Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Wine Comparisons: Building Unrealistic Expectations or Making Unfamiliar, Familiar

Brad Post:

Not long ago I received a phone call from a public radio news reporter who was in the process of writing a story about an up-and-coming new red wine grape cultivar (Marquette) gaining in popularity.  Echoing an earlier comment, he referred to this relatively new wine grape as the “Cabernet Sauvignon of the Midwest” which struck me as a bit of an exaggeration, to say the least.

Great hype for a new wine grape but is it a realistic comparison?

As new wine regions continue to build it is important for us to pause to consider the consequences of short-term marketing gains over long-term brand success.  For this example, is it in the best long-term interest of a wine region to compare Marquette to Cabernet Sauvignon?  More to the point, is it a realistic comparison?  And if so, in what ways are Marquette and Cabernet Sauvignon similar?

Hyperbole aside, is the comparison constructive to building a new wine region?  Granted many wine consumers are probably familiar with Cabernet and it may be a way to bring them in to our wineries as a way of making our local wines seem more familiar.  But what about knowledgeable wine fans – they will immediately notice that our Marquette is not very much like Cabernet Sauvignon and may get turned-off in the process.

Frankly, a more apt comparison, if a comparison is warranted may be with the bracing, young wines of Italy.  Food friendly, acidic, and delicious!

Mental Short-Cuts
In our haste to build a new wine culture it is tempting to compare the unfamiliar to the familiar.  I’m guilty of that myself.  In a busy tasting room with many bellies to the bar, I’ve relied on mental short cuts to help my customers relate to our unfamiliar wines.  “If you like Muscato, you’ll like this one…If you like Pinot Grigio, you’ll like that one…and if you like Cabernet you’ll like this one”.

The ‘This is Like That’ approach to wine tasting is efficient, in terms of expediency, but does it help us build brand identity for wine grapes like LaCrescent, Norton, or Seyval if we keep comparing them to other, traditional vinifera?

Perhaps we have yet to fully develop the language to describe our wines; common sensory descriptors that allow us to share with our customers our excitement for the wines we make!  This is prime real estate for our wine science, wine service programs and state wine industry associations.

Growing Pains
The problem with building high expectations comes with fulfillment.  In other words, if we fall short in our delivery, then the disappointment is felt more potently than if we managed expectations more modestly. That’s not to say that our wines are not great – they are!  It is a matter of properly framing and shaping expectations so our customers understand our wines are distinct and to help them appreciate the uniqueness.

Not lost on me is the comparison of the potential prominence of regional wine grapes.  California is awash in Cabernet Sauvignon and maybe, one day, the Midwest landscape will be dotted with Marquette.

The “This is Like That” approach, a heuristic, does provide a short-cut way of introducing our wines to tasting room visitors.  It is particularly helpful during busy periods but probably undercuts the notion of building brand identity.  In the long-term, I’d like to see us move away from the familiar comparisons to a more cultivar/varietal-centric approach of new wine introductions.

The process of building a lexicon of common sensory descriptors for our local wines, shared among wineries, and conveyed through a thoughtful marketing program and disseminated widely should, in the long-term, bring about the kind of brand recognition we seek when comparing our wines to traditional vinifera.

We look to industry leaders: wine science programs, state wine/grape associations, tasting room trainers, and affiliated wine marketing advocates to lead the way.

Add your voice to the discussion on the Winedustry Forum:  http://www.winedustry.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=47&t=70

1 comment:

  1. Brad,
    You have hit the nail on the head. People don't have a vocabulary for midwestern wine and absent a common framework, it is impossible to discribe the wines.

    How then you educate your customers?