Devil’s Advocate: It's Not (Just) about the Taste

Why should anyone buy one wine rather than another - apart from because of the way it tastes (and its price)? This is a question Robert Joseph suggests needs to be asked rather more often.

Reading time: 3m 15s

Robert Joseph - the Devil's Advocate
Robert Joseph - the Devil's Advocate

Connor Widder is a young American with a Linkedin bio that describes him as ‘helping wineries get more tasting room reservations, online wine sales and wine club subscriptions through search marketing’.

I’ve quoted those words because I suspect plenty of wine professionals outside the US, may find the thinking behind them unfamiliar or simply irrelevant. How many European wineries take ‘reservations’ for their tasting rooms? Or have a ‘wine club’? Or seriously exploit ‘search marketing’?

Focus on the other factors

In a recent video clip, Widder makes a statement wine professionals may understand but probably won’t like. “Most wineries overly focus on the product… [They should] focus on factors that get people to buy your wine… rather than just focusing on how the wine tastes.”

Surely the taste is what really matters? After all, it’s why we have competitions and critics and tasting notes and somms whose job it is to recommend how Wine A will be a better partner for the boeuf en croûte than Wine B.

But, of course, it’s not that simple. Shocking as this may be to some, most wine drinkers never encounter a sommelier (because few local restaurants have one), or read a tasting note (where would they see it?) They may react to a score or a medal-sticker but these won’t say anything about the impact the liquid is going have on their palate. The critic or the competition judges may have a very different appreciation of oak, or sweetness or tannin to theirs.

Wine, spinach, beer: acquired tastes

In any case, as a new Chinese survey reveals, it's very possible that consumers may not actually like the taste of any of the wines they have been given. For many in the wine industry, the solution lies in 'educating' them. But is this really what has happened to the huge numbers of younger Americans who now happily quaff IPA beer and Guinness - neither of which is a style many people take to immediately?

No, the consumption of ales like these often grows out of peer pressure and occasions: it's what my friends and people I admire are doing here and now, so maybe I should do it too. Wine and spinach have historically benefited from this kind of process - in the days when there were no alternative options. That's no longer the case. It's now far more socially acceptable for people to say 'no thank you' to the green vegetable or alcoholic drink that doesn't suit their palate. Unless there is something - quite possibly marketing - prompting them that overrides the taste.


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Reading time: 6m 30s

Not the cooking

Restaurant goers have surprised foodies by telling researchers that the quality of cooking is not the main reason for their choosing a particular establishment. For many, it seems, convenience and ambience may be significantly more important.

So what are the non-taste factors Widder is talking about when it comes to wine? “Brand, marketing, the customer experience, the way a person feels when interacting with your brand or perceiving it online… the aesthetic… overall presence … are going to have a huge impact on the way people think about you and your wine.”

I suspect we may be moving back into the language in my first quote from Widder. How many producers pause to think about ‘the way people feel’ about their wine?

But of course, if they do stop to consider how they themselves buy clothes or books, they’ll realise that this kind of thing does matter. We are all happier to part with a few more dollars when buying a shirt with one label rather than another, or from a particular store, or website. Why should wine be any different?

Why should I list it?

It’s not just the people who are going to drink the wine. A few years ago, I accompanied a salesman on his visits to a number of big liquor stores in New Jersey. I can only remember one occasion when there was any need for a glass. Otherwise, the conversation was brief and to the point. ‘Why should I stock this wine? What have you done to make people want to buy it?’

If we all devoted half as much effort on knowing how to answer those questions as we do on talking about harvesting dates, vinification and blending, the industry would be in a much healthier state.

Try it yourself - without saying ‘because it tastes good’.

Postscript: European readers in particular who skated over the references to tasting room reservations and wine clubs may find it instructive to read our coverage of the latest SVB report which reveals that tasting rooms now generate 39% of winery incomes. The wine club figures are quite mouth-watering too.


The annual SVB Direct to Consumer Report reveals just how different the US wine market is from Europe. Robert Joseph wonders whether it might have lessons to teach other markets.

Reading time: 2m 45s



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