This Wine is Gay!
I’ve been thinking about what it means to be Gay.
It’s not that the wives of my male friends have to start worrying about my charms. No, instead I’ve been thinking about the notion of marketing wine to the gay niche. It came about when the folks at the "Food & Wine For the Gay Palate" blog asked if they could post an old entry of mine about the subject of a gay-facing wine website. At this blog there is a truly fascinating post about a wine called "Pansy" that is produced for and marketed to the Gay community.
Now, marketing wine to the Gay community isn’t brain surgery. You do it in the same way you’d market wine specifically to the Hispanic community or the Baseball loving community or the community of middle aged snake charmers: you simply speak to them directly in a voice, with an attitude and with language that they’ll recognize. In large part it’s about paying attention to them and their specific world view.
But what I’m really interested in and what I found fascinating about "Pansy" is the idea of producing a wine that is made for the "gay palate". According to Erica Crawford, Pansy’s Co-founder:
"We didn’t want to make a winemaker’s wine. The first
one we made was 4 grams RS (residual sugar); I’d like it bone-dry but
it’s important to make wine for your consumers, not for yourself."
I get the idea that a wine aimed specifically at the Gay community might naturally be a rose or pink wine. After all, trading on stereotypes that are adopted and even not adopted by groups is a standard method of speaking to a group in voice they will recognize as their own. The association of the color pink with the Gay community is an old and recognizable one. But here, according to Ms. Crawford, the direct implication is that the proper way to make a wine that will appeal to the gay community is to make the wine pretty damn sweet.
I can’t figure this out. But I’m trying. A 4% Residual Sugar Rose borders on being slightly alcoholic soda pop. You really need to chill that thing down to make it drinkable. Personally, I’d be pouring it over ice and sipping it while floating on a lounger in the pool on a warm day. It’s the kind of wine you give to someone who doesn’t drink wine because, "wine’s just too sour!". Consider that the vast majority of "White Zinfandel" on the market comes in at about 1% to 3% residual sugar. This one is 4%. A half of percent residual sugar is very noticeable.
Does one’s palate become particularly attuned to sweetness once it is determined they are gay?
Or is this just another case of "speaking" to the Gay community in a liquid language that they would recognize?
If this is a case of speaking a liquid language recognizable by Gays then we are witnessing a really intricate form of marketing. It would be a case of recognizing that the sensation of sweetness on the palate is not just a physiological experience whereby sweetness is detected by "G protein" receptors found on tastebuds. It would also be a recognition that "sweetness" experienced on the palate can act as a language that gays can "read" and comprehend as specifically applying to them.
This raises a number of questions. Do gays acquire a taste for sweetness far beyond that of straights by virtue of consuming larger amounts of sweet foods? I don’t think so.
Is there a genetic connection between the "gay gene" and a gene for appreciating sweetness on the palate. Who knows? At the least we know this hasn’t been demonstrated and I’d be inclined to doubt it.
Instead I think it’s a matter of again falling back on stereotypes that work as a form of communication that can be used in marketing. The stereotype of gay men being feminine, "light in the loafers", and drastically unmasculine seems to mesh well with the concept and associations that come with "sweetness". And this begs the question, could a wine made for the gay community be successful were it a big, brawny, tanic, dry Petite Sirah?
I don’t know the answer to this question, but I suspect that one could just as easily make and successfully market such a wine to the gay community just by falling back on standard marketing techniques that have the marketer paying real attention to the community it is selling to and speaking in a language that is theirs and that they would recognize.
Still, I’m lead to wonder if their are styles (sweet, dry, big, alcoholic, fruity, earthy) of wines that one would produce specifically for another demographic or community. What kind of wine, for example, would one produce for Golfers or Fans of "Oprah" or Liberals or Rockhounds or Trekkies?
The analysis of the social and intellectual meaning of Sweet, Bitter, Tannic, Dry, Alcoholic, Fruity, Earthy and other wine styles is one that probably deserves some significant investigation. Yet I’m convinced that using any meanings associated with these characteristics of wine to sell more wine to a particular niche group will not work without a explicit pitch to the group through other, more direct means—such as speaking directly to that group and saying, "this wine is for you" just as the folks at Kim Crawford Wines have done with "Pansy".
And what of the name of this wine—"Pansy". Clearly it is a case of the now common practice of groups re-appropriating and embracing a disparaging term in order to diminish its usefulness as a slur—a tool I’m very much in favor of using in a world where language is too often used slap folks around with. Any marketer would have to be extraordinarily careful in using such a tool. Yet in this case it appears to not have caused any problems.
So, this has all set me on a mission: if a style of wine can be used to market that wine to the gay community, I want to try to figure out what style of wine needs to be produced to market specifically to the bland, vanilla, over-bite-while-dancing, wine-country-living, over worked, straight male niche.