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“GRAPES FOR THE MASSES”

It’s not often that I get the chance to read my copy of The Spec or any of the other wine rags that I subscribe to.  The pace of this past year has been such that my reading has been limited to whatever mag I can throw in my briefcase for perusing while at 36,000 feet on my way to my next meeting.

Imagine my surprise when I opened the June 19, 2006 issue of Forbes, and read an article authored by Ms. Helen Coster entitled “Not-So-Fine Wine”.  Ms. Coster may be a writer covering the marketing beat, but her witty prose and thorough research deserves a nomination for honorary Wino (“Wino Helen”, I don’t think that’s been reserved yet).

In her article, Ms. Coster describes some of the unique and offbeat tactics being deployed by vintners to sell wine to sports fans, including beach volleyball nuts and NASCAR rednecks.  She cites an example of the AVP Pro Beach Volleyball tour that will visit Seaside Heights, NJ this month (I’m assuming that’s close to our Wino stars since it’s in New Jersey).  Evidently, Barefoot Cellars, an Ernest & Julio Gallo brand, will be a sponsor of that visit (I think our Wino Bob should visit just in case Stephanie Gallo will be there).

Ms. Coster writes about some of the more unique names surfacing in the wine biz.  Goats do Roam, Smashed Grapes, Monkey Bay, Screw Kappa Nappa, Smoking Loon, Mad Housewife, and Dog House are a few of the brands that she says are designed to “attract thirsty young adults” (and here, I thought it was the romantic notion of sipping a splendid Bordeaux with the love of your life).  Ms. Coster states that the irreverent brands are primarily designed to win over young men with the whimsical names.  According to her, winemakers are going further in their efforts to widen the audience of consumers by asking drinkers to send snapshots of “party-goers in any lively (and legal!) scenario’ to [their] website” (direct from the Fat Bastard folks).  Furthermore, the top selling new wine in the U.S. in 2005 was Twin Fin, an Australian import, which features a surfboard on its label (Wino Bob, have you reviewed Twin Fin, yet, or are you waiting to smoke it?).

According to Ms. Coster, the trend was started by Casela Wines with their promotion of “Yellow Tail” five years ago.  Casella spent $9 million promoting their product last year resulting in a $77 million profit on $255 million in sales (okay, WJ and WB, if we had $9 million to spend on Winostuff, we should be able to sell $255 million in stuff too, right?).  She notes that Bennett Lane and Ravenswood Winery are sponsoring NASCAR teams this year and that Ravenswood’s catchy motto, “No Wimpy Wines!”, has helped boost sales by 11.5%.  It’s interesting in that Ravenswood is the only wine in this group for which I have had a long-term admiration of their ability to poke fun at the industry while creating a respectable product.  In fact, I think I wrote an article about a great wine-tasting that the wife and I had there many moons ago (gotta go back to the beginning for that one, WJ).

Ms Coster notes that last year, 39% of adults in the U.S. stated that wine was their first choice of alcoholic beverage, beating beer’s 36%, the first time in 14 years that the Gallop survey had returned that result.  The only thing Ms. Coster fails to note in her thoroughly written article is how much the results of that poll were skewed by the fans of WinoStuff.com, a leading website for the irreverent fans of wine.  I’m guessing that Ms. Coster couldn’t bear it to reveal WinoStuff in this article since her employer, Forbes, is more accustomed to reporting on Faberge eggs, yachts, and Ferrari’s than a Hall of Fame, award-winning wine site run by a few derelict techno-geeks who like finer wines than their budget can afford (oh, and I don’t think we’ve reviewed many of the wines listed here so that might count against us as well).

Lastly, Ms. Coster asks Forbes’ resident wine expert, Richard Nalley, to sample some of the wacko wines.  In order of preference, he gives thumbs up to “3 Blind Moose Cabernet Sauvignon”, “The Little Penguin Shiraz”, and “Smoking Loon Cabernet Sauvignon”.  I’ve had 3 Blind Moose and Smoking Loon.  While each is a good bargain at $9-10/bottle, I think there are better wines with no marketing budget for the same price.  But then again, the names of those wines are nothing to write about…ah ha, it’s all in the marketing game, isn’t it?

Ms. Coster, great article.  When you’re in the mood to write about wines again, come on over to our staff.  We can’t afford to pay you, but we’ll post your article with no edits and you’re sure to be inundated with fan emails and possibly proposals from the fan base that we’ve generated over the years (just don’t ask Wino Bob about the proposals until after you write an article).

Wino Wally
Baltimore, MD
June 16, 2006


 

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