On this blog, one of my recurring themes is market segmentation. [Aside: I probably have lots of recurring themes. In fact, I probably repeat myself incessantly. Sorry.]
We can’t really discuss ‘wine’, as if it were a single homogeneous entity. Instead, there are a number of different markets for wine.
There is wine as a commodity, of the sort that most normal people drink. Then there is wine as a luxury good, drunk largely by people who don’t care particularly for wine (they wouldn’t count wine as a hobby), but who have lots of money to spend and want the best.
This second segment overlaps significantly with a third segment, wine as an investment vehicle. And both overlap with the wine geek segment. These three segments would all fall under the banner of fine wine in its various guises.
But: there’s also an element of the wine geek segment which isn’t about fine wine, but rather interesting wine (for example, from lesser known regions or grape varieties, and which may be inexpensive).
There’s a big gap between the commodity segment and the wine geek/fine wine segment. The rules are totally different. One is not more important than the other, and indeed there may be some transfer between the commodity segment upwards to the wine geek segment. And sometimes even wine geeks will dip into the commodity segment for certain occasions.
When people refer to the ‘consumer’ in discussions about wine, they usually fail to indicate exactly which ‘consumer’ they are referring to. Usually it is the drinker of everyday, commodity wine, but this isn’t made explicit. Most often, everyone is lumped in together and mass confusion erupts.
One of the frequent sources of crossed wires in discussions about ‘consumers’ occurs when the commodity wine drinker – the normal person – is being discussed. Wine producers are criticised for not appealing to the consumer, or for ‘hating the consumer’, by not making their product accessible enough, or having difficult labels, and so on. But if a producer is operating in the fine wine segment, then criticising them for not playing by the rules of a totally different segment is simply nuts.
Listening to some industry commentators, you’d think the wine industry is totally doomed. That it is failing, slipping into oblivion, and all because it has refused to modernize, it is stubborn, and it doesn’t like consumers. Yet when I look at the segments of the wine trade that I find interesting, and which I’m predominantly dealing with, I see a great success story. Across the world, there are now many more interesting wines being made than in the past. New regions have emerged. There’s a tremendous diversity of wine being made, much of which is compelling. Of the regions I’ve spent particular attention on, the scene is now SO much more vibrant than it was 20 years ago: Portugal, South Africa, New Zealand.
And these same industry commentators talk about how no one is listening to wine writers, and that wine writing is dead. Really? My traffic levels for wineanorak amaze me. I make a proper living out of this gig, and I only started doing it as a hobby. OK, maybe I could be richer doing something else. Maybe. But I don’t want to do something else.
My point? If we are to discuss wine, then we need to segment the market. Wine isn’t wine.