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Everybody wants that younger demographic

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Like King Arthur seeking the Holy Grail, wine marketers turn a covetuous eye toward Millennials, or Gen Y, as the answer to their (sales) prayers. Nothing surprising about that—marketing people always are looking to attract buyers–but what’s downright bizarre is that many of them are changing their previous marketing message, in some cases radically, in order to get across to a generation that’s poorer and less influenced by branding than their parents.

The latest to do so are the Bordelais, who are “targeting younger generations of UK wine lovers” with “affordable whites from the region” that “aren’t expensive” and so are “perfect for the younger consumers.”

Bordeaux promoting itself as the affordable alternative? “Perfect for the younger consumers?” Sacre bleu, what is the world coming to?

Granted, the pitch is for white Bordeaux, not the red classified growths. Still, it’s kind of the opposite of Bordeaux’s message for, what? the last 250 years: The home of some of the world’s classiest and most expensive wines, with iconic names like Margaux and Lafite, and the fabulous garagistes of the Right Bank.

What’s going on?

Several things are obvious. Younger consumers don’t have the spending money their parents and grandparents had—and they may never, which puts traditional Bordeaux beyond their financial reach. Beyond that, they tend not to care about wines “Grandpa drank.” Bordeaux, to Millennials, is stodgy, old-fashioned, even boring: they may have heard of it, they way they’ve heard of Clark Gable, but it’s just not something they’re interested in.

The Bordelais marketers fully understand this, of course, and have been looking for ways to continue their success over the centuries. For a while, it looked like the Chinese were the answer to their prayers, but if my reading of the media is correct, that market is plagued with internal difficulties (fickle consumers, counterfeit bottles, China’s own burgeoning domestic production), so China can’t be relied upon for the long haul. Hence Bordeaux’s curiosity with Gen Y.

I don’t think Bordeaux has ever reached out to younger consumers in quite this manner. It represents an abrupt volte-face for a region that’s generally been steady as she goes for generations. As I wrote here seven months ago, Why not try to interest ‘the younger generation’ in Depends© “ Okay, that’s a bit snarky, but it does get the point across that Bordeaux has their work cut out for them.

A little more than a year ago, the marketing director for the Conseil Interprofessionnel du Vin de Bordeaux gave some “Advice for Connecting MIllennials to Legacy Brands,” among which category he included Bordeaux wine. He asked the all-important question, “How does [Bordeaux] remain relevant and accessible to today’s consumer?” His advice will come as no surprise to readers of this blog, or to anyone familiar with the social media landscape:

- Keep it digital–but also real

- Make it personal

- Bring them the world (e.g. through visuals and mobile apps)

Nobody could argue with this approach: it’s standard operating procedure for every company in the world nowadays that hopes to survive. But what the marketing guy did not suggest was positioning Bordeaux as “affordable” and “inexpensive.”

The marketing director concluded, “The lesson for all legacy brands is we don’t need to change the elements of our identities that give us authenticity and personality to connect with Millennials–but we must demonstrate how we fit into our target’s twenty-first century lifestyle.”

That’s all well and good, but what I don’t understand is how Bordeaux’s single greatest and most valuable identity for hundreds of years—luxury, if you can afford it—now is supposed to morph into “affordable.” Mind you, I’m not saying anything about the quality of under-$20 Bordeaux Blanc or Entre-Deux-Mars or similar wines. I’m sure there are many fine ones out there. What I am saying, though, is that there has to be a reason why a Millennial (or anyone else) would pay for such a wine—how it’s supposed to “fit into” their lifestyle.” I wish the Bordealais well in this, their latest, roller coaster ride.


Kauai’d out!

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Call it island fever. No blog today! Back tomorrow.


Happy Memorial Day

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md


Cocktails and varietal promiscuity

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I’m not a big cocktail drinker, but I do like one or two from time to time when I’m having a nice dinner at a restaurant. My preference is vodka. The taste of Scotch has never appealed to me, although I do appreciate the complexities of a single-malt. Rum and bourbon, ehh, I sometimes like to venture over to Pican on a late night and have some of their Bourbon classic cocktails, but I have to be in the right mood. On my to-do list is to explore tequila. Now that I’m not immersed in a tsunami of California wine, like I was for so long, I have the time to explore other beverages!

I used to be a dirty vodka martini guy, but the excessive salt in the olives and brine eventually bothered me. So I asked a bartender at a hotel where I was staying to recommend a vodka drink that was simple but not salty, and he gave me a gimlet. Now, that particular gimlet was not very good. It was too soft and sweet and simple. So when I had dinner recently at Ozumo, I tried again, and bingo! That was a superb gimlet, as were the two I had the other night at Boot and Shoe Service, here in Oakland. I asked the bartender lady why it was so good, and she said it was because they freshly squeeze their own limes, instead of using the classic Rose’s Lime Juice, which to my understanding is sweetened. Perhaps that was the problem with that hotel gimlet, which tasted like liquid candy.

Before I was a wine writer, I drank widely and prolifically. My old tasting diary is filled with notes on Alsace, Chianti, Bordeaux, Germany, the Loire—not so much Italy, alas. These are the wines I plan to start re-enjoying in this new phase of my life and career. But I’m sure the majority of the wines I drink will still be from California.

When I began enjoying California wine, the state hadn’t yet turned into what we may today call the appellation-varietal complex (a term I borrowed from Eisenhower’s “military-industrial complex”). Even in Napa Valley, which shortly was to become a varietal monoculture, with primarily Cabernet Sauvignon planted, you still saw vineyards with Zinfandel, Riesling, Chardonnay and Cabernet next to each other. When Harry Waugh visited the valley, in the mid-1980s, he was astonished to see, at the S. Anderson winery, only Chardonnay and sparkling wine produced, which he called “another new trend…What a contrast [to when] every winery used to produce and sell half-a-dozen varietals!”

I’m not here to defend varietal promiscuity in a vineyard, but it wasn’t the worst thing in the world in the 1960s and 1970s and it wouldn’t be today, if someone did that sort of thing. We got into this topic last week on my blog, where someone wrote critically of Trefethen for having Riesling growing in the same vineyard as their Cabernet. That person felt it was terroir-ly (is that a word?) impossible for both varieties to thrive in close proximity. I suppose his thinking was that Riesling needs Alsatian or German weather and soils whereas Cabernet needs Bordeaux weather and soils, and since the weather and soils in Alsace/Germany are different from those of Bordeaux, it must ipso facto be impossible for both varietals to thrive in Oak Knoll!

That’s an example of what I call ideological thinking. It may seem logical, but you really have to taste the wine to see what’s real. In the case of Trefethen’s Rieslings, I’ve always liked them. They’re dry (as the label says), and most of the time make for excellent drinking, at a fair price. I gave 91 points to the 2009, 87 to the 2010 and 89 to the 2012 (I didn’t review the 2011—did they make one?). I’m also a huge fan of Trefethen’s Cabernets, so for me, the argument that you can’t grow Riesling and Cabernet in the same vineyard just doesn’t hold water.

In part what I’ve learned and tried to communicate during my entire career can be boiled down to this: Whatever you think is real may not be. The best way to find out is to have an open mind. If you can’t have an open mind, then taste blind. You discover the most surprising things that way.


Steve’s blog is down for the day

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Denial of service attacks due to a huge quantity of spam in the contents. Back tomorrow [fingers crossed!]

 


Just thinking on a wet Tuesday morning

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All the rain we’ve had lately is making me introspective. I may have a slight case of S.A.D.–seasonal affective disorder. When the sky turns a dull gray, it rains for a week and the sun seems like it’ll never return, all I want to do is curl up with a good book and wait until Spring.

Yes, we need the water. Everybody says so, and so I tell myself that I’m being selfish for being so bored stiff by the rain. Every night it drizzles; every morning I wake up to drizzle; is this California, or Seattle? You’d think that the talk about drought that dominated December and January would start to fade away, but no, the news is that no matter how much it’s rained lately, the drought still is upon us. Typical is this headline from last Sunday’s San Francisco Chronicle:

More rain this week but it’ll fall short

“[San Francisco] has recorded just 8.01 inches of rain this season, far below its usual tally of 18.21 inches by the start of March,” says the article. Last week’s big storm–the one that hit when I was in Santa Barbara at World of Pinot Noir–apparently was more powerful in Southern California than up north, which must have helped with the water situation down in the Central Coast, where the drought has been particularly severe. Maybe some of my readers will let us know how things are doing from Paso Robles south. I do know that, driving home on Sunday, the hills and fields were bright green in native grasses, something I hadn’t seen in a long time. (California is called the Golden State not for the Gold Rush, but because gold is the color of our hills and mountains during the dry season.) But I suppose that when the rain falls so hard, so fast, that most of it runs off into streams and rivers that eventually empty into the Pacific.

Sometimes I like the rain. I spent a night once in a little cabin in the middle of a Redwood forest in the Russian River Valley, just outside Forestville. It was a wild night, stormy and windy and cold: a gale had swept down out of the Gulf of Alaska. The rain track for Northern and Central California can come down from the north, or it can come in from the west, via Hawaii, which is why it’s called the Pineapple Express. From the point of view of the water supply, it’s better to have Gulf of Alaska storms, because they’re colder; hence the snow level in the Sierra is much lower, and that’s where much of our water comes from. Unfortunately, all these storms have been Pineapple Expresses: warm storms, high snow levels.

I remember lying in bed, that stormy night in Forestville, and listening to the sounds of nature: the rain pounding on the roof and windows, but also the limbs of the trees rubbing against each other in the wind, making low, moaning sounds, like sad cellos. I thought of all the critters that live in the woods: the skunks and raccoons and rabbits and badgers. Do they have dry holes where they burrow and stay warm? Our distant ancestors, recently become human, must have relished a nice cave, and whoever could make a fire must have been seen as special, godlike. At some point in pre-history those ancestors discovered fermentation, and made wine. That too must have seemed miraculous. Fire and wine: two divine gifts that make life bearable, even joyous. We worship them both today.

See, I told you I’m feeling introspective.


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