Who Benefits From the Democratization of Wine?


“There is something approachable, unstuffy, even friendly in a bottle of Goats Do Roam compared with one of Côtes du Rhône.” The New York Times April 23, 2006

In 1999, lamenting then recently released low U.S. wine consumption figures, American Demographics asked, “How many… gallons of soda and beer would be turned into wine if: (a) You could twist off the cap? (b) It was socially acceptable to drink straight from the bottle? (c) The container wasn't made of glass? (d) It was available in single servings?”
Prophetic, given that in 2007 myriad new packaging has made wine more accessible. The once controversial screw cap is nearing ubiquity. Though it may not be socially acceptable to drink from the bottle, Niebaum Coppola's Sofia Mini is an example of a Champagne-like sparkling wine that comes in a sultry single-serving can, complete with straw. Wine containers are no longer made exclusively of glass, Australia's Wolf Blass has introduced plastic wine bottles, as well as smaller serving sizes (187 ml) for “aspirational” consumers who see “wine as part of their lifestyle and enjoy the experience, but who want to expand the occasion to include the poolside, camping… without carrying around heavy and fragile glass.” There are also wine boxes and other user-friendly packages.

Costco is now America's biggest wine retailer. According to AC Nielsen, almost 15% of all U.S. table-wine sales take place in ‘big box' stores.
AC Nielsen's 2006 report notes that wineries are putting pictures of animals on their wine labels, a plan that has shown early success with young consumers… “Perhaps trying to mimic the success of the Yellow Tail brand, this new wine segment has become increasingly important. Of the 438 new Table Wine brands with sustained consumer sales introduced in the past three years, 77 – or 18%– featured a ‘critter' on the label.” Clearly there are those who “don't want to have to take wine too seriously. Not only are they willing to have fun with wine, they may just feel ‘good' about an animal label presentation.”

New wine nomenclature and friendly labeling have simplified the selection process (as have community wine sites where questions can be asked, reviews accessed, and searches conducted, in relative anonymity). That makes reaching for a Sicilian, Languedoc or Rioja wine only slightly more complicated than grabbing a Guinness. I'd say that's a win-win for all.

More on this topic in coming weeks…

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