It was in the early ‘90s that the wine industry was falling all over itself in the horrified belief that it was going to lose an entire generation of “Xers”, who were not going to drink wine – ever. Somehow, those 20 and 30 year olds came to wine – as never before — as they matured. Those same demons once again, are knockin’ at wine’s door, and it’s called beer and cider; and this time, maybe that door may not open.
That’s because, beer and cider marketeers have figured out a way to open that portal for themselves, by selling their products – as though they were wine. That is, cutesy critter branding has given way to edgy, anachronistic-seeming labeling that is trading heavily on constructs such as “local” and “craft”. Don’t be surprised if a bittersweet chocolate-infused kale beer becomes the next-big-thing. Wait a moment: I’m told it already is.
Marketing like this has led the Dutch bank Rabobank to conclude: “Cider might be consumed more like beer, but the wine industry needs to come to terms with the fact that cider is not solely a threat to the beer category.”
One only has to look at what’s coming across our radar. Eric Asimov in the Times wrote a glowing half-page piece on something called Gose – an heretofore obscure beer-type – he had in Austin, the capital of hipsterdom. Or look at the idyllic full-page ad on what Stella Artois (a Budweiser brand) is calling “Cidre”, which sits alongside — a shuttlecock. Which leads one to assume that badminton will soon be a hip thing. Oh, they’re telling me it already is.
Or read what Tom Wark, the PR veteran who reps some in the cider/beer industries, wrote via email: “It has always been the case that the number of beer drinkers in the U.S., outnumber the wine drinkers. And the key reason for this is that on an ounce-by-ounce basis, the vast majority of beers are less expensive than … wine. Additionally, because wine can be so expensive (and beer not so much), wine put out an air of elitism that turns off some.”
“Elitism”. That notion has been attached to wine forever like a barnacle on a whale; and whether or not it’s true, it doesn’t matter. It may be a bubbameister (old wives tale), but it has stuck; and it’s inherent to the product, no matter how hard wine tries to shed that yoke.
And it pisses me off.
I’m a wine guy and for nearly a half-century I’ve believed that wine needs no embellishments, no paraphernalia, and no gimmickry. If by striving to pair wine with food makes me an elitist, so what. I see the same ideas being promulgated as the beer and cider folks zealously promote their drink.
Consider: The Brewers Association has put out a “Craft Beer and Food Pairing Chart.”
Consider: On a site called The Cyder(cq) Market, there’s an article that states that cider should be thought of, “in the same way a great wine or beer goes with certain dishes … so too great cider finds a fervent following …”
When I suggest to Wark that another reason why beer appeals to a wider constituency is that a vast majority don’t really understand wine he writes, “Yes, people do understand beer better than wine. It’s not just that they THINK they understand it better, they really do. One reason for that is that wine is a more complicated drink with a far longer history of serious appreciation. Unlike beer, wine takes very seriously the issue of the difference in its ingredients and the place where those ingredients were grown.
“It all means that appreciating wine represents far more of a commitment than appreciating beer. Beer lovers may bristle at that idea but it’s 100% true.”
In the end, I think it is wine lovers who bristle. That’s because that’s what we do when younger generations, don’t give a fig about wine and its perceived idiosyncrasies and lore. After all, to many, cider and beer are just drinks and another vehicle with which to get buzzed. The beer and cider marketers know this better than do wine folk.