A few years ago, by sheer volume alone, we became the #1 wine consuming nation in the world. Though this was due to the size of our population (not per capita drinking), it was still a notable accomplishment. The numbers say that wine consumption continues to inch upward in the U.S.
Despite the statistics, those of us deep in the wine marketing trenches can see that wine appreciation in the U.S. has a long way to go before it becomes a part of our most-of-the-time diet, especially outside major cities. I probably need to get out more, but I often think about how we can get more Americans to drink more wine. Stay with me here, this is not just about increasing demand. Why should we drink more wine in the first place? In a nutshell, it will help us be healthier and happier.
It’s no secret that the typical diet and relationship to food in many wine-producing countries is of noticeably higher quality than ours. In Spain, France, Italy and Greece for example, the quality of ingredients and meals is significantly valued over quantity. Lunches and dinners are often leisurely affairs, prepared with respect and care, usually based on seasonal ingredients and with moderation in mind. You are hard-pressed to find to-go coffee and the sad desk lunch is nowhere near as common as it is in the U.S. In most wine producing cultures, people prefer to linger over an extra glass of wine with friends than get an extra hour of sleep. It’s my humble theory that obesity and the prevalence of processed, factory-prepared food here would likely improve if we shifted our relationship with food to a more Mediterranean style and pace. And of course this includes plenty of wine.
So how do we get Americans to drink more wine? There are several factors, but here are two I consider urgent in today’s wine marketplace.
Don’t be a snob about it: We have more wine on more retail shelves than any country on Earth, yet wine continues to stump the uninitiated and plenty of us in the business don’t make it any easier. By simplifying our attitude about and towards wine, and talking about it in relatable terms (minus the jargon), we demystify wine. This in turn makes it more accessible. I urge other wine professionals to not be disdainful of certain brands, regions and grapes. If we project an aura of disapproval for wines outside the trendy box, we continue to make the purchase and even the discussion of wine an anxiety-inducing process. Let’s stop making it easier for people to just order a beer. The average American likely doesn’t know much about Tokaji, grower champagne, Jura, or natural wine and I suspect they probably don’t care. We do our entire business a disservice by pretending otherwise. In my hometown of Brooklyn, NY we have dozens of wine bars and shops exclusively dedicated to these types of wines, but we’re an anomaly. Wine consumption is not going to grow by focusing on 0.05% of what’s considered “cool” on the market [not a real stat but you get the point].
Diversify the trade: In order to achieve sustained growth in consumption and awareness of wine, the U.S. consumer and their perception need to be diversified. This calls for the wine trade to evolve and diversify too – in gender and ethnicity, among other factors. How can the wine business grow the number of wine lovers if the people we are addressing can’t authentically see themselves in those of us who are promoting this lifestyle to them? As demographics in the U.S continue to evolve, this is ever imperative. Diversifying the trade and end-consumer can only grow appreciation for wine.
Wouldn’t it be outstanding if more people had the slow, delicious, quality meals that accompany wine lifestyle, like the French and Spanish cultures have done for centuries? Elevating the way Americans eat and drink by making wine a bigger part of our day-to-day will help us to be more mindful of what and how we eat, and create memorable experiences through food, friends, family and wine along the way.
Cheers to that!