Did anyone who pays attention to politics and also drinks wine read that President Barack Obama gave House Speaker John Boehner a bottle of Brunello for his birthday? It was a pick with some distinction, a 1997 from a top Italian producer. Ok, we know he won the election, but this particular wine is priced at roughly $125? What thought(s) went into this selection? I ask only the question but cannot offer much as far as an answer. I may want the Petrus, but I’ll have to pass for a more realistic option.
Harry’s Wine and Liquor on Post Rd in Fairfield is a terrific wine merchant whom I rely on to guide me through the wine selection process. I purchase a majority of my wine here, along with many other people in town.
I asked William Miller, sales – sommelier at Harry's Wine and Liquor, a serious question about how and when a customer asks for his help or the help of one of his immensely qualified colleagues. Is there a right time dialogue on wine? The answer I received was “anytime”. But looking around Harry’s bustling atmosphere the day before Thanksgiving, I am not sure this would be best. On or near any holiday rush, with their parking lot full and the store crowded, might not be the most amenable time. William said, “Customers often come in with specific needs. They may be looking to buy for a special occasion or a bottle to bring to someone’s home for dinner. Generally the parameters are narrow. They want a wine in a particular price range and may favor a region and want a white. Then there are customers wanting more of an education. There is always someone who will spend the time helping that customer.”
Even a half hour?
“Yes, except the day before,” he gazes around the store, “say Thanksgiving.”
Years ago a truly remarkable book on repurposing business models, titled Blue Ocean Strategy, had a chapter devoted to the research behind facts that led to wine producers, distributors and marketers to dial up the taxonomy of the labels to prioritize the vintage, producer, year, distributor and so forth. This was positioned on a niche market that in the 1990’s drove wine consumption up, until the trend spiraled down where it remains.
From Australia, a bold label in a 650 ml bottle, a ‘jug’ anathema to the segment redefined the rules. Keep it simple. Yellow Tail appears with 2 SKU’s, a white and red table wine. Research showed that the missing list of descriptors wasn’t missed. It also was ‘drinkable’ enough.
It dumbed down the process to such a remedial level that it was shocking when it came into the market and succeeded at an un-imaginable pace. This defines a ‘blue ocean’ strategy because it had no competition, freely swimming without sharks, no competitors fighting for share in their reddening ocean.
Current research has wine consumers in many buckets. The ‘Tried and True”, the “Adventurers” and the “Connoisseurs” are a few ways to market, sell and build a wine list. Isn’t this all too confusing?
I consulted a national market research firm that runs panels of consumers and recruits numerous respondents to participate in focus groups on wine and spirits. Groups were recently conducted here in Fairfield County. Marcie Chasen of Chasen Research shared some of her own findings and her own downright alternate perspectives: “It’s so much about the experience. The wine is symbolic, as great or as ordinary as it may be. Wine transports people and is the rightful partner and witness to all events.”
“Magnificence of wine is by the occasion, the sum of those that share it,” she says. Her insight leads to the fact that wine is not the ‘it’ but the portal to what life can be. Her research has found that travel to an area of the world that is known for wine, the growers, the land– be it Mendoza or Sonoma, Greenport or Chianti– influences future picks in a restaurant or a merchant.
“The long necked rosé, slightly chilled in the warmer weather from Provence, shared on the deck of friends overlooking the Long Island Sound carries with it a slight edge and welcome sophistication versus the post Sex and the City vodka concoctions.” So, I ask, does that influence the methods and the approach that merchants and restaurateurs take in making recommendations and basically selling wine? Price point isn’t the point. We have insights into the ritualism of drinking wine. The type of glass, the pour, the clink of the glasses, the “lets drink to that.” It is the romance that is quixotic.
Perhaps the purpose of learning about the wine we buy and the determinants that are useful in our selection are eclipsed by the moment any glass is savored. Fruit, flavor and the spicy notes are the sum of a wine buyer’s taste, but Marcie adds her own ode to romance. “My ‘perfect pairing’ is in a vintage yet poured. On that note, should we ask her more? Everyone needs a Blue Ocean Strategy.
Here’s to the ‘message in the bottle’. Salute!
If you are interested in participating in any type of market research study and to be paid for your opinions, visit Chasen Research and sign up.
Linda Patscot has had a successful career as CEO for Pulse, a marketing research firm specializing in behavior and trend analysis for Fortune 500 companies. Her interest in politics and medicine inspired her to found BirthRoad, a consultancy helping intended parents explore 3rd Party Reproduction. She lives In Fairfield with her family where she is currently writing a book.
Linda can be reached at email@example.com