Thursday, February 28, 2008

Wine's Gender Gap?

We hear a lot about the gender gap these days. Women are from Venus, men are from Mars. Men are for Barack, women are for Hillary. Women like white wine, men like red. (photo Moët is Murder (or "Where Wine Comes From") by Bitrot)

While I have to respect the fact that in some households there is tension about wine choice, there is nothing, and I mean nothing, that gets my blood pressure on the rise faster than the notion that somehow women have to be treated "special" to get them to buy, drink, or understand wine. Wines named after clothing, beauty products, derogatory names, sexual come-ons--we've seen them all, with press releases that announce "wine especially for women." Richard the Passionate Foodie reports that the most recent advanced market studies have concluded that older women can be convinced to buy wine by putting some flowers on the label.


They're kidding, right?

Alas, no. This kind of bizarre thinking on behalf of wine marketers is fueled, I think, by the "I only drink chardonnay" and "White wine is wimpy" nonsense that you sometimes overhear in restaurants and bars. I always want to walk over, remove the wine list from hands of the people engaged in such conversation, and tell them to order martinis and/or daiquiris and be done with it. Turns out this wine gender gap is so treacherous, entire articles have been written to try to guide couples across it. Try beaujolais--your wife will love it, and never notice it's not chardonnay. Try a BIG chardonnay--your husband will thank you for introducing him to a high alcohol wine that's not zin.

Here's what I think: this is not about gender, it's about fear. Women are afraid to try something new and red in case they get either the hard sell ("you don't love this wine? You have to love this wine? It's HUGE!"), the dismissal ("I can't believe you don't know enough to know this is a great wine"), or the disappointment of drinking a wine that is so alcoholic that they wake up the next day feeling dreadful. Though, ladies, you need to check that nice chardonnay you're drinking--they often have more alcohol than the reds. Men are afraid to try something new and white in case they get the "real men don't drink white wine" speech from a friend, because they found they liked zinfandels in 1976 and haven't wanted to appear ignorant about wine since then so order the same thing over and over, or because they actually can't taste anything that isn't a 15.5% alcohol red (these are the same people who say "white wine is so THIN" while drinking a German Riesling Spatlese).

I'm all for people liking what they like, and then drinking it. But I put it to you: how do you know you only like chardonnay if that's all you drink? And don't reply that you tried an Australian cab in 1992 and didn't like it so you called it a day. Where's your spirit of adventure?

What I'm not for is marketing tactics based on fear. We're being told this all boils down to whether we have XX or XY chromosomes. Fiddlestix (a line of damn fine wines made by a woman that includes both reds and whites--you should try them). This is not about whether you are a man or a woman, or like reds or whites when you go to the wine store. It's about how to get a fearful wine consumer to buy a wine despite the terror they are going to do something wrong. Slap a flower, a man in a cowboy hat, or a fuzzy animal on a wine label and it turns out that their fear evaporates.

I don't buy it. Their fear hasn't gone anywhere. Thank you Marketing Geniuses. You've actually made the fear of wine worse by explaining it away as a gender issue.


Anonymous said...

Why? Because these are the people that decide how wine will be marketed and sold in Amerian:

Andrew said...

Isn't it all part of dumming everything down to the lowest denominator?

Anonymous said...

Very well said, Dr. Debs. By their logic that women over 35 would prefer to buy wines with flowers on the label... well then, shouldn't DuBoeuf have that market cornered? I wish companies would focus more on the wine and less on the marketing. Disappointing.

Anonymous said...

Isn't it interesting what happens when a market dominated by men finally comprehends that most of their product is purchased by women? I think it really shines a spotlight on the image many (most?) men have of women.

Do we think women are less likely to be educated about wine? I mean, of course many of us do, including the people who want to sell us Bottles With Flowers On Them, but what about the rest of us? Or is the ignorance about the same between the genders?

And if women are less educated about wine, I wonder why? Do our Puritanical roots that tell us that alcohol is naughty also tell us that it is particularly naughty for women?

Message to wine marketing people: if you make good wine and sell it for what we can afford, we'll probably buy it regardless of the label. Unless it's just REALLY ugly. ;-)

Orion Slayer said...

You should cross reference this post with your Cross-Training for Your Palate post. Our noses are capable of detect some a phenomenal number of aromas. It would be a shame to let fear prevent us from experiencing the wonderful array that wine has to offer. Fear is best overcome through knowledge and experience teaches best. Thanks, Dr. Debs, for helping this newbie learn!

What portion of the wine buying public is knowledgable about wine? The U.S. will soon overtake France as the #1 wine consuming country. How many of the wine buying decisions are made from an informed or experimental basis and how many are made out of fear?

Anonymous said...

As someone who has spent the past twelve years trying to sell wine, I must say that this issue is really quite important. Wine marketing must appeal to women 21-50 in order to thrive, or even survive. How to accomplish this? Not by process that would demean the power of the targeted consumer through sexism or general underestimation.

Numerous studies have been done that show that the most important consumers of wine are women. They buy the wine, drink the wine, share the wine, introduce others to new wines, etc. The stodgy,old Napa/Bordeaux-collecting honky is a relic that should be recycled along with the big glossy wine mags. They spend big money on a few bottle to put in their cellar which will be auctioned off as part of their estate. They rarely open a bottle on purchase then buy more.

How does the wine marketer reach these important women consumers? Women are substantially less afraid to try wines made from unfamiliar varietals, from unfamiliar appellations, from unknown producers. They usually aren't bound by preconceived notions regarding packaging; bottles don't have to look like Bordelaise chateaux. They are concerned about the environment and will notice greener packaging or practices.

Blossom Hill didn't reach out to women over 35 by putting a flower on the bottle; they redesigned the entire concept of their wine! They followed greener practices with a lighter bottle that was made from recycled glass. They dumped their hideeous older label that looked like it was a Microsoft Publisher template. Yes, it has a flower on it. I like flowers, too. My Mother-in-Law is a little Englishwoman who is over 35. With a great deal of training on our part, she has developed a pretty good palate. She would probably buy Blossom Hill because they support Wimbledon. Her husband would probably buy the wine because it has a pretty flower on it.

Gender issues are so complex. I can't begin to claim to be an expert. However, I will continue to hope that my wine appeals more to women 21-50 than to any other segment of the population...because they buy more!

Taster B said...

Wow some great points and comments here! Speaking of dumbing things down, I'm about to do that now: I love the Moët is Murder photo reel!!
It reminds me of Mr. Miyagi from The Karate Kid--"try get squished like grape."

Dr. Debs said...

Great comments, all. I don't think, Andrew, that this is just the lowest common denominator. This is about women being thought of as the lowest common denominator. The first time you get a press release saying "we have a faux leather and aluminum label to appeal to the beginning male wine drinker" you let me know. I haven't seen one as of yet. And Oenophilus, if women already make up 60% of the wine buying market, then presumably wine marketing is ALREADY reaching them without the need to put a pink label on the bottle. I appreciate that Blossom Hill and others are desperate to reach women like me but their marketing tactics actually drive me away--and based on the other women who commented here, they may be driving other women away, too.

Women wine buyers are smart, sophisticated, and value-conscious. They typically think of wine as a food product, and are more willing to look beyond points when they make their decisions. They also read labels rather than just shelf-talkers, or at least that's what the aisles of my local Pavilions and Trader Joe's tell me. So if wine makers simply tell us why their wine tastes good, why it goes with food, and why it is worth the price WOMEN WILL BUY IT.

cheeseblab said...

Sadly, it's true: more refined oenosensibilty is just another of the many fringe benefits that comes with having a penis, along with never needing to ask directions, appreciating the Three Stooges, and starting charcoal fires with minimal paint loss to the ceiling of the deck. Why don't you ladies just relax and enjoy the wine with the flowery labels?

Back when my wife and I used to go out to dinner--which is to say back when I used to have a wife--she would usually order the wine, because (1) we were pretty much equally vinignorant and (B) it was fun to see whether the waiter would remember/think/even consider to let her taste it. Overtips were won and lost thus.

Tonight w/ my Frank Pepe's onion-and-mushroom pie, I had a 2003 L'Oca Ciuca Chianti riserva with a beautiful maroon label and a lovely multicolored goose in flight (c. $12 at Wine and Liquor Warehouse on the Post Road in Orange). It was right tasty. See: all it takes is testosterone!

Dr. Debs said...

Oh, Cheeseblab, if only I'd been taught to light a charcoal fire properly! Seriously, I do find it odd when people ignore me like I'm not there in favor of the man at the table EVEN WHEN I ORDERED THE WINE. All references to Frank Pepe's will have to be removed or else people will be injured trying to dive into the above post. Sounds delicious--goose not withstanding.

cheeseblab said...

OK, I'm gonna give you the secret to starting charcoal, but don't let on who told you, or I'll be drummed out of the Brotherhood and have to roam the earth A Man Without a Gender.

Coincidentally, it's just like with wine, only with lighter fluid: once you've opened it, keep pouring until it's empty.

wild walla walla wine woman said...

Great post Dr.Debs. It has inspired me continue this discussion on my own blog. Carol B, I think I understand what you mean that companies focus should be more on the wine and less on marketing, but marketing a product like wine is extremely important and it needs to stay fresh and competitive. But, the problem is that advertising doesn't have to insult our intelligence and dummy down to us.

And about those flowers - - Barnard Griffin Winery has had tulips on their labels for years and I have been in their tasting room standing next to men in their twenties sipping on wine. So much for the older woman and flowers theory.