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Nov 19, 2017

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by Brian Perkins
Magazine Issue: Vol. 2.3
W H A T . G I V E S
wine from an african american's perspective
N E X T P A G E >

This essay is the second 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, 4 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?

Outside the United States, wherever wine is made, it is consumed as naturally as water. People's socio-economic backgrounds have no direct correlation to their wine consumption. The cost of the wine varies, of course, according to what they can afford. But regardless of their class or income, people in other wine-producing countries all enjoy drinking wine regularly.

In the United States we view wine as a luxury item. Until the mid 1970s, it was only fashionable among the rich and famous and was generally not targeted to the under-40 crowd. In the early eighties, wine became quite popular in social settings among young white urban professionals and the middle class overall. Now, in the nineties, wine has become a status symbol as well as a social libation. We see wine being featured in many major motion pictures and popular television shows. Professionals under 40 are more apt to understand as well as to collect wine.

Unfortunately, African Americans are still not major consumers of wine. This is mainly due to the fact that many African Americans grew up in the inner city and were not exposed to wine at the dinner table. Generally, their parents could not afford it. In my home, and most African American homes I visited, Kool-Aid was the primary beverage served with meals. One, because it was economical, and two because it was sweet. (Sugar is more pleasing to the palate than something dry and tannic.)

So American wine producers started promoting wine coolers to African Americans because they were basically adult Kool-Aid. Coolers were appealing because they were sweet and full of artificial flavors of strawberry, peach or blueberry. Another reason these particular flavors were appealing was because many African Americans who could not afford wine chose to make their own with fresh fruit and sugar. Consequently, some of the only experiences we had with wine were with a very sweet homemade product.

Today, as an African American wine consultant, I am beginning to see a new trend of middle class and wealthy African Americans wanting to learn more about wine. With the growing number of African Americans at higher economic levels, there is more influence and exposure to finer products. Business meetings, dinner parties, political events and other social gatherings have exposed many of my peers to the world of wine.

In my position, I strive to educate and introduce African Americans to the attributes of fine wine. I often recommend what I term "user-friendly wines" to start with, such as shiraz, with its bold fruit flavor and little or no tannins, or a traminer riesling, a wine made from the gewurztraminer and riesling grape, which is sweet but not loaded with residual sugar. This enables people to become familiar with traditional wines without offending their palates. I find that they are much more willing to try other wine varietals that I recommend, which allows them to develop a much broader spectrum and appreciation of fine wine.

However, in order to expose the vast majority of African Americans to the pleasures of wine, the wine industry must make an effort to reach out to us in familiar forums. In a recent visit to a newsstand to investigate the number of wine advertisements in well-established African American publications, I was unable to find any. These publications have millions of readers with disposable income and an interest in drinking and collecting fine wines. Thus, the wine industry is ignoring a huge potential audience. And it's time industry leaders recognize their mistake.

Over the past 10 years I am proud to say that I have cultivated the palates of many African Americans who, in addition to not only drinking fine wine, are also collecting it. Although, I admit, the majority of my African American customers are in high-income brackets (i.e., doctors, lawyers, entrepreneurs etc.), this is a beginning. I will continue to host wine tastings, teach seminars and classes, and act as a wine ambassador in an effort to enhance the wine knowledge of all Americans from every race, creed and walk of life.

But I look forward to the day that we don't have to make a distinction between wine consumption among African Americans and that of any or all other races. Hopefully, as time goes on and the wine-savvy African Americans introduce wine to the next generation and so on and so forth, wine will become to African Americans what it is to Europeans -- a very necessary part of life. Because as a wise man once said, "We must conserve water -- drink wine!"

Facts about the African American Community:

  • Since 1992, the number of African Americans earning more than $50,000 annually has increased 41 percent. Additionally, the number earning $100,000 annually has more than doubled.

  • African Americans spend an estimated $300 billion on goods and services every year.

  • The number of African Americans with four or more years of college doubled during the 1980s.

  • The amount of money spent by African Americans is growing faster than the amount spent by other United States demographic groups.
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