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Overcomplicating the Simple Mystery of Wine

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The French are in a pickle. Only in France would wine lobbyists turn to terrorism and throw sticks of dynamite into the agriculture ministry offices in Montpelier and Carcassonne. The French government is concerned that a mass demonstration by producers in Languedoc on April 20th, 2005 could deteriorate into violence. Both the radicals and the vineyard workers (who are expressing their discontent more democratically) are demanding that the seventy million euro in subsidies already promised to them by the French government be increased.

While it’s true that France along with Italy is losing ground to wine exporters like Australia, Chile, Argentina, and South Africa, the country is struggling a great deal with a drop in consumption within its own borders. The French are still buying premium wines, but their taste for table wine has diminished somewhat in favor of beer.

Although this is causing some consternation among some of the largest and oldest wine makers in the world, it is also serving as a catalyst to learn more about the general public’s wine habits. Studies are being conducted throughout France and all over the world to pinpoint how vineyards can better market to wine consumers. One of the more interesting results of this exploration is that people are moved by the mystery of wine — that is, they don’t want to be educated about what they’re drinking. The wine by itself is enough.

The recent Vinexpo in France has uncovered that most people connect wine with history and heritage. A study by decanter.com confirmed that the public likes that wine is sophisticated and reflects on a lifestyle that seems to embody not only present-mindedness and celebration, but also the pursuit of financial and family oriented success. As such, consumers are after what wine represents. Being educated about why a wine is good or getting involved in the intellectual deconstruction of flavors and aromas, whether on labels or in a tasting room, seems to be inspiring only for a minority of consumers.

The results seem to reflect the dichotomy between the two characters in the movie Sideways: On one hand, you have the current French wine industry, represented by the righteous character Miles. He loves every aspect of the wine tasting experience, from sifting out flavors and aromas to seeking out the smaller vineyards that produce more distinctive wines. On the other you have the average consumer: Jack. He is more of the If it’s liquid and it’s red I give it a 95 mentality.

There is a missing piece of the puzzle, which is that most wine consumers, including Americans, associate wine with France (over 74.8%). For marketers, this is a huge advantage. This combined with a desire for enjoying the mystique of wine gives French wine makers the opportunity to tap into the If it’s liquid and it’s red I give it a 95 mentality in a way that invokes tradition, heritage, and classiness without overburdening consumers with being talked down to or over-educated.

The French are in a pickle, but maybe there’s more opportunity for them than they currently realize.

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About Tynan Szvetecz