10 Reasons Why the Wine Industry Should Fear the Rising “Cocktail Culture”

January 18, 2012 § Leave a comment

While I am heartened by the continued increase in U.S. wine consumption and the research that indicates that Millennials count wine as their favorite alcoholic beverage, I am not certain the wine industry can rest on its laurels, especially in the on-premise channel. Having also worked in sales and marketing positions in both the craft beer and spirits segments, I know the competition well. They are not going to let wine stay at #1 without a fight. Here are 10 reasons why the wine industry should fear the rise of the cocktail culture.
1. Cocktails are exciting. A generation ago, cocktails were something your parents drank and were served by some, gruff, middle-aged batender who had two speeds, straight or on the rocks. At that time, wine, with its array of varieties and regions, was exciting. Boomers gradually made wine their preferred beverage. Now cocktails are created in chic lounges by sophisticated mixologists from ingredients often unavailable on this continent 25 years ago. The ‘hip factor’ has shifted to cocktails.
2. Cocktails are an active experience (made in house, in view of customer, often with artisanal ingredients). Wine is passive, with a list created by a beverage director or consultant that the customer may never encounter.
3. Spirits companies are imaginative marketers and have larger marketing budgets.
4. Cocktails usually have better profit margins, as spirits rarely get ‘corked’ or oxidized.
5. Cocktail ingredients (usually) don’t require the huge investment of a wine cellar (inventory and storage) and turnover is much faster.
6. Customers are rarely intimidated by a cocktail menu.
7. Wine has ‘image issues’ that spirits do not have. Cocktails are made with recognized brands with solid images. Few spirits drinkers turn up their noses at a cocktail made with Johnny Walker or Absolut but many wine drinkers see major wine brands as mass-produced and of questionable quality. Snobbery exists among spirits drinkers but wine snobbery is multi-layered by both producer and variety – just ask a Merlot drinker.

8. The cocktail drinker is always guaranteed a freshly-made product and often an imaginative and unique concoction prepared and served by its creator. The wine equivalent of this experience would be having Paul Hobbs pouring your glass of wine, which only happens at the most elite wine dinners.
9. Spirits have strong brand identities, consumers frequently designate which brands they want used in their drinks. Wines, for the most part, are preferences based more on varieties and regions than actual brands.

10. With cocktails, the customer is king, with wine it is the sommelier. If cocktail drinkers fail to find something appealing on the cocktail menu, they simply instruct the bartender to create their favorite drinks with their favorite brands, which are almost always available on the back bar. Wine consumers are not so lucky. Their favorite brands and varieties may not be present and if they are they may not be available by the glass. The foundation of a good bar is fulfilling the desires of its customers. With wine lists, it is often the sommelier’s ‘vision’ that is paramount.

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