New to Wine: You’re not Alone!

Critics, educated oenophiles, and wine trades people have begrudged the de-sophistication of wine consumption.  Historically accepted as a drink for the elite across the world, the acceptance of wine by peoples of varied classes and cultures is growing.  Increased availability and production across the globe have allowed wine to penetrate formerly uninterested markets wherein wine is not a deep-rooted cultural norm such as Russia, China and even the United States.  These new consumers lack a cultural wine script and thus, are a challenge to many established wine producers.    The global wine trade will be intensely affected as these novice consumers require more, broadened wine style production in classic regions, product education, clear product branding, and are strongly affected by local and international influencers.

It has been said that new wine drinkers have some of the best palates for wine discrimination because they hold no wine-related biases and their previous wine consumption experiences are limited.  They are happily oblivious to the “rules” of how and when wine should be tasted and traditional wine styles.  If a traditionally dry wine such as Cabernet Sauvignon or Syrah has an appreciable amount of residual sugar, these consumers neither are concerned nor flummoxed.  The two fastest growing emerging wine markets of Russia and China are expected   to have consumption increases an average of 25 and 37 percent respectively from 2008 to 2012 according to VinExpo in 2009.   Furthermore, consumers in both of these markets prefer sweet wines according to wine business researcher, Liz Thatch.  With the primary increases in wine consumption occurring in Russia and China In response to global demand for sweet wines, some classic wine production regions may need to consider permitting styles not considered traditional to leverage this opportunity.   Conversely, New World brands with their ability to increase production and change wine styles with minimal regulatory or historical complications are better positioned to adapt to non-traditional consumer demand.

In the new global marketplace, producers are more responsible than ever for educating their consumers not only about their specific brand, but their region and the beverage of wine itself.  Global conglomerates such as Brown & Forman, Constellation & Precept brands all understand that marketing must vary with the trade market such that in young markets, the focus must be on branding combined with education.  Brian Howard with Wine Intelligence has underscored the importance of brand building in emerging markets as being inextricably linked with providing knowledge about the larger wine region at large to increase market penetration.  The fragmentation of brands found in classic regions such as Bordeaux and Burgundy are a disadvantage among emerging markets and novice wine consumers in this way.    A singular regional focus and unification of brands is needed to introduce the new wine consumer to these classic regions with as little confusion as possible. The 2009 reclassification of the “Cru Bourgeois” term has been an attempt to promote the Bordeaux region and secure quality.   Many new world regions are at an advantage in this way as trying to break into established wine consumption areas have required them to focus on a regional identity rather than simply a brand identity.  In 2004, Australia’s Foster group repositioned their Wolf Blass brand to streamline the image for increased global market penetration.  In addition to increasing education about the brand and region to consumers, they decreased their range of wines and utilized label color coding to simplify customer selection.

With hundreds of thousands of brands available to consumers worldwide, the ability of a brand to differentiate itself may in and of itself be the mark of success.  Branding with clear, uncomplicated messages that rely on little more than a basic knowledge of wine will be key to global trade success in the future.  This is especially important for varieties that can be produced in multiple styles, such as Riesling.  The International Riesling Foundation introduced  the” Riesling Taste Profile” scale  in 2008 as an attempt to demystify wine labeling and aid consumer selection.   The adoption of this scale by Riesling producers in the New World and classic regions alike could help to educate novice consumers who are primarily interested in sugar levels as they relate to wine style.  While the Pradikat system does allow German producers to differentiate product styles, the terminology is confusing to many non-Germans and includes sugar levels in addition to production parameters not of interest to the average consumer.   This system as well as the fact that the fragmentation of brands in Germany have been roadblocks to novice consumer consumption in emerging markets despite the high demand for sweet wines across the globe.

The influencers in the wine market today include media as well as on and off-premise personnel.   Novice wine consumers are especially reliant upon advice from others to make their wine selection decisions.  New media “stars” such as Gary Vaynerchuck in the United States and Debra Meiburg in China help to demystify wine for their respective cultures via blogs, webcasts, and email campaigns.  Retail and restaurant wine professionals are also highly influential in wine selection for novice consumers.  The future of globe marketing must encourage education of these professionals to serve as global wine ambassadors.

Uneducated consumers are the future of wine consumption growth.  It is up to producers to help demystify their wines to enable these consumers to become more educated and consistent wine drinkers.  Production of wines targeted to the new global palate, market education of consumers, clear product labeling, and work with the new wine influencers will all help individual brands as well as the wine industry as a whole satisfy and help shape the new global marketplace.