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Port and dessert wine marketers, riding the wave of the cigar fad and a robust economy, have begun to step up advertising, with one importer taking the unusual approach of targeting gays both as consumers and restaurant industry employees who are in a position to recommend the wine.

W.&J. Graham's port, from Premium Port Wines, in a print campaign uses a handwritten message to show workers in the steep, terraced vineyards. The headline: "In the Duro Valley of Portugal, we have no need for Stairmasters."

The $300,000 campaign, from Butler, Shine & Stern, Sausalito, Calif.-tagged "Hand-picked, hand-crafted and handed down"-will run in Out, The Wine Spectator and The Wine Enthusiast, said Caddie Grenier, marketing manager for Premium Port Wines.

"Our target audience includes affluent, educated professionals and managers .*.*. who live in urban areas," said Ms. Grenier, and "our secondary target is the gay community, many of whom not only fit our primary target market but are very active in the on-premise restaurant industry, which wineries use to showcase their products and build their brands."

The U.S. port market has grown from 102,000 cases in 1991 to some 310,000 cases in 1996, with an additional 10% growth added in the first six months of this year.

"Port is a pretty hot item right now," said Ed Everett, a San Francisco wine industry consultant.

Port is "in tune with the American palate," said Sam Bronfman, president of Seagram Co.'s Chateau & Estate Wine Co. Unlike scotch, "You don't need to acquire a taste for it."

Seagram plans continued but limited marketing support for its Sandeman port, which advertises in food and wine magazines.

One possibility is a promotion involving cigar and port events, although "we're not interested in promoting cigars," Mr. Bronfman said. "We are very concerned about the health issues."

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