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Nov 19, 2017

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Special Report
by Sarah Donnelly
Magazine Issue: Vol. 2.2
S P E C I A L . R E P O R T
what gives?
N E X T P A G E >

This essay is the first in a series voicing the concerns of wine consumers and industry professionals regarding the marketing of wine to minorities and alternative-lifestyle groups. With the rich cross-section of cultures and lifestyles in this country, common sense dictates that marketers of any product must acknowledge each potential market and react accordingly. However, mainstream wine marketing seems intent on focusing in on a small demographic of affluent white male collectors. Why?

Why is the wine industry concentrating on this already saturated market when statistics reflect that 55 to 60 percent of wine purchases in the United States are made by women? When one of the fastest growing segments of the upper-middle class with disposable income is African American? When experts say sales could double or triple to the gay and lesbian community if only the industry would show some interest by advertising in their publications or participating in their events?

Our goal here at Wine X is to reach out to ALL young adult consumers, regardless of ethnic origin and/or lifestyle choice, with the message that wine is for everyone, not just upper-middle class, aging white male collectors. We understand that 10 percent of our generation is gay; 13 percent African American, 12 percent Hispanic, four percent Asian and 1 percent Native American, and we realize that these vastly ignored demographics constitute about thirty million potential wine consumers. Thus, we aim to reflect as much diversity in content as possible, including forums such as this one.

By continually presenting a different and new point of view, maybe we can help the industry find a place for wine in every household throughout America. Now that wouldn't be such a bad thing, would it?

(This isn't Sarah)

The first time I looked at Wine X Magazine was while waiting for my car to be repaired. The two-hour job had turned into a four-hour marathon. Gee, what a surprise. And the only entertainment alternatives were Popular Mechanics or the same half-hour CNN news broadcast. So I delved, rather surreptitiously (for reasons I state below), into what I thought was the lesser of the evils.

I must admit that after reading Wine X thoroughly, I came away with a different perspective on wine magazines and the audiences they target. Whether intentional or not, Wine X struck a nerve (a big one!). And from that point on I've been looking more carefully at other wine magazines and the image of women that they portray.

While I usually pay little attention to statistics, especially those concerning wine, one in a recent issue of Wine Spectator really reached out and slapped me. It stated that, of the more than 11 thousand people who responded to a reader poll, 85.3 percent were male and 14.7 percent were female. Maybe my head has been buried in California wine industry sand, but it seems to me that women constitute more than 15 percent of all wine consumers. The Spectator qualified the statistics with, "[women] tended to be younger than the men and more often described their interest in wine as casual or novice." But that surprised me even more. Of the women wine drinkers I know, most feel as enthusiastic, familiar and confident with wine and the market as their male counterparts. What gives?

Perhaps this disparity in numbers reflects women's lack of interest not in wine but in the magazines that promote it. Few women responded because few women saw the poll. Or worse, perhaps they saw the poll but felt that their opinions didn't matter.

My real concern here, however, is not that so few women find appeal in established wine magazines, but that the same trends of neglect and alienation may continue in the new movement to make wine accessible to a younger generation. I fear that new publications and organizations designed to increase wine's appeal to young men and women of diverse backgrounds and cultures, and to the people now buying carefully researched and selected microbrews and coffee, will perpetuate the image of wine as strictly a boys-club beverage.

I'm sure there are some folks, women included, who don't see the trends of exclusion I'm talking about. But take a thorough, objective look at our images of wine and the ways it's marketed, and you'll see what I mean. For example, one magazine's two-page spread boasts of an opportunity to chat live with "the biggest names in the world of wine" as well as its senior editors. Pictured are six people, all white males, all apparently over 40, with crisp collars and neckties and close-cropped hair (what's left of it). These are the only "Experts of the Wine World"? The only "names" important enough to merit live chat?

Other ads and articles, if not depicting just bottles or vineyards, emphasize male chefs, vintners, owners or executives, each surrounded by bottles of his favorite whatever. One ad for Hardys depicts a twenties-era male smothered in lipstick kisses from ten doting females. The caption reads, "He brought the Hardys." Sure it's clever and cute with its anti-Prohibition innocence. And it almost makes me want to do the Charleston. But does it compel me, as a woman, to buy the wine? No.

But here's the real gem. This small news blurb about Veuve Clicquot recently ran in a couple of popular wine magazines:


Nicole Clicquot was one of the first businesswomen of the modern era. In 1805, at the age of 27, she took over her late husband's Champagne house and built it into Champagne Veuve Clicquot ("veuve" means widow). No portraits exist of the widow Clicquot from the period, but now computer imagery has been utilized to show how a young Nicole may have looked. To do so, the computer power of Industrial Light & Magic, director George Lucas' special-effects company, has been used for the first time outside the film industry. The morphed image of Clicquot, right, is based on a portrait of her painted in the 1850s, left.

They morphed her? Aaaargh! Why can't they just let this great female icon of wine rest in peace? Leave it to the "magic" of Hollywood to dig up her old bones and stuff them back in a corset. Doesn't the venerable old Veuve deserve to kick back and enjoy the fruits of success? Her Champagne has become well-respected for its innovative production methods and consistent quality, not for the veuve's figurehead, Mona Lisa smile or the "magic" twinkle in her eye. While the wine industry itself may suffer from an image problem, Veuve Clicquot's Grand Dame, in her original portrait, remains an inspiration.

It's easy to pick on established wine magazines, since their target for so long has been Boomers, primarily men between the ages of 36 and 55, who enjoy the good life. But as I mentioned, my real fear is that new publications will continue an already self-destructive trend of alienating women. The editors of Wine X received a real tongue-lashing from me for the first issue's cover and theme. In case you missed it, the cover consisted of a glossy photo of a female's tattooed tummy and pierced navel. The phrase "Sex, Wine & Rock n' Roll" was the headline. While the phrase holds appeal for our generation, the image resembled a Penthouse cover so much so that I was embarrassed to be seen holding it. Inside, one of the prime features was (and still is?) titled "The Wine Bitch." Listed next to "The Wine Guy" and "The Wine Brats," this appellation seems less than flattering to women. And while we all know that "sex sells," the "X-rated wines" theme and background images of this last issue left me more unsettled than amused. There are still far too many women in our society getting sexually "X"-ploited for me to make an easy association between "live exotic love mates" and the interests of Gen-X.

But rather than explaining to the uninitiated just how offensive popular images can be, I'd really like to devote my energies to helping more female wine consumers become more aware of, and more comfortable with, their choices, not just for my own political principles but also for the general health of the industry. Polls and surveys indicate that, in conjunction with daily shopping and meal planning, women actually purchase more wine than men do. In many cases, these women are working within tight budgets. These are the consumers most interested in quality for the dollar and the ones making the most wine-pairing decisions. Imagine the possibilities if the industry were to really target this market, to empower them to recommend to spouses and bosses, with confidence, fine alternatives to kegs and cocktails. We're looking at a win-win situation where women feel welcomed and comfortable with the wine market and producers sell more wine.

So what's next? Well, I'm not going to hold my breath waiting for a female-focused ad campaign of "no wine before its time" proportion, or any other proportion for that matter. Maybe the established publications will broaden their appeal, and new promoters of wine will strive to be more inclusive. But in the meantime, women, let's just try different wines, find what we like, tell our friends and relatives about the bargains we find and about the health aspects of moderate wine consumption, serve wines at parties and family gatherings. Let's stand up to snobby, chauvinistic waiters and sommeliers who routinely defer to our male companions when we dare to order wines ourselves. Better yet, let's go a step beyond the consumer level and initiate changes within the industry, by voicing concerns and opinions at staff meetings or through letters and essays to publications, such as Wine X, that are open to views from folks who aren't necessarily (known) experts. We CAN garner more respect from the industry and change the current image of wine. We can become more than just decorations on the arms of expert males. If we make ourselves heard, the industry will stop, take notice and listen to consumers who can offer valuable insight into wine's market appeal.

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