In the wake of tons of listener feedback, on this episode of the “VinePair Podcast,” Adam, Joanna, and Zach follow up on Monday’s episode by discussing how the wine industry struggles to market itself and know where to spend money. Tune in for more.
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Adam Teeter: From VinePair’s New York City headquarters, I’m Adam Teeter.
Joanna Sciarrino: And I’m Joanna Sciarrino.
Zach Geballe: And in Seattle, Washington, I’m Zach Geballe.
A: And this is the VinePair Friday podcast. I just want to say, first of all, thank you all for everyone that emailed and that DMd, et cetera. We had more reaction to this past Monday’s podcast than we’ve ever had to a podcast before. Because of that, there were lots of follow-up questions and things like that. We’re going to continue the conversation about how wine’s f*cked, how about that? I do think one of the things I was thinking about a lot this week based on some questions that people had asked is just how antiquated the way that wine views media is. For example, there’s all of this — I just want to give an anecdote. It’s happened a few times to me via people in the wine industry. VinePair is the largest publication about alcohol in the country. We talk to about 36 million people every single month. People like yourselves that listen to the podcasts, read the site, go through social, et cetera. It’s a big publication, but we write about all facets of beverage alcohol, those of you who listen know — beer, spirits, et cetera. What data also shows us is that in regular consumption by millennials, Gen Z, and young Gen X, they are also drinking all types of alcohol, cocktails, beer, straight spirits, seltzers, and wine, but there have been so many occasions when, especially over the last two years, I’ve talked to winemakers, executives, et cetera, at wine companies who say to me, “VinePair is not really a wine publication. You guys do more spirit stuff.” No, we do it all because everyone reads it all and drinks it all. If you look at the general editorial mix of the publication, Joanna, you can speak to this as the editor-in-chief, we pretty much try to keep it a third, a third, a third of coverage of all three major areas of alcohol, right?
A: You would think if you talk to a wine person because they see spirits, they think it’s a spirits publication. Whereas, again, just back to what we talked about Monday, seeing wine on our site has never dissuaded the spirits brands. They never said, “VinePair is really a wine publication.” They said, “Oh, you talked to drinkers. Cool, we want to talk to drinkers too.” Again, I think that goes back to where wine is traditionally felt that it was comfortable, which was in a very insular wine space. I think wine has done a very bad job adapting into the real world of where everyone is now, which is just a total drink space. It continues to want to be in a wine space and a wine space only and I think that’s why you see things like there was an award ceremony that happened earlier this week with a bunch of old people at it and no one else there. I saw the pictures. There was no young people there. I’m not going to talk about which award ceremony it was, but it was a big wine award ceremony. I’m not going to say a big wine award ceremony, it was a wine award ceremony. The people all there look pretty close to heading to Grand Risings or whatever you would call it.
Z: The Villages.
J: The people who drink wine.
A: They’re forever home in the ground. I think that that speaks very, very honestly about where wine is. You don’t see this that much at the traditional spirits things. The fact that like the people who are representing in the world of marketing wine are saying those kinds of things to myself and my team all the time, I think shows that wine’s pretty screwed right now because until wine brings in marketers, they can see that they need to be talking to the gin drinker. They need to talk to the bourbon drinker. They need to talk to the person who loves hazy IPAs. Until they realize, that they are f*cked.
J: Because people don’t drink these things exclusively anymore.
J: They drink everything. I think we’re competing with a lot of more niche publications who don’t actually cover everything, but I think when you talk to these people, that’s where their head is at still. You can’t do that anymore today.
A: You can’t.
Z: I think one of the main reasons for that is that wine prior to the last, say, 10 to 15 years, I’ll put it at, really did have a pretty significant chunk of the market to itself, and that was for the kind of drinker who wanted their drinking to be a prestigious thing that said something about themselves. Most other categories of beverage alcohol, with the exception maybe of something like single malt whiskey and really just Scotch, didn’t connote the same sophistication that a fine wine did. When we hear this refrain from the wine industry, don’t worry, we’re not worried, millennials, Gen Z, they’ll age into drinking wine. What they’re really, I think, trying to say is they will, at some point, want to associate themselves with the prestige that comes from fine wine. What those people have missed is that there are so many kinds of beverage alcohol now that convey a similar level of sophistication and prestige, be it certain craft beers, be it lots and lots of things in the spirit space. We’ve talked on the podcast extensively about the crazy market there is for whiskey. Someone can feel as sophisticated as they want to be drinking expensive whiskey, whether that’s at a bar, a restaurant, or at home. They don’t need wine to do that anymore. Some of them will still probably get interested in wine through that lens. They’ll still want to say about themselves, what they feel like wine says about themselves, but it’s not a market that can afford to be just writing off a good chunk of a demographic. That’s what seems to be happening. It’s obviously not just in this specific case, but it’s the one that I keep thinking about because it was a thing that I think wine, in this country at least, really had to itself, was if you wanted to be seen as a sophisticated drinker, wine was the thing you had to know, the thing you had to own and the thing you had to consume. How can you be a sophisticated drinker who’s all about agave? That just wasn’t the case 15, 20 years ago.
A: You know this sounds a lot like, Zach?
Z: I have no idea.
A: It’s completely accurate. What you’re saying is completely accurate. There’s another very large organization in our world that makes this same argument. The Republican Party. Oh, you’re just going to get older and you’re going to make more money and you will age into being a Republican. You’ll see when you make more money that you don’t like it going to your taxes and you’re going to feel like the smarter person and you’re going to become a Republican. Guess what? That’s not happening and the millennials and Gen X and Gen Z, for sure, are staying left, center-left even, but left. Everyone has seen that, and guess what? One of the owners of an old-school wine publication is one of Trump’s biggest donors. That was a thought. To be sophisticated, you drank wine, you smoked cigars, and you voted Republican. That’s not the case anymore. This is that same group that’s — it’s what you’ve heard in so many other industries that didn’t want to adapt, whether it was music that didn’t want to embrace digital and streaming. No, don’t worry. There will always be people who buy records and CDs. No, that changed. Don’t worry with movies. People are going to go back to the movie theaters, they’re not. They’re not going back. The movies are going to shoot themselves in the foot because all these studios right now that are saying, we’re only going to release this in the theaters, and then the numbers for everything but the biggest blockbuster sucks because people just want to now watch it at home because they have really nice TVs, et cetera. This is the same thing. You’ll just age into this. This has been the Republican Party’s idea and thesis for the last decade, at least. It’s not happening and it’s not going to happen in wine, either. That’s why you have to meet them where they are because, Zach, you make an excellent point. There are so many other ways now in beverage to show that you are sophisticated, whether it’s drinking a really good Martini or it’s knowing what kind of amaros you like or Scotch is, or just having to know how to make a f*cking Negroni. All of these things are things that our parents’ generation didn’t have. Let’s remember that our parents’ generation drank cocktails made with sour mixes. Cocktails were not the same thing they were. Tom Collins was literally sour mix and gin. There’s that amazing “Meet the Fockers” scene where they go out to get the Tom Collins mix. That is what drinking a cocktail was. That’s not what drinking a cocktail is anymore. I don’t think wine has realized that, and so because of that, they’re sitting here waiting for a group that if they don’t talk to them, is never going to just come to them.
J: I don’t know, in talking about this, even before we recorded the last episode, it just seems mind-boggling to me that you wouldn’t make an attempt to get more people in the funnel earlier. Why not? Is it that they really don’t know because this report has been similar for a few years now. We’ve been talking about this for a few years now.
A: It’s exactly what Zach said. I think that the general idea from the majority, especially the fine wine world, is they will age in, in the same way, that the belief has been over Republicans, we will age in. There’s going to be a point when millennials take the place of boomers and they’re the ones with the wealth and they will just come to the category and we’re not seeing it.
J: We don’t care if we can get them sooner.
A: Right, and it’s because they do still have a category that’s growing. That report does show that, amongst boomer sets — I think what everyone was screaming about, for the last 10 years as well, has been that the cellars of boomers are full. Clearly, that’s not stopping these auctions from being insane and Burgundy prices from being at an all-time high and people buying still Bordeaux en premiere and all this stuff. It’s still happening. That’s being driven by this one market that has all the wealth. I think that kids will just replace them. I think what Silicon Valley Bank is trying to show and what we are trying to talk about as well is like the tea leaves don’t show that that’s going to happen.
A: What everything that we’re seeing right now is that if you don’t start talking to this generation and fast, you might be f*cked for a long time. I don’t think-
J: That they won’t age into it, the majority of them.
A: Right. This is really the time for people to snap out of it. I think if people who listen to this podcast and everyone who wrote in, we really appreciate it. If you don’t subscribe to VinePair’s VP Pro and the look back, you should, which is where my co-founder Josh does analysis of the news every week on Friday. Today, the look back that came out has an amazing analysis of the massive, massive success of Stella Rosa and Riboli in general. It is now the largest imported wine in America. It is outpacing Yellow Tail. One of the things they talk about is that the reason they have grown is because they have gone all in on marketing and there is a quote that they give where they say they’re going to spend more in 2023 and in 2024 than they did in 2020, 2021 and 2022. They are continuing to double down in spending to reach this next market. The brands that are doing that I think are showing that is the blueprint to win. That there is this huge opportunity to — you can sh*t on Stella Rosa wines all you want. You can sit here saying, “Listen to me. They make blueberry flavor,” and whatever. Yes, but they’re talking to a very specific audience, but they are messaging to them constantly. They are winning market share in their price point. I think that there are lots of wines who don’t do this. Because they don’t market — that’s the thing that I just kept thinking about ever since what Zach said on Monday, the 5 percent stack, it’s just crazy. People build brands and market for a reason. The fact that’s not happening and that’s not something that’s important, I think, is why wine is just slipping away.
J: Because it’s an investment, right?
J: It’s a lot of money to do it, but it has to be worth it.
A: We’ve shown it pays off.
Z: I think there is a problem for wine that may be somewhat inescapable or at least more challenging to escape than it might be for other parts of the beverage alcohol industry. That is that in a lot of cases, the top end of the market is really disconnected from the large-volume part of the market. If you think about whiskey, any of the big American distilleries can simultaneously promote their more entry-level-priced whiskeys along with their very premium whiskeys. They have often the same distillery name or at least they’re part of the same parent company. It’s not seen as some betrayal of fine high-quality bourbon to say, we make an affordable $20 bottle and a really premium $200 bottle. No one looks at that and says, “What the f*ck?” You can’t be making premium bourbon and affordable bourbon like you’re a sellout or you’re not doing it right. In wine, for reasons, some of which are quasi-valid, some of which, I think, are really antiquated. They’re antiquated not just on the side of producers, but frankly, the side of a set of people in the industry who are not producers, who are, whether they’re professionals, journalists in some cases, critics, et cetera. There is this belief that the Stella Rosa set, a company can do that, and we’re just going to ignore them. Sure, they import more wine than anyone else, but we didn’t talk about Yellow Tail so why would we talk about this? Then there’s the very small portion of the market, that’s the very fine wine, that’s the high-end stuff, and that has to have a purity to it. It has to be made either by some quasi-monastic person in Burgundy or it has to be a small plot of land somewhere and it can’t be owned by a larger company. A lot of that is just naive to the way the world works these days. Some of it exists, sure, but being so obsessed with that element of, I don’t know, ideological purity, in a way, is just part of the problem for wine. Because if you think about where the disconnect is, as you were pointing out, Adam, there is a lot of ad-buy at the grocery-store, large-scale-production side of wine, not to the extent it could be, but that is the wine that is advertised, and the other stuff never gets advertised, and because it’s not connected in any meaningful way to consumers, the fine wine is so disconnected from the affordable wine, in terms of everything that it doesn’t move people into the category at all unless you are looking for the affordable wine. You don’t see advertising for affordable wine and connect it to, oh, and then for a special occasion, I want to buy the $50 bottle from that producer instead of the $15 bottle. I just don’t think that happens much.
J: That’s also because the marketing budgets are with those lines. Right, Adam?
J: Until these brands start investing money to market their luxury wines or fine wines, we’re just going to continue to see the same thing.
A: We are. We are going to continue to see the same thing or I think where it’s going to probably have to happen, and you see this happening in the big spirits companies is, the big wine brands are going to have to in the same portfolio, share some wealth with the fine-wine brands or share some wealth with just the region in general, just marketing California wine or just marketing Napa or helping to push a category. I think that’s happening a little bit more than it used to, but that’s what’s going to have to be if we’re just seeing Stella Rosa ads all the time, then it’s just going to be Stella Rosa.
J: Right. Something-
A: Go ahead, Joanna.
J: I was just going to say something else I wanted to bring up and I didn’t bring it up earlier this week was this idea of wine missing critically from pop culture in the way that we see with spirits, especially, that I think is contributing to this as well. I think we were talking about this, maybe in the context of “The Last of Us” had a few wine moments in this past weekend’s episode, but generally, I just feel like we don’t see a lot of pop stars or people in popular culture associating with wine in a way that could be meaningful for the category.
A: I don’t think we do. I think because when we do see people associated with wine, oftentimes, they are celebrities that enjoy wine, but may not have the knowledge that the wine illuminati feels like they should have. It’s very quick to jump on why they’re wrong or why we shouldn’t give a sh*t about them or why it’s stupid. I just think that because of that, you have a lot of people who are maybe less likely to get involved with wine, even if they’re a huge fan of it or talk about it publicly, celebrities, et cetera, because again, they don’t want to be called out and made to look foolish in a way that they don’t feel like they feel comfortable doing with other things. I think what wine needs is we need more people who are willing to talk about the wines they love very publicly and who are more people can identify with. We don’t have that as much because I think they’re not being propped up or we’re talking so much to influencers who I think a lot of you’ll feel like are probably people who are just being given the wines because they’re being sent it for them for free. We need real people, even real celebrities, I don’t know how that happens because anytime a celebrity talks about wine, there’s someone to call them out for why they may or may not understand it. I think there’s been a decent embrace amongst the culture of NBA stars who like wine. That’s the biggest, but where are the big wine companies working with these people then? Why aren’t we doing stuff with LeBron and Carmelo? All these people love wine and you don’t see them that often in anything besides their own wine projects. That is really interesting to me because these people are literally saying, I love wine, huge, huge tastemakers. I haven’t seen a huge company work with them. I haven’t seen a huge — when we did the talk with Dwayne Wade, Wade Cellars is awesome but I don’t think Dwayne Wade has the bandwidth or even, quite frankly, capital to make Wade Cellars a massive brand. I think right now it’s in the know brand but he could easily be the spokesperson or be affiliated with a winery that does have that capacity and can spend against his celebrity or maybe– Now, to some people, he’s a little bit more irrelevant because he is not playing anymore but there are lots of people that are and that are really into it.
Z: I think this actually raises an interesting point too, which is one of the challenges I think, coming back to my point before about the disconnect between the large-scale brands and their price point versus the very top of the market is, yes, it’s very clear to anyone who pays any attention that LeBron is interested in and likes drinking wine, but at the same time, if you are on LeBron’s Instagram feed these days, the only thing he posts about is his tequila if he’s posting about drinking. That’s part of that consciousness like, “Which of these things is going to generate revenue for me?” Part of it’s because like LeBron has I think very fine taste in wine, but his taste in wine befits someone who’s worth hundreds of millions of dollars and can buy whatever f*cking wine he wants. That I think is part of the problem is a lot of the famous person influencers set in wine is like, “Sure, great. I’m cool that you opened a bottle of ’82 Latour but no one else can do that.” It doesn’t really move bottles for anyone because no one can be like — whereas Los Lobos or whatever that’s in liquor stores, you can go buy it. It’s not that expensive. If you want to live the LeBron James lifestyle, it’s a lot more accessible. It would be fascinating to me if one of these people got involved with like — I don’t know about Stella Rosa, but a much more affordable wine. Maybe even a box wine project or a canned project or something that could be a big brand. We’ve certainly seen that the space in general, alcohol space, is looking at how do we engage with younger consumers, period, and there have been lots of misses and a few hits and some of them have been connected to celebrities and some of them haven’t. No one knows. Marketing’s always a bit of a crapshoot, but I agree that it is odd that no one has, or at least if they’ve tried, it hasn’t come to the market yet. Anything with any of these people who are very associated with wine, that is not a super-premium product because even Dwayne Wade’s wine is a very premium product.
A: It’s expensive.
A: We have seen two, and this is also in the look back tomorrow. 19 Crimes, Snoop Dogg, and Martha Stewart. Why are they the only two? It’s authentic for two reasons. They like wine and they’re criminals. 19 Crimes is embracing that and they are too and it’s very funny to people like, “Oh, Martha, you didn’t pay your taxes and went to prison.” It’s a funny thing that they’re — it’s very tongue in cheek and people love it.
J: People love that wine.
A: It feels very authentic and it’s growing. I think that’s the thing that — something that happens a lot with wine is, I’ll hear someone say, “Do we know if they’re a wine lover? Do we know how much they know about wine? Are they going to be able to sit down with journalists and be quizzed?” I think certain wines, sure that person should be able to do that. Other wines, maybe the people you put the person in front of aren’t douchey wine people who are going to quiz them on their knowledge of terroir and soil composition. Maybe you actually just have them do the interviews with Vogue. You know what I mean? Let them talk about just what they like about wine as a cultural thing and that is what I think has also — again, it’s this gatekeeping thing that made people nervous to do partnerships, get people involved who don’t speak the language. I just think that’s so stupid and that is why I think a lot of times the easiest entry is the somm. It’s like, is this somm a celebrity? We think they are. We think they’re tastemakers. You go with them because they speak the language so you know that their friends, their peers won’t call them out but I think that market may be a little too small.
J: Oh, for sure.
A: What you want is the mass market and the mass market is going to respond to people who just talk about why they love wine in a general sense, and that’s okay in a lot of places. That’s totally okay. I like rosé because it’s delicious, it’s fun to drink. It makes me think of being with my friends, having a great time, sitting out in the sun, whatever it is. That’s why I like rosé. I don’t like rosé for its tasting notes, the way I pair it with X, Y, or Z. That’s cool because that’s why people like spirits. I drink this spirit and it makes me think of like when I go out to concerts or it makes me think of when I’m hanging out with friends on the weekend watching sports or whatever. That’s what it is. I think wine has to find those moments and then spend money.
Z: Two other points really quick. One is that, and I do want to come back to this in a larger episode so I’m not going to get too deep into this, but that thing you were talking about a moment ago, Adam, of wine needing to find its moments. One of the other challenges for wine right now is that one of its primary moments. I eat in restaurants with meals, is also being eaten into by other categories in a way that I think, and there are a lot of reasons for that. Again, we will address this fully in another episode of just mentioning it now, because it is important, that slow erosion of wine’s primacy at the table, in particular in restaurants, is a big part of what has I think or is a part of the problem and one of the reasons why you’re not seeing uptake of wine in younger consumers. Younger consumers love to go out and eat. It’s very clear, it’s millennials, Gen Z go out to eat plenty, but when they do, they’re not drinking wine in restaurants the way that an older set has and does. The other point I want to make, and this is a slightly more positive one or at least optimistic, is that I do think that there is a tremendous opportunity for wine even and not necessarily looking at the really large-scale production, which in some ways we have been talking about in part here, but even in moderate-size production. It is to talk about things that where wine does really seem to align with, explained preferences of these demographic groups. It can be a very authentic product, it can be connected to a place, to a small group of people. It can be a real artisanal product. It is in many cases, and it does so without having to necessarily work hard at making, at proving that point. Beyond that, and I think this is something, too, that would be really beneficial for wine as a whole and a way that wine could start to shed some of its associations with and images with the boomer generation, is the world of wine is so incredibly expansive and diverse now in terms of styles, varieties, places of origin, et cetera. When you look at the extremely narrow lens through which the wine-consuming population that’s older than us has looked at wine traditionally, it is really a few regions, a few varieties, a few styles. Those have so dominated the conversation around wine, in particular, in these legacy publications that we talked about at the beginning. Just in general, they’ve so overwhelmed the broader conversation around wine because they’re the things that get the points, get the big dollars, and get the attention. Yet we do exist in this time where the quality of wine, the variety of wine that is readily available, not just in Seattle or in New York, but in markets around the country is really remarkable. That stuff, when you can get that message out to consumers, when you can get to them the excitement that surrounds not just Napa Cab or Burgundy, but wines from all over the place that really can capture people’s imaginations. While I don’t think it’s reasonable at all for wine to just be like, “Consumers will come to us when they’re ready for us.” I do think that there is something to be said about a certain part of the drinking public that can be convinced, can be swayed. If you think of drinking wine as something like a lifelong journey, there’s so much to explore and discover and it can feed into so many other things that you do with your time besides just drinking wine. There is a lot of possibility there, but it requires an imagination on the part of people making, and in particular, marketing wine to step out of the existing paradigm of the styles of wine that have dominated, the regions that have dominated. You never can tell kids their parents’ sh*t. It just doesn’t work. We don’t want the same things our parents wanted for the most part. Where we do, we’re buying it, and where we don’t, we’re not and wine is trying to sell us our parents’ sh*t. I mean that’s really what it comes down to, right?
A: Yes, I think that’s completely it and I think — I will go back to what I said last week, where I started on Monday, woo, it’s been a long day. Again, we’ve been around as publication for about a decade and I would still say, there are a lot of wineries that we’ve never heard from that don’t send to us, that if we know of the wine will go buy, but still, and I think that’s because there’s a lot of if it’s not broke, don’t fix it attitude and wine, but it’s clearly broke. We talk about wine here in a very different way and there was a while that was challenged. I’m sorry, you all, it’s how our generation wants to talk about wine. The way that we taste and review wine, we don’t blind it, we do know the price. We do talk about all of that in our evaluation of the wine because we want to understand if the wine is worth that price. We don’t want to say, “Oh, this is a 97,” based on not knowing how much it was and who made it and what the label looked like, and then when you open it like, “Oh, sh*t, this is $300. It better have been a ’97 at $300.” Those are conversations consumers have. It’s the same idea of why these consumers love brands like Suitsupply, that are able to show you how they make their suit for a fraction of the cost of a Gucci one, but the same quality. You have fashion magazines that tear apart the clothes to understand the quality of the garments. That’s what people are interested in here. It’s about transparency and talking about those things. I think, to be honest with you, the reason we don’t get sent a lot of those wines is because people are scared because they’re scared when it’s not from their traditional places where they’re used to getting scores. They might get lower from us. They might have us talk about their wines in a different way. We might say that some of these wines that are so celebrated from Napa are actually over-oaked, over-extracted palate busters and they don’t like it. They’re scared and so they don’t but if you don’t embrace trying to reach this generation by going to the people who are talking to the next generation and speaking a different language, then you will be with the same generation. We all got to learn the new lingo. We got to understand what the new slang is, and if you don’t, then you’re, okay, boomer, you’re so cheugy. Those are the things that will just continue to happen to you and they will find other people that talk to them in a way they want to be spoken to.
J: I think I agree with that. I think it’s changing the conversation. We’re having a different conversation. I think it’s probably less that they’re scared of how we’ll rate their wines. I think it’s more that they don’t think they need us to and I think the people, the winemakers who we’ve had in the office who get really excited about their wines and what they’re doing and how it’s new and experimental and fun, that’s very infectious to us. That excitement that I think you’re alluding to, Zach, that is really exciting about wine right now but I think it’s so missed in this conversation.
A: Totally. Thanks again for all the emails this past week. If you have further thoughts, hit us up again at email@example.com or you know how to reach us on our socials and I will talk to both of you on Monday.
J: Have a great weekend.
Z: Sounds great.
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