Go Figure: Wine drinkers go under the microscope

When it rains, it pours down facts and figures. After years of absolutely no juicy research about wine consumption, my inbox recently lit up like my eyes seeing a bottle of good pinot. Two new studies tell great — albeit conflicting — stories about wine drinkers finally getting in the fast lane. One study commissioned by the Wine Institute, a public policy advocacy association of California wineries, paints a rosy picture about how people are drinking more wine — most of it Californian (imagine that). Another study, done by the Wine Market Council, a nonprofit trade group that serves the wine business at all levels, confirms that more people are buying wine, and from all over. But, contradictions aside, there’s still plenty of enlightening information contained in the studies.

The Wine Institute national survey of 2,442 U.S. wine consumers determined that the most recognizable areas for wine are California, Australia, France and Italy, but that California wine ranks first in “familiarity, consumption and positive impressions.” But it’s all in how you report the numbers. The Wine Market Council found that California market share dropped from 90 percent a few years ago to 74 percent this year. Over the years, people have become more wine savvy, so perhaps they feel more comfortable buying unusual brands and varietals coming out of Australia, Italy and France. They see imports as having better quality and value.

The Wine Market Council also uncovered that Americans are drinking more wine — a record 243 million cases in 2004 — the biggest increase in a long time. A major driver of this growth is the adoption of wine drinking by young adults in their 20s. They party with wine more than older adults, and purchase a higher proportion of imported wine, normally red.

Fran Calloway, Group Marketing Research Manager for Brown Forman Wine Brands, agrees. She attributes the growth to Baby Boomers’ kids: “Baby Boomers were more into wine, so the Echo Boomers [their children] are mimicking those consumption habits.” She also believes men are finally realizing the chick-magnet appeal of wine.

But the findings went one step further into predicting behavior. The Wine Institute reported that wine consumers are, more than the average person, “open to new experiences; follow their own path in life; are information-savvy and confident; desire intangibles, experiences and emotions; have their life priorities in order; and eschew brands as badges.”

Damn, we sound good, huh? Plus, we’re literate. Almost 40 percent of consumers received wine information from a publication within the past three months.

Of those who purchase wine at restaurants, bars and clubs, 74 percent order by the glass. Pete Rose from Yankelovich, the research firm who handled the Wine Institute survey, sees wine drinkers as “more open to experimentation than the population at large,” a trend that lends itself to more by-the-glass exploration.

But the Wine Market Council’s findings indicate an increasing consumer frustration with the price gouging in restaurants, especially when sold by the glass.

So why do we care about this research? Calloway thinks you will, once the information soaks into the wineries’ skulls. She sees both surveys as a strong message of “Hello, we’re out here, we’re drinking, and we just want more quality and value.” I assume every wine writer across the nation has screamed this a few times, but, hey, it doesn’t hurt to repeat it.

All I know is that I want to hang out with more wine drinkers … they sound fun.

To learn more, check out www.winemarketcouncil.com or www.wineinstitute.org.


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