Marketing: the medium is the message
With all the talk about marketing wine to a new generation, we seem to have missed a vital crossroads that wine apparently has come to:
Where wine used to be “a chic drink that you sip at,” it now has become “a drink that you serve in large quantities where there is an aim at the party to get drunk.” !!!!
That, at any rate, is the view of somebody called David Halle, referred to in the above article as a “professor of sociology” but not otherwise identified. Which sent me, of course, to the Google machine, where I discovered him to be resident at U.C.L.A., a fine institution with which I have had connections over the years through family members. The prof’s interests are said to be “political sociology, urban…culture and social change,” so I suppose he knows what he’s talking about.
The same article quoted someone I do know, although not well, John Gillespie, president of the Wine Market Council, whose thoroughly-researched data always are examined with great interest by the industry. John adds that “more wineries [are] going after the younger generation” to whom “wine is the new black,” a fanciful allusion to a metaphor, now slightly shopworn, in which an idea or fashion comes suddenly into general popularity, replacing another that by inference is less stylish although not exactly passé. (The phrase “the new black” itself dates back at least to the early 1980s, when the fashion designer, Gianfranco Ferré, is supposed to have first used it, after which it exploded into the popular culture, so that we had Lady Gaga  singing “Jesus is the new black,” a comedian  calling “Black…the new white” and, preserving the structure but losing entirely the original noun references, a blogger asserting that “caffeine is the new alcohol.”)
But I digress. Can it really be true that people under 30 think of wine primarily as a beverage “to get drunk” with? Before we delve into that, let me point out that there’s nothing new about a younger generation using wine for inebriation. I did, although back then yellow tail and Two Buck Chuck weren’t even gleams in anyone’s eyes. But their predecessors–Ripple and Bali Hai and Boone’s Farm–were (like yellow tail) cheap and affordable and contained alcohol, which is all that a stupid young kid like me cared about. Since I’m a firm believer that human nature changes rarely if at all (thanks to our reptilian brains), I can find no reason to think that stupid young kids today don’t want the same thing: a quick cheap buzz. So there’s really no great bulletin when the Prof points out that kids today are drinking wine at parties to get drunk. They/we always did.
What I do find surprising is the assertion, made by another person quoted in the article, Chris Hammond [described as co-founder of Rock ‘n Roll Wine LLC], that “The events [his company sponsors] lack pretension. They don’t make you feel intimidated by a lot of adjectives or what you should like, or what a magazine says you should like.”
Back to the old Google! Here’s the website for Rock ‘n Roll Wine LLC, whose events seem to combine a pop-up club urban zeitgeist with mass tastings (including food) of the sort that magazines routinely sponsor in America’s major cities. The difference seems to be that a Rock ‘n Roll LLC event will feature, not a Dixieland Jazz band or string quartet, but performances from The Gin Blossom or Crash Kings (and if they don’t get you in a mosh pit mood I don’t know what will). But the wines served are familiar enough: Luna Vineyards, Rodney Strong, Banfi, Diageo, proving that these companies wisely understand [pace McLuhan] that the medium is the message.
Still, I cannot accept that wine has permanently crossed some kind of threshold from being “a chic drink you sip” to the latest vehicle that gets you down the “candy is dandy but liquor is quicker” road to Slosh City. Kids grow up, even those who hurl themselves into mosh pits, and when they grow up they look for something, well, more urbane.
Marketing is never a straightforward practice. As in statecraft, one delivers different messages to difference constituencies, depending on the need, the left hand seldom talking to the right; and if these messages conflict, well, that’s all right. It’s the maneuver of diplomacy. If I were a winery I’d be telling 23-year old clubbers, “Don’t worry about anything, just drink our wine, dance your ass off, have fun tonight, and repeat it all tomorrow.” To a 53-year old lawyer or Silicon Valley exec it would be “Sip our chic wine, and to appreciate the fine terroir of our grapes, check out our website, where our winemaker walks you through the vineyard to explain the mysteries of cane pruning grapevines.” The medium is the message. But if you want to know the real message, it’s: Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.