Wine has more in common with fashion apparel and accessories at department stores than it does with any of the products in a grocery, liquor or beverage superstore.
This will be hard for men to understand because for the most part the majority don’t pay attention to what year or season our clothes are from and we wear few accessories (maybe a watch, but that’s being replaced by iPhones/smart watches). By the way, my wife would call this a man-ser, loosely defined as an answer that I say as fact with conviction, which may or may not be supported by fact.
Women, on the other hand, are often more acutely aware of the season and year of their clothes and accessories (this is confirmed by wife’s seemingly never ending supply of different handbags). Since I am at the age where I am going to multiple weddings every year for our friends’ children, I can’t find a better illustration of the difference between the way men and woman approach fashion than the classic, “What are you wearing to the wedding?” question.
I wear the one suit I own (thank God it still fits) to all the weddings. Side note…
What happened to wearing suits in downtown businesses? Across the country I rarely see business guys in suits going to work in major cities. In San Francisco, it is tough to find anyone in a suit. In 1981, I got reprimanded by a partner at a CPA firm I worked at in San Francisco for not having a three-piece suit… I didn’t have a vest! Things have definitely changed.
Back to the wedding… I usually change ties, but not always. I give my clothing selection about 10 seconds of thought as I get out of the shower to go to the wedding. My shoe selection takes less time. I put on my black wing tips. I think I have had three pairs of the same shoes for the past 35 years.
Three months before the wedding, my wife will buy multiple dresses for the wedding - looking for the right fit, style, and of course how the dress goes with shoes, handbag, jewelry, etc. These choices will be vetted multiple times via numerous Starbucks meetings with her girlfriends. I can assure you I don’t discuss my clothing choices with any of their husbands.
So, what the hell does this have to do with wine? Well, wine is far more a “fashion” item than a “grocery” item. How so? Fashion apparel is built for obsolescence. Every season of every year begets a new line of clothes rolling off the trucks into department stores. If you ever wondered why department stores have crazy 80% off kind of sales, now you know… they have to get rid of the prior season, because the new season will be hitting the stores soon. Can’t have last year’s spring line on the racks this year.
Wine is not that different. I have talked about varietals, appellations and vintages in other blog entries. All of those nuances in wine create an inventory item with the built-in obsolescence of this year’s spring collection of dresses at a department store. Just like a fashion line is judged each year, wine vintages are too judged as good or bad. Wine has another issue… while you can make fewer dresses, grapes continue to get harvested every year. Wine has to be made, regardless of inventory levels.
Why did wine do this to itself? Beer and spirits don’t have appellations and vintages (they do have “craft”… I smell fashion creeping into their categories). Coca Cola is Coca Cola. Most consumer package goods have a fraction of the selection that wine has. Could you ever imagine someone saying, “This vodka is a little off from the `11 vintage”. I dare say vodka companies would have an organizational mental breakdown if they had to deal with those types of inventory management issues (FWIW...I am extremely jealous).
Everyone likes selection, but no one likes the economic reality of having to carry large amounts of inventory that don’t sell with high frequency. It takes a great deal of inventory management skill to juggle the multiple levels of varietals, vintages, and appellations through winery, distributor and retailer to keep inventory at reasonable and profitable levels for all the participants in the supply chain.
The other strong similarity wine has with fashion is the label on the wine. Wine quality and pricing are critical components in building successful brands. Just as important is the label. In a sea of product selection options, a wine label has to grab the attention of the consumer in a fraction of a second. In that moment, the label is trying to communicate the essence of this wine.
We have serious labels with pencil sketches of Domaine this or Estate Bottled that. We have whimsical labels and “critter” labels with bunnies and lizards. We have abstract labels with old paintings. Each of these labels is trying to make an emotional connection between the consumer and the type of wine in the bottle. Just like you wouldn’t wear cutoffs to your family Thanksgiving dinner (or at least shouldn’t), there are wine labels you wouldn’t want on your table at Thanksgiving.
Some fashion apparel styles come and go (remember parachute pants in the 80’s, or how about Zubaz?) and others never change (like the little black dress). Wines are the same way. Some have been around decades, but most come and go.
So the next time you buy a bottle of wine, know you are drinking “consumable fashion”.
David Bowie, God rest his soul, said it best: “Fashion! Turn to the left. Fashion! Turn to the right.” Think about that in the store aisle next time.