As the U.S. grows more diverse, the wine industry remains white
Yesterday’s stunning news that more minority babies are being born in the U.S. than white babies, for the first time ever, has tremendous implications for the domestic wine industry. The problem, which in my opinion the wine industry has never wanted to admit much less deal with, is that wine is pretty much an upscale beverage for white people of European heritage. That’s worked well, in the past, but with these demographic changes (California already has more people of color than whites), a strategy that used to work seems destined to fail in the future.
I don’t see Latino or Hispanic people drinking wine, and the same goes for Asians and Blacks. African-Americans seem to prefer fortified drinks, like cognac, or beer, if they drink at all. The same goes for Latinos. Asian people don’t seem to drink very much wine either. Of course, as members of any one of these groups make money through the professions, they’re more likely to enjoy wine. But the explosion of minorities in America is mostly due to immigration and birth rates, and those two groups–immigrants and babies–tend not to be wine drinkers! Wine drinkers have always been, as the study says, the country’s “economic and political elites [who] remain essentially white and primarily male.” Of course, women buy a lot of wine, too, but they’re white women.
What should the wine industry be doing about it? To begin with, they need to stop being complacent. And let there be no doubt, there is a lot of complacency in California. Most people still get into the business for aspirational and lifestyle considerations. If they have a plan at all (which they don’t), it’s to sell their wine to people like them: white, well off, educated, living on the coasts or in the nation’s urban hubs. That is not a marketing strategy.
If you don’t believe me, then you haven’t been to Napa Valley, Santa Barbara, the Russian River Valley, the Monterey Peninsula or other regions in California’s wine country lately. They’re all beautiful places, like movie sets, with gorgeous scenery, fancy restaurants, chichi shops, trendy bars, and designer clothes. They’re also overwhelmingly white. About the only people of color you see in wine country are Mexican immigrants who work in the fields or clean white people’s houses. At fancy wine events, there’s a smattering of Asians, but I think you could count them on the fingers of two hands at an event like Premier Napa Valley. As for African-Americans, you’d never know that America even had any, if you limited your explorations to wine country.
I point out these inconvenient truths not to embarrass or confront the wine industry, but to make the point that it’s going to have to figure out how to get everyone to drink wine, if it wants to stay viable in 10, 20, 30 years. Unfortunately, I don’t see any evidence that anyone’s really thinking about this. Look at the advertisements in wine magazines, and ask yourself if there’s anything there that would entice a person of color to buy wine.