What If…

Between 2005 and 2008, there has been a 20% drop in the number of people who say they most often drink wine over beer and spirits.

Between 2005 and 2008 there has been a 27% drop in the number of 30 to 49 year olds that say they most often drink wine over beer and spirits.

…All according to a recent Gallup poll.

Why are fewer Americans, particularly those in the 30 to 50 year old group, finding reason to choose wine less often? First, let’s look at the trends.


It’s hard not to notice that something happened in 2004 and 2005 to disrupt a fairly consistent trend of around 33-34 percent of Americans choosing wine over other alcohols. That spike you see in 2005, particularly when compared to what came before and what has come after, appears to be an anomaly. It would be nice to know what caused it.

In 2004 Sideways came out in the theaters, it was a hit, and it clearly spurred the discovery of Pinot Noir among your average drinker. Were the 2005 numbers in the Gallup Poll the "Sideways Effect"? Consider something else. In 2005 we got the Supreme Court decision on direct shipping, again bringing wine in to the view of more Americans. In addition, during this time, the mid 00s, we were getting consistent news about wine’s health benefits, culminating in the mice study concerning the fat burning effects of Resevrotrol.

Perhaps these things account for the strange jump in those who, in 2005, said they choose wine over other other drinks.

What’s even more interesting is the near 10% drop between 2007 and 2008 in the number of Americans that say they choose wine over other alcohol drinks. I’d be willing to bet this is economy related. Note a similar drop between 1999 and 2000, the last time we began to move into a recession. And note that at that same time beer saw an increase in the number of people who choose it first, just as it has in 2008.

Wine obviously remains the a fair economy splurge for a certain percentage of drinkers who appear to give it up when finances get a little tight. This also means that the trend that set in around 2000 that had beer drinkers at consistent 42% and wine drinkers at a consistent 32-34% is probably still in place when adjusted for recessionary forces.

Of course this leads to the question that has always been asked by the wine industry. What can be done to move more people into wine drinking naturally, rather than count on increased wine drinking only during momentary media attention. As I think I’ve said before, I’m pretty sure this is accomplished by creating sustained attention for wine from pop culture icons, institutions and entities.

So here’s something to consider.

The wine industry in CA does not fund a marketing institution. The Wine Institute and Family Winemakers of California deal with regulatory issues, not marketing issues. What would be the difference in the number of people who choose wine over beer if there had been in place for the past 15 years a well funded institution dedicated to promoting CA wines (or just wine in general) nationwide???

Would the Gallup Chart now look like this:


Posted In: Wine Business


13 Responses

  1. Morton Leslie - August 11, 2008

    It’s interesting that when we talk about influencing what people drink we talk about health effects, marketing and legislative efforts, but never about what the products taste like. As someone who has overcome my body’s revulsion to shooting vodka or tequila and even learned to appreciate Barolo chinato I realize that there is more to drink preferences than pure flavor. But I think it was in 2005 that I sat at a table at a pre-harvest grower/vintner dinner with a dozen bottles of Napa Cabernets in front of me, and I could not find a single wine I wanted to swallow. A beer would have tasted pretty darn good. Maybe it’s just stubbornness, but learning to appreciate intense tannin, raisiny aroma complemented by 15% alcohol has so far escaped me. I realize that most winemakers make wines with the critic in mind, and that it’s probably naive of me, but what if we just focused on making wine taste good.

  2. Steve Heimoff - August 11, 2008

    Tom, the question of marketing orders and advertising in the (California) wine industry has been debated for decades, with no agreement. I wish it were otherwise, but you know as well as I do that political, economic and personal issues make it near impossible that the industry as a whole will be able to advertise. But perhaps you’ll get something started here.

  3. Thomas Pellechia - August 11, 2008

    Morton and Steve each make great points. In fact, I was going to mention the dismal past failures with marketing orders in Ca. It’s the price the industry pays for having massive companies alongside tiny companies–and the proportional membership payments that follow.
    One of the problems with competition as a general concept: everyone in the competition wants to be first (or the biggest), and usually at everyone else’s expense. How can you build consensus that way?
    The domestic wine industry has a history of short-sightedness that is dwarfed only by the male spider who mounts a soon-to-be-widow.

  4. Tish - August 11, 2008

    Tom, on the flip side, can you single out any non-California marketing effort that has borne significant fruit? I think there was a post a short while back at The Good Grape pointing out that regional marketing campaigns are money down the drain.
    Not being cycnical, I truly think Americans would respond more to celebrity endorsement and/or pro-health messages more than any sort of traditional taste-driven promotions. Unfortunately, pushing wine’s health benefits is a no-no, last time I checked.

  5. Tom Wark - August 11, 2008

    I’m almost certain the Napa Valley Vintners would disagree. I think the Sonoma Valley Vintners might also have another opinion.

  6. Thomas Pellechia - August 11, 2008

    Yep, the Sonoma group did a bang up job promoting their appellation.
    And Tish, the Italian Trade Commission has done a lot to promote that country’s wines in New York without celebrities, unless you count guys like you and me 😉

  7. Morton Leslie - August 11, 2008

    While some wine marketing efforts have shown benefits to those wines they promote, I’m not sure it has affected the number of wine drinkers. Also, I wonder how twenty somethings reacted to a movie about unattractive forty somethings searching for identity in the wine country. Did it convince them that wine should be their beverage of choice? Or did it just convince wine drinkers to switch from Merlot to Pinot. I have this admittedly hair brained theory that all our kids are going to resist drinking wine because that’s what they saw all the “adults” doing when they grew up. As most of them will tell you (sometimes condescendingly) their generation “is very different.” Maybe their generation will return to mixed drinks from spirits and make the cycle complete.

  8. mark - August 12, 2008

    Those of us who make or try to make genuine wine have always had a smaller market than is sliced and diced by the marketing suits. Our market isn’t composed of persons of a particular age who choose beverages like they choose footwear, jeans, tattoos, fast food, or cars, nor is it composed of Spectator or Advocate robots. There are a lot of people out there who like good wine, and know it when they taste it. There is never enough good wine at a fair price. Make honest, balanced, interesting wine that says something about the place from where it comes. Don’t overcharge. People will buy it. They don’t need a national marketing campaign to motivate them. A helpful wine salesperson, waiter, or sommelier, or, god help us, even a blogger will suffice. The last thing I want is a megalithic quasi-governmental entity touting my wine- along with everybody else’s. Besides, this is America. If people want to drink Yellowtail, light beer, sweet bourbon, energy drinks, or wheat grass juice, more power to them. Is wine really such a miracle beverage that everyone should be coerced into drinking it for their own good? Besides, if the Greeks, Romans, British, French, Italians, Spanish, Australians, South Americans, and Constellation couldn’t put a wine glass in everybody’s hand after three thousand years of trying, what are our chances? Personally, I think there are already too many wine drinkers, too many wineries, too many vineyards, and too many wines, especially crappy ones. Like the most popular T-shirt in Santa Cruz says- “Surfing Sucks- Don’t Try It”.

  9. Thomas Pellechia - August 12, 2008

    Morton, you may be on to something. Young people in both France and Italy are shunning the national beverage.
    And Mark, you are definitely on to something.

  10. Marco - August 12, 2008

    Like Mark said, good wine at a fair price and people will but it. I do and will. A lot of the bullshit marketing should go into the quality of the bottle and what’s in it. Oh…and a quicktime-flash label.

  11. Brad Asmus - August 12, 2008

    I think Tom’s larger point is that trend lines in consumption of beer vs wine is to a large extent the result of the investment that the two industries put into advertising. Anheuser-Busch alone spends somewhere between $782 million and $1.2 billion on advertising, a number that makes the wine industry’s investment seem almost insignificant. If we want to impact the trend lines, we’ll have to spend more on advertising, never mind where the money comes from.
    With luck, InBev will go forward with their stated plans to dramatically cut Anheuser-Busch’s advertising. If that happens, I bet we see the trend lines alter yet again.

  12. Mark Koppen - August 12, 2008

    To Tom, one other element that perhaps had play in 2005 and a few years prior was the popularity of the low carb diet. I remember quite a few stories around that time that men were giving up beer because of carbs. When that faded, perhaps some beer drinkers came back quickly to beer.
    Anyone think John Gillespie’s efforts for the Wine Market Council had any impact around that time?

  13. Fred - August 12, 2008

    When Brad says “If we want to impact the trend lines, we’ll have to spend more on advertising” he is speaking a truth that has eluded the wine industry since its inception.
    With almost no meaningful advertising coming from producers as to what distinguishes their product, consumers are left with critics and the scores they use for shorthand.
    Can you name another business that so thoroughly entrusts its success to the opinions of others (who are not the end consumer)?
    Tom, surely you have at your fingertips the percentage of sales the wine industry spends on advertising (paid media). And just as surely it is a pitiful figure.
    Market share — or more to the point, share of the drinking customer — doesn’t just happen. You have to fight for it.

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