Popular is a relative term, you know. In 1997, the average American consumed 22 gallons of beer, 23.5 gallons of coffee, and 53 gallons of soft drinks, according to the United States Department of Agriculture, as compared with just 2 gallons of wine.
You might think that wine is a lot more popular than that. We sure do make a lot of it:According to figures from the Wine Institute (www.wineinstitute.org), the United States ranks fourth in the world in overall wine production, behind France, Italy, and Spain. And a lot of it gets sold in supermarkets: 45 percent of wine-consuming Americans buy their vino at self-serve outlets like grocery stores, according to a 1998 Hambrecht & Quist analysis, cited at Smart Wine Online (www.smartwine. com). That's a nearly twofold increase since 1987. It must be a lot less stressful to shop for a bottle of Ernie's Real Good Red at Safeway than at Ye Olde Wine Snob.
Still, data from the Wine Institute indicates that we're drinking less wine than we used to: Per capita consumption in the U.S. declined by 8.9 percent between 1980 and 1996, landing us in 30th place worldwide; again, the league leader is France, boasting 15.9 allons per capita.
It's not as though wine alone is taking a beating. People are spending fewer of their hard-earned dollars on alcohol these days. Between 1987 and 1997, average annual consumer expenditures on alcoholic beverages dropped 24 percent, from $408 to $309 (in 1997 dollars), according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Consumer Expenditures Survey.
But just 16 percent of American adults account for 88 percent of the wine consumed in the U.S., according to Sutter Home Winery (www.sutterhome.com). So any loss of that 16 percent without replacement would be a heavy blow to grape stompers everywhere. Not surprisingly, vintners are alarmed that they're not reaching new customers - just marketing and selling to the same old group of guzzlers.
They have reason to be worried. Between 1985 and 1996, the percentage of wine drinkers over age 35 grew from 53 percent to nearly 70 percent, while the percentage of those under 35 dropped from 47 percent to 28 percent, according to Wine Business Monthly at Smart Wine Online (www.smartwine.com/wbn). This points to an aging wine-drinking population that isn't being supplemented by younger converts. Impact magazine's 1998 Wine Market Review and Forecast reveals (although "laments" is probably more like it) that consumers 60 years and older drink 33 percent of the wine in this country, followed by 40-to-49-year-olds, who account for 26 percent. By contrast, those aged 20 to 29 only down about 4 percent.
Back in 1997, the Wine Market Council saw the message in the bottle. Reacting with lightning speed, in February 1999 it launched a $1.3 million multimedia campaign by Bozell Worldwide featuring the slogan: "Wine. What are you saving it for?" (Okay. "Got milk?" it's not. At least it isn't: "Wine. Why aren't you drinking more?") Rather than try to entice the "non-adopters" to try grown-up grape juice, the campaign aims to get marginal drinkers to uncork more often.
That may encourage marginal drinkers to buy more, but it may take more than a catchy slogan to develop new bunches of grape lovers in years to come. Those aging boomers comprise 60 percent of marginal drinkers; Gen Xers, only 28 percent, according to Smart Wine's Wine Business Monthly. And part of the problem is that marketers don't advertise that much in publications that Xers read (see chart).
Rather than preach more alcohol consumption to those who already have a bottle on the shelf, vintners might try marketing to people who don't like having to use a tool to get a drink.
How many of those gallons of soda and beer would be turned into wine if: (a) You could twist off the cap? (b) It was socially acceptable to drink straight from the bottle? (c) The container wasn't made of glass? (d) It was available in single servings?
That sort of marketing means not just a whole image change, but a war against the Cork Quality Council (corkqc.com/index.htm) as well. And they're probably not going to appreciate a slogan like "Wine. It opens just like beer."