The State of CA Wine: Regions vs the Whole
America’s grapegrowers and winemakers want your attention and want your support. They want your dollars and they want your loyalty.
The question is how to get it?
One way to raise the profile of wines is to do some marketing. And that’s exactly what the grapegrowers in Lake, Sonoma, Mendocino and the Lodi area had in mind when they created commissions that would assess growers in the area to create a fund for marketing their regions fine wine grapes and the wines they are made into.
But is this really an effective use of spare marketing dollars? That’s the question raised in a thoughtful essay by Harry Cline in the Western Farm Press.
Cline argues it this way:
"However, these four commissions and the other organized efforts to
promote wine grape regions are, unfortunately, more of the same
marketing that has stymied California’s wine industry for years. It is
a game called “let’s knock each other off the shelf.
"The marketing/promotional priority is not to
gain new wine drinkers or to encourage wine drinkers to enjoy more
California wine, but to knock the next guy off the shelf….
"California’s wine industry needs a California wine marketing commission supported by both growers and vintners."
I don’t disagree with Cline, who is arguing that what’s really needed to raise all boats is a state-wide effort to promote CALIFORNIA wine in the face of increased pressure from imported wines. However, that effort is a different variety of effort than the type of effort envisioned and planned by regional groups.
A state-wide effort to increase consumption of California wines must be aimed at those consumers who are willing to spend relatively little on wine, something in the neighborhood of $5 to $10 per bottle. By contrast, the efforts of regional groups to promote only grapes from their region and the wines made from them are aimed as a smaller group of more sophisticated drinkers. It’s not an elitist approach to marketing wine, it’s an approach that takes into account the realities of the market. It’s also important to note that the efforts of the regional groups are not only aimed at consumers but at buyers of grapes. A California-wide effort isn’t aimed at getting grape buyers to buy more or pay higher prices for grapes.
It’s always hard to get a larger industry to agree on a direction for marketing efforts. This too is why smaller, regional efforts have more chance of getting off the ground. Then there is money. To carry out a truly effective campaign on behalf of California wine in general would surely run in the neighborhood of $20 million or more…and that’s for a moderate effort.
But there is more here, too. We have comfortably moved into an era in the International and North American wine industry in which place (call it "terroir" or "appellation") is the underlying theme in the minds of industry types, as well as more and more the minds of consumers, particularly motivated, core, high end consumers. There is significant benefit to raising the reputation of "Sonoma Valley Zinfandel" or "Lodi Zinfandel" or "Lake County Sauvignon Blanc".
While state-wide campaign to promote California wine would be a real step forward, I’m not convinced that various, smaller, regional efforts prevent such an effort. Nor do I think regional efforts merely serve to "knock the next guy off the shelf".