol delivery system, and are neither curious nor adventurous.

But we knew that already. I review budget wines because I want to encourage more everyday adventure and curiosity but it is a daunting task.

At any rate, the #1 conclusion the authors of this survey draw is that wine producers should “Craft wines to match preferred taste styles (which should be fruity, smooth and perhaps a little sweet).”

Ugh.

The generic wine consumer that emerges from this survey keeps the E.J. Gallo’s and Constellation’s in business. There is value in that. Some of those people lovingly sipping their glass of White Zinfandel will someday get curious and branch out. We were all that person once. But most of those consumers are not what keeps a vibrant wine culture alive. That culture is kept alive by people striving for quality and uniqueness who seek out what is interesting and intriguing and are fascinated by the wine traditions of some obscure village in Piemonte or Slovenia.

It’s just bad advice to persuade up-and-coming winemakers to do what everyone else is doing. The only way you will make your mark following that advice is to come up with a clever new marketing gimmick. There is already a whole lot of fruity, sweet, and smooth out there. The only difference is the artwork on the label. Is that why you became a winemaker?

This headline caught my eye shortly after reading through this survey. “Americans Get Crafty: Wine is losing ground in its most important market to the new wave of artisanal beers, ciders and spirits.” Well no wonder. If all you find on the supermarket shelf is fruity, sweet, and smooth why wouldn’t you head to the beer aisle where there is actually something interesting and delicious going on.

The wine industry had better be careful or they will find themselves in the position of Kraft, Nestle, and General Mills, losing market share to the boutique markets.

So sure, make wine for the soda pop crowd if you have to pay the bills. Just keep making the good stuff for the rest of us.

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