Time to Embrace the Elitist Character of the Wine Drinker
“Our aim is to democratize wine. The mission is to remove the elitist, stuffy image from wine and bring it to the people.”
The odds are 2-1 that any new consumer-facing wine service, app, editorial venture or website will make this above claim about what it is they are attempting to accomplish. More often than not, this “mission” is driven either 1) by the fact that the wines being sold or promoted through the new service are under $30 per bottle or 2) the belief that those who do not engage with wine beyond squirting some out of the box they’ve had in their refrigerator for the past 4 weeks is due to the fact that wine is too complicated for anything other than squirting from a box.
MAYBE THE COMMON MAN DOESN’T DRINK WINE
I understand that it is tempting to position oneself as the champion of the common man. To begin with, there are more common men than uncommon men. So that’s attractive. But moreover, there is a certain moral advantage to championing the common man (and demonizing the elitists) that feels very nice.
I want to suggest that attempting to “democratize” for the majority of folks that don’t prefer or don’t drink wine won’t do anything to increase wine’s appeal, nor enhance the prospects of wine-related services that trade on the notion that “wine is too stuffy, too elitist and too snobby”.
Ask anyone who has an interest in wine beyond the efficiency and speed by which it flows out of a box into a glass, what it is that attracts them to wine. Odds are good that their response will have some connection to some sort of intellectual characteristic inherent in wine. Perhaps it is wine’s connection to a specific place. It might be that the ever-widening diversity of wine is what attracts them to the beverage. It may be the connection to the history and culture of a place that has long produced wine. Many others will find their motivation to embrace wine in the technical and scientific nature behind its production.
None of these or any other reasons for appreciating wine have anything to do with the rate at which wine flows from a box. None of these reasons have anything to do with “fun” and “games”. Wine is not beer. It’s not kombucha. It’s not seltzer. Wine is the most complex and culturally relevant drink in the history of man and trying to “democratize” it with happy talk, by demeaning this unique characteristic or by accusing drinkers of being stuffy or snobby only removes from the beverage its most compelling features and attributes.
TIME TO GIVE UP ON “DEMOCRATIZING” WINE?
It just might be that wine is a beverage that will only attract frequent drinkers who for one reason or another are willing to think more about what they drink than most folks. It might be that the wine industry may need to settle for having a market share less than beer and spirits. If this is so, then the marketers in the wine industry should perhaps be thinking more about how to speak to and communicate with this kind of drinker, rather than trying to convince those that appear not to care about wine that their lifestyle really can accommodate it. Maybe it can’t.
For the 30 years I’ve worked in the wine industry as a publicist, marketer, advocate and writer I’ve listened to worried peers explain that wine must become more accessible and less stuffy if it is not going to be overtaken by its beer and spirits competitors. The most obvious way to accomplish this task is to gather the support of the industry for a comprehensive generic marketing/advertising campaign. Of course, this never happens due to the fact that the vast majority of wineries in America do not appeal to the sort of consumer that would be motivated by such a campaign—the casual drinker more likely to keep a box in the fridge than a bottle in a rack. I see no reason to believe that these impediments to a generic wine marketing effort will be overcome.
So, if we do resign ourselves to the notion that wine is the “thinkers drink”, I’d suggest that there exist a number of paths open to exploiting this unique position wine has held and likely will hold for years to come. The winery or regional wine group or consumer wine service or app or retailer that appeals to the drinker willing to think is likely to succeed.
Finally, it’s worth reiterating that those who characterize wine as “snobby” or “elitist” are in fact the enemies of both wine and wine consumers. They are self-serving charlatans that don’t understand wine or wine consumers. These folks should be run out of the business.