In the early 1980s as National Sales
Manager for J. Lohr Winery (San Jose,
CA), I saw our Chenin Blanc sales drop
from 30,000 cases per year to zero, and
our Riesling sales from 25,000 cases to
5,000 cases, in about 18 months.
My brother returned from a trip
back East and said, “There is this
new hot wine, Sundial Chardonnay.
Also, Glen Ellen Private Reserve
Chardonnay is selling really well.”
The attitude of many wineries at
the time was, “We will not sell our
Chardonnay for those prices.”
One of our wineries in The Wine
Trust refused until it was too late
to even make a Chardonnay. They
had a “house wine” brand that was
doing quite well selling Cabernet
Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc. We
begged to swap the Sauvignon Blanc
for Chardonnay, but they would not
do it. It came back to hurt them.
Fortunately, by understanding the
trend, at J. Lohr I created new wines
and managed the rest of our portfolio
from 44,000 cases annually to just
under one-half million cases annually
when I left in 1993.
The market swings on a dime. I
sold a program to the Hyatt Hotels
in the 1980s. We were selling 10-1
white to red wine. White wine was
the new “cocktail,” although wine
consumption was declining steadily.
The two-martini lunch was out; health
and fitness was in. Neo-prohibitionists
were having some influence on the
public; as was Mothers Against Drunk
Driving. The drunk driving threshold
dropped from 1.0 to 0.08.
During my plane trips at that time,
if the person sitting next to me asked,
“What do you do for a living?” and
I replied, “I am in the wine business,”
the reaction would be “Uh,
Stewardess, can I move to another
seat please?” Many of my colleagues
were leaving the business to open up
yogurt parlors so they did not feel
like drug dealers.
Then, suddenly, 60 Minutes
a story on the French Paradox.
In one year, we went from selling
10-1 White to Red to a 1:1 ratio.
Consumption started increasing.
Now, if I
am on a flight and mention
I am in the wine business, the passenger
next to me is delighted, and
launches into some wine experience.
Wine consumption is now at historic
high levels in the U.S. Everyone
wants a piece of this market. Because
of that I believe our greatest challenge
is and will be global competition.
On top of that there is no
guarantee consumption is going to
continue increasing. We could be
one major broadcast away from a
link between alcohol and some form
of cancer, which could lead to a very
different market reality.
“I believe our greatest
challenge is and will be
How can growers and wineries
prepare for the future? My first
counsel would be, “Do not plant a
bunch of Muscat,” not unless you
can hang 25 tons/acre because the
market reality is that the major
players have already sucked the
profit out of that grape. If it has not
already happened, Moscato will go
the way of other trends, such as the
When Robert Mondavi introduced
the flange top and bee cap, I thought
then and still think that it was a brilliant
innovation — not too far out of
the box, but different and distinctive.
In about 1.5 years, before I could even
re-tool at J. Lohr to capitalize on their
success, that bottle and look had been
relegated to low-end wines under $8
to $10 per bottle retail.
If I had to guess, and of course I
do, I would plant Grenache. I like
this grape a lot. It has a classic
organoleptic profile, and you can
make white, red, or rosé wine out
of it. Because it is viewed as a classic
Rhône varietal, it can exist at all
Small estate wineries that specialize
in lesser known varieties better
have a very well-honed Direct
To Consumer (DTC) program. The
dilemma for a larger winery is that
the products you need for general
distribution are the polar opposite of
the products you need for DTC sales
— particularly wine clubs and tasting
DTC programs and tasting rooms
require a wide variety of items.
Consumers want to try new things.
Most important, you want to offer
items in your tasting room that cannot
be cross-shopped at Costco.
Distributors want narrow focus — a
single variety per brand is best. With
thousands of items in their portfolio,
they can only focus on so many
brands. Also, we face the very real
dilemma of the six-bottle bag that the
sales reps carry their samples in. If we
get one wine in the bag it is a success;
two is nirvana.
“Distributors want narrow
focus — a single variety
per brand is best.”
The new media has brought us
a way to get around the distribution
dilemma: mobile marketing.
However, if the Millennials are into
all the new technology, social media,
etc., and they are no longer your
primary target, what is the point of
using these methods for marketing?
My older son, 28, is a computer
guru who initially joined MySpace,
then Facebook, and has always been
on the leading edge of the technology.
However, he recently told me he has
closed his Facebook account, as have
all his friends. When I asked him
what they have replaced Facebook
with, he answered, “Nothing, I guess
… well, I guess the phone … if I want
to talk to my friends, I just call them
… or text them.”
Puzzled, I contacted my friend
Andrew “Boz” Bozworth, Senior
Analyst at Facebook — User #7 or
something like that. He replied: “I
am a little shaky on my definitions
of exactly where one generation ends
and another begins, but Boomers are
certainly big business on Facebook.
While they are not using it quite
as much as younger demographics
yet, it is getting pretty close … The
Boomers are also the fastest growing
segment and, in general, activity follows
growth so I think you are on the
right track with your message.”