Devil's Advocate: Falling Wine Sales. Maybe Taylor Swift is the Answer

Robert Joseph considers some of the ideas that are being discussed as ways to counter neo-Prohibitionism. And comes up with a suggestion of his own.

Reading time: 4m 30s

Celebrity, dog and Robert Joseph
Celebrity, dog and Robert Joseph

When you see the word ‘dog’, what image springs to mind? And how would you create a campaign to promote dog ownership?

Would you use an image of a golden retriever, or of a pit-bull that’s been in a few fights? A domineering Doberman, or the ‘handbag’ pooch favoured by Paris Hilton?

These are all dogs. Just as Barefoot Moscato, a single estate Carignan from Languedoc, the proverbial cidery, skin-contact, natural white, and a bourbon-barrel-aged Zinfandel, are all wines.

My guess is that, in most cases, if asked to encourage wine drinking or dog ownership, most people would naturally gravitate towards the image with which they are most comfortable. So, from my options, the average dog-lover might go for the retriever while the wine professional would choose the Languedoc red. Which, I believe would be a questionable strategy.
 

Not my kind of dog - or wine

Seeing the retriever, huge numbers of urban apartment-dwellers would switch off immediately, in the knowledge that there’s no place in their life for a beast that requires a minimum of half an hour of tough exercise twice a day. Similar numbers of potential wine drinkers would close down their attention when presented with an unfamiliar and impenetrable French label – or when, as is currently being suggested (by respected US commentator, Tom Wark) they are invited to join a tasting group, or (by the Californa Wine Institute) play wine-related games on their phones. These ideas may appeal to a number of people and the gamification, in particular, may appeal to wine-curious Gen Z'ers, but will they work on the millions of all ages who might be persuaded to drink Pinot Grigio or pink Zinfandel? Or aren’t we worried about them?

Sanchez Recarte, the director general of the Comité Européen des Entreprises Vins (CEEV), the voice of Europe's wine producers, was reported by Felicity Carter as saying that he believes the way forward is to talk about wine as an integral part of the Mediterranean diet “acknowledged as the world's healthiest”. This is the precisely message that Morley Safer famously shared with his huge US audience as part of the ‘French Paradox’ CBS, 60-Minutes programme in 1991.

That year marked a low-point in US wine consumption. Between 1980-1990, Americans were drinking over 7.6l per year. In 1991, that dropped to 7.1, and it would not be until 1998 that consumption came close to matching the 7.4l of 20 years earlier. So, despite the programme’s reputation for having sparked a wine drinking boom, this really isn’t supported by the facts.

US Wine Consumption
US Wine Consumption

Artisanal Barefoot

Recarte also thinks it's important to talk about wine as “an artisanal product from a particular time and place, made by specific people.” Do US consumers really believe that the ubiquitous bottles of Barefoot (over 250,000,000 per year) and Bota bag-in-boxes are lovingly hand-made by ‘artisans’?

Another plan seems to be to promote wine as product that is shared – and a way “to save youth from the [post-Covid] loneliness epidemic” (Wark), because as another American has suggested, it is a 'catalyst for human relationships'.

The idea of promoting wine – even in the context of a tasting group - as a solution for loneliness strikes me as frankly bizarre. First, because there is nothing intrinsically more congenial about it than beer or cocktails. People gather to enjoy all of these; indeed, when it comes to beer, they do so in far greater numbers. And I’m fairly sure, given that only 30% of the US population drinks wine, that the remaining 70% must be managing to forge some fairly decent relationships without it.

But, second, and more importantly, because, as the US country singer, Alan Jackson sings in Angels and Alcohol “You have to face what's hiding in your mind, you can't change lonely with a bottle of wine.” Are we really expecting lonely people to sniff, sip and spit in a tasting group without then opening a red or white by themselves in their own homes? Are we to pretend that the addictive nature of alcohol doesn't apply to wine? If someone is lonely, advise them to join a tennis club or to volunteer for some kind of charity. Don't point them in the direction of alcohol.

Of course, when talking about promoting wine consumption, we enter a moral minefield, Wine professionals like to imagine that they're simply trying to switch consumption from one form of alcohol to another. But when many of them make less than positive comments about Dry January or Sober October, it is clear that what they care about is regular - if 'moderate' - consumption of their form of alcohol. I don't have an answer to this, and admit to feeling conflicted about it. Not everybody finds moderation easy.

But, if as professionals in this industry, we accept that the wine industry needs to find ways of combatting neo-Prohibition, it is fair to ask what if there were another way to promote wine to millions of people that’s almost sure to grab their attention and interest? What if there were a group of wine-positive people with more influence than almost any ‘influencer’?

Insights

It might feel like it’s all gloom and doom in the wine industry right now, but two separate groups are creating positive energy around wine. Felicity Carter reports.

Reading time: 6m 30s

Famous wine fans

People like Elizabeth Banks, Drew Barrymore, David Beckham, May J Blige, Christie Brinkley, James Cameron, George Clooney, Francis Ford Coppola, Cara & Poppy Delevingne, Johnny Depp, Cameron Diaz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Ernie Els, Snoop Dogg, Idris Elba, Fergie, Wayne Gretsky, Andres Iniesta, Jon Bon Jovi, John Legend, George Lucas, Pink, John Malkovich, Post Malone, Dave Matthews, Yao Ming, Kylie Minogue, Sam Neil, Paul Okenfold, Sarah Jessica Parker, Brad Pitt, Gordon Ramsay, Kurt Russell, Sting, Vera Wang and Jay-Z.

All of these have either invested their own money or at least their reputations in wine. And even if some of these names weren’t familiar to you, they will be to lots of our target audience. Drew Barrymore. for example, has 18m followers on Instagram. Post Malone, has 26.5m.

And then, of course, there’s a wine-loving celeb with 280m followers on that platform who cannot go unmentioned: Taylor Swift, whose favourite wine is reportedly Sancerre, but who has been photographed with a range of red and white wines.

But the celebs are only the start: there are all the movies and songs in which various wines have featured.

If anyone wants to use gamification to promote wine, this is the way I’d be going. Rather than look for vinous knowledge that very few people will have or be interested in gaining, get them involved in an app that covers food, wine and other beverages in the context of human beings with whom they feel a genuine connection.

The only problem is that most wine people I’ve talked to take a decidedly sniffy attitude to ‘celebrity wines’, questioning whether they are as good, or as good value, as non-celeb alternatives.

But they're missing the point. If that's how you look at any kind of celebrity product, you're not the customer the people behind them want to talk to. 

Whatever their quality or value, if we snuffle around deciding which wines we want people to be drinking, we’re never going to win this battle.

We’re simply going to have to accept that some people are going to buy Snoop Dogg’s Cali Red, to enjoy with their pet chihuahua.

Events

Theatre and film legend John Malkovich was the star turn at the 10th International Symposium of the Institute of Masters of Wine in Wiesbaden, Germany. Meininger's International had the opportunity to speak with him. Felicity Carter reports.

Reading time: 3m 45s

 

 

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