Do you feel overwhelmed when shopping for wine? The sheer magnitude of choices is daunting. There are wallabies and penguins and rabbits, oh my! Do you prefer to go Barefoot or wear Flip Flops, socialize with Old Farts or Fat Bastards, gnosh on Layer Cakes or Cupcakes, ride Red Bicyclettes or Red Trucks? The wine shelf is a cornucopia of variety.
And it’s a lie. Sort of.
That’s the lead to my column in today’s Washington Post, and you can guess which phrase got cut. No matter. This is an important topic, because it cuts to the heart of our perceptions of wine and how we idealize it – or not. You probably do idealize wine, if you’re reading blogs like this one, but most of the people who buy a wine for dinner once or twice a month and read my Post column looking for bargains – well, they probably don’t. Most people don’t – for most, wine is a beverage, not unlike Coke or Pepsi, just with a kick and an air of sophistication. So in a Coke-or-Pepsi world, does it really matter that more than 50% of the wines sold in the United States are produced, licensed or imported by just three companies?
This column was prompted by a study out of Michigan State University about brand concentration in the wine industry. Jeff Siegel at The Wine Curmudgeon and Mike Veseth at The Wine Economist have also written provocatively about this study.
So I hope you’ll read the column and comment, both here and on WashingtonPost.com, to get a dialogue going.
Here’s a comment on the Post website from AnthonyR1978, a wine retailer.
As a wine retailer, I am constantly frustrated with customers coming in and asking for mass-produced wines like Cupcake or Kendall-Jackson. When told that we do not carry those labels, many customers walk out in a hurry and do not even bother to ask for other suggestions. On the other hand, I have many great customers who appreciate small production or unique, interesting wines so there is a greater interest in these wines that have character. Unfortunately, it is sometimes easier to sell these “corporate” wines rather than swim upstream trying to sell wines that no one has heard of.
I see many of these mass produced wines ending up in the hands of Millennials which has me worried about the younger generation. It seems they do not take the time to understand what it is they are buying and trying new things. To them it is easier to just buy the same wine they know and are familiar with. It is interesting to see how our beer culture has gone the opposite way with many people searching out microbrews in lieu of Budweiser and Miller.
This insight is a bit counterintuitive, because Millennials are supposed to be more adventurous, open to trying unusual wines out of the mainstream and not beholden to top critics and their 100-point ratings. Maybe when they buy wine to eat in, they’re more conservative?
What say you?