Thursday, December 30, 2010

Celebrate Consumer Diversity for a Healthier, More Diverse Wine Industry

Wine consumers come in all shapes, sizes, gender, adult age and socio-economic groups. Wines come in many colors, flavors, styles and price points. Long term growth, expansion of production in emerging regions, acceptance of overlooked-but-traditional and new wine types and a general better health prognosis for the wine industry will come from celebrating the diversity of wines, wine consumers and the diversity of rating, scoring and communications systems to get the right consumer to the right product.

The way to expand wine sales and promote a greater diversity of wine styles will come from the wine community learning to celebrate the diversity of wine consumer tastes and deepen our understanding of individual consumer preferences. This strategy will allow the peaceful coexistence of different valuation systems that are geared towards, and can be custom fit to, the wants and needs of different groups of consumers.

My friend John Stallcup says that wine style, fashion and quality is largely dictated by the “tyranny of the minority”; a handful of wine critics who favor dry, highly concentrated and intense wines. This has resulted in the homogenization of wine styles around the world and stifled the efforts of vintners who favor delicacy, lesser known grape varieties or produce wine in lesser-known growing regions. Modern communications and technology are having an impact on expanding wine communication. But the frustration of new-age critics, bloggers and wine producers is omnipresent as more pressure is mounted to find alternatives to end the 30-year dominance of the 100 point rating system.

This “tyranny of the minority” results in a hyper-focus on a handful of regions, producers and wine styles. While terrific wines are being produced in every state in the US and several Provinces in Canada there is less attention paid to the passionate efforts of these vintners outside of their state or province of production. Even producers in Europe, where they have been growing and making wine for centuries, are now facing ”identity crises”. As winegrowers in Chianti, Bordeaux and other regions vie to “fight it out for the points” many lament that the wines are losing their personality and character, instead becoming homogenous and indistinguishable “modern” style of wines so fashionable with the majority of wine critics and gatekeepers.

It is important to stress that this is a call to end the DOMINANCE of the 100 point system – not a call to end the 100 point system itself. There is a definable, established and viable market segment of people who clearly favor the types of wines earning high scores in the “more equals better” equation and find the 100 point system works perfectly for their needs. The opportunity is to develop and promote meaningful alternative systems for people who do not enjoy the higher alcohol, high intensity types of wines favored by this method of valuation.

So how can we sell a more diverse spectrum of wines to the largest, most diverse range of consumers? Now is the time to create a new approach to wine marketing and communications. One that does not destroy any of the existing systems yet will usher in a new era of better understanding and personalizing the experience for wine consumers. The consumers are out there, there is plenty of wine to go around and the time is ripe for change.

Help us get wine consumers to take our survey! Wine professionals are welcome to weigh in but we really want to get this out past the gatekeepers and reach every day wine consumers.
About the Consumer Wine Awards
The Consumer Wine Awards is an international wine competition open to wines grown and produced anywhere in the world and represents a viable alternative for generating meaningful, peer-to-peer wine recommendations. It is entering its’ fourth year and second year employing panels of untrained consumers instead of traditional wine experts. We will begin accepting wines January 1, 2011, to be tasted March 19 and 20, 2011. The submission forms and handbook can be downloaded at