January 25, 2007
A Reality Check for Winemakers

One of the more provocative presentations at this week's Unified Wine & Grape Symposium in Sacramento was delivered this morning by Leslie Joseph, vice president for consumer research and consumer affairs at Constellation Wines U.S., whose numerous wineries include Robert Mondavi, Ravenswood, Rex Goliath and Simi.

She reported on Constellation's Project Genome, a survey aimed at "understanding the DNA of the premium wine consumer." It involved interviews with 3,500 wine drinkers. For purposes of the study, "premium wine" meant any wine costing $5 or more per standard bottle.

The survey found that just 14 percent of the participants had consumed wine during the previous week, that only 6.6 percent had bought any wine costing more than $15 in the previous three months, and that a mere three percent had more than 18 bottles of wine in their home.

In tabulating the data, Constellation grouped consumers into six key segments - the enthusiast (12 percent of the participants, who are people who love to buy and talk of wine), the image seeker (20 percent, the only group predominantly male, who often buy wine to make a statement), the savvy shopper (15 percent, people who love the thrill of finding bargain wines), the traditionalist (16 percent, generally a 50-year-old woman who long ago found one particular brand or style of wine and sticks to it), the satisfied sipper (14 percent, similar in age, gender and attitude to the traditionalist), and the overwhelmed (23 percent, likely a 44-year-old woman who is baffled by the whole wine thing but willing to keep exploring and to be receptive to advice from friends, wine clerks and the like).

The overarching theme of Joseph's talk was that there isn't just one kind of premium wine consumer in the United States, and that wineries need to keep that diversity in mind as they style wines, plot marketing and set their prices.

In one way or another, several other speakers spoke of the diversity of the American wine market as an opportunity for the industry to sharpen its winemaking and wine-selling skills. This was in refreshing contrast to a theme that was sounded at last year's conference, when some speakers advocated that more wines be designed specifically for certain broad geographic markets. That impulse hasn't gone away, but the tone of this year's gathering ran more to recognizing not only that wine's traditional appeal has been in its variety but that the audience for wine is too fragmented to be satisfied with releases designed to appeal to perceived taste preferences.

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