The first component upon which to develop a story about blended wines is to determine whether they indeed are increasing in number and popularity. So far, hard evidence hasn't materialized. At my request, The Nielsen Company is looking into its tracking of the sale of wines to see what it might have about the availability and performance of blended wines, but officials didn't sound too encouraging that their research goes that deep and specific. Other customary sources also don't have solid evidence concerning the sales of blended wines. Anecdotally, however, they all agree that they are seeing more blended proprietary wines on the market, evidence that winemakers see an opportunity worth capitalizing on.
One source is Paul Wagner, president of Balzac Communications & Marketing in Napa Valley. Though he doesn't have any figures concerning the sales of blended wines, he concurs that they do seem to be more common in the marketplace. Here's his explanation for the apparent increase: "Part of the trend is directly predicted by marketing theory. When the market is saturated, everyone is looking for an advantage - wine they can sell that nobody else can make. And with literally hundreds of cabernets and chardonnays on the shelf, a lot of wineries are making a proprietary blend that can't be copied: a wine the consumer has to buy from them, because she can't get it from anyone else."
Among other things, the Wine Market Council studies the attitudes and preferences of wine drinkers, but it doesn't break down its data into blended wines, says the group's president, John Gillespie. He concurs that more blended wines are on the market, and notes that the range is wide, from the first growths of Bordeaux to simple and cheap everyday wines, but he just hasn't seen any quantitative material to back up this hunch.
Next, I hope to check in with the Meritage Association, founded 20 years ago to promote wines that involve a blend of grapes grown traditionally in Bordeaux.
A footnote: One of the luxuries of working in the features department at The Bee is that I usually have some time to research a story. There are exceptions, but for the most part features writers don't have the daily deadline pressures of reporters in the newsroom on the second floor. What's more, I customarily juggle a few stories and columns at a time; right now, I'm working five I hope to finish over the next week. One of them isn't this story on blended wines, though I need to wrap it up within two weeks. This is just my way of asking your patience. In the meantime, any other thoughts or questions you have concerning blended wines would be welcome.