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stirring the lees with james molesworth

Perhaps Wine Really Has Hit the Mainstream

Photo by: David Yellen

Posted: Jan 19, 2007 10:01am ET

We've all heard the news about how wine is growing in America. Stories about increased consumption, the new generation of wine drinkers, etc. But I'm always skeptical.

That's because wine lovers are a vocal minority who tend to flock together, so all we see and hear is other wine lovers. We insulate ourselves from those who aren't into wine.

But I've been to more than my share of restaurants where there was little appreciation of wine. And don't some or your in-laws find your wine obsession thing to be a little weird? That's why I've always doubted that wine was truly in the mainstream of American culture. Getting close? Probably. Has it come a long way? For sure. Mainstream though? Uhhhhhhh...

But then, I start to see things like the Claritin ad now running on TV. The lead character says, "I've got a vineyard to run," and then he goes on about how allergies can't slow him down. During the voice-over, he walks the vineyard rows and even draws a barrel sample with a pipette. Wine in a Claritin ad?

Then there's that Fidelity Investments ad on TV, where the lead character lists all the bosses he's ever worked for. And how now, he's the boss—and it shows him holding a bottle of wine with, presumably, his name on the label. Wine in a Fidelity ad?

And then flipping through the New York Times over the weekend, there was a real-estate ad, for a new luxury high-rise called the Veneto, of all things. The picture shows a few couples in the kitchen, drinking wine—and with the right stemware and a decanter on the table too. Whomever set up the photo shoot knew what they were doing wine-wise. Wine in a real-estate ad?

So maybe wine really is in the American mainstream now. All this passive use of wine in advertising makes for a compelling argument. Have I been too skeptical?

Jeremy Craig Cpa
O'Fallon, MO —  January 19, 2007 12:18pm ET


James, Mainstream, yes, but in a shallow way. People now know wine as an option (as a younger drinker I see more of my friend ordering wine), but the passion is not there yet. People order cute labels and mass produced $2 Chuck, but they don't understand the art and passion represented in a bottle. Maybe that is asking too much?!?
Berry Crawford
January 19, 2007 12:38pm ET
I think the trouble with wine in America is that there are really only two camps who drink it allot: Soccer moms and upper middle class people and the soccer moms drink cheap sweet wine. For wine to really permeate our culture it needs to be divorced from its almost subliminal connection to affluence and luxury. It needs to be demystified and seen more as pure enjoyment rather than a lifestyle thing. For example, I got to the local wine bar and all you see are yuppies in ties and business casual. Where are the blue collar workers, college kids, average joes and hippies in tie dyes? When you see those types drinking wine at a bar or even going to a wine bar, then you will know wine is mainstream.
Kirk R Grant
Ellsworth, ME —  January 19, 2007 12:40pm ET
James, slowly but surely it is creeping into everyday life. My parents looked at me crossways last year when I said I paid $50 for a 2001 Chateau de Beaucastel. They have always bought the $12 Magnum of Bella Sera Merlot at the grocery store. However the other night when they came over for dinner they brought a nice mid range 2005 Sait-Veran...and were absolutely tickled with the wine. When I opened the 1927 Solera for dessert my father asked how much I paid for it. I told him $18 and he said "Where? I want to have more of this for our guests!" I do think that wine is taking over more and more of our culture. It seems even more apparent in the prices that they are commanding for wines. 5 years ago only a handful of wines in Oregon crossed the $40 mark. Now there are 50+ wines, some go up to $200 a bottle. I think you have a very secure job in a world where people are constantly wondering about their job security.
Steve Barber
Clayton, CA. —  January 19, 2007 12:49pm ET
Matt Kramer wrote about the "process" with wine equating it with carefully wiping and placing a vinyl record on a turntable. I wonder if the bigger trend is how fashionable it is to enjoy the "process" amid the other conveniences in life. And the time it creates to visit. For example, We had several families over to make homemade pizza. Kids first, then couples. Messy, a process...some rolled into calzones (oops)... Really fun. Wine certainly fits this thesis, Your thoughts?
John C Winkelmann
Cincinnai —  January 19, 2007 12:49pm ET
We will know wine has gone mainstream when NASCAR vehicles start sporting winery logos. Until then, it is just wishful thinking. In Europe, truck stops sell wine by the glass with lunch. Now THAT is mainstream.
James Molesworth
January 19, 2007 1:03pm ET
Steve: The process, or the fetishization of how we enjoy the finer things, our hobbies, use our free time, etc, has a lot to do with it.

But when it comes to wine, I think knowledge of the subject comes first, and then people create their process for it. All my wine geek friends spend way too much time wondering how long a wine should be decanted for before drinking it - because they have too much knowledge, not the other way around...
William Newell
Buffalo, NY —  January 19, 2007 3:01pm ET
Wine writer Leon Adams once said, in effect, that wine won't become mainstream in America until it's as cheap as milk. He might have said beer. Or maybe, it has to do with the fact that for several hundred years, the only wines produced in America were from native labrusca grapes, which would turn anyone off wine. In any case, wine has been a cultural tradition in Europe for centuries, while in America it hasn't. I would say among our friends, more than half are wine drinkers, with 90% of the women favoring wine, and about 60% of the men preferring beer.
Dan Jaworek
Chicago —  January 19, 2007 5:01pm ET
There's a difference between mainstream and fahsionable. Right now I hear people say all the time that they enjoy wine and enjoy wine tastings but what it really comes down to is they like to see themselves standing around socializing with a wine glass instead of a beer bottle. Ask them anything about wine, grape varieties, or if they actually have a couple bottles at home and you're met with blank stares. Mind you, you don't need these things to enjoy wine but it seems to be a natural occurance when you take interest in anything new that you would learn something about it. I hear the same thing about cooking all the time too. Sideways made wine fashionable and Iron Chef made food fashionable. But the real beauty of food and wine is nowhere to be found in these shows. The real beauty of them exists around your own dinner table. It does not reside so much in the substances themselves but in the spirit of generosity and friendship that they inspire. For a brief period you can rest assured you're living well. But when wine is simply a replacement for a cocktail, its hard to achieve this. Sure, comercials are using it but they are only rekindling the good vibes people got from watching movies like Sideways when, for a briefe moment, they romantically considered the life of a wine maker and how different it is from theirs. Like the fad of micro-brew beer, it'll leave behind a greater appreciation for wine but not very much. We're a long way away from mainstream. With the diversity of the US, its hard for anything to break into the mainstream except the least common denomonator. Dan J
Karl Mark
Geneva, IL. —  January 19, 2007 8:55pm ET
I started to write something but I realized that Dan Jaworek said basically what I was thinking. People are still learning about wine, and maybe in the next generation wine will be truly mainstream.
Michael Tracy
trabuco canyon CA —  January 19, 2007 9:39pm ET
James,There are many signs of a growing acceptance of wine as an important (even essential) component to to todays's lifestyle. One is the increasing number of honmebuilders that offer wince storage or wine cellars. Years ago you may remember the wet bar. That is now history and has been replaced by wine cellars or wine storage. In California, most builders offer a "cellar" option to any walk in pantry. Space for undercounter wine chillers is fast becoming standard. Premium wine shops and wine bars are springing up everywhere. Wine is an expression of the good life (La Dolce Vita!)here in CA. Beer and hard liquor are on a slide as near as I can see. I think this trend is more pronounced in the warmer wine growing regions and the concept of making your fortune early enough in life to retire to Napa Valey or Sonoma Valley to start a winery is a compelling dream to many Americans.
John Jorgenson
Seattle, —  January 19, 2007 11:05pm ET
I don¿t believe we in the USA are where we can proclaim that wine is main-stream yet. But I am in a segment of the population that will be the last to accept the notion. As a conservative evangelical Christian, it¿s still something I have to be careful about bringing up with just any Brother at church. In many ways it¿s still 1900 and Billy Sunday is in the pulpit. Because so many have suffered from the ills of alcohol (or I should say from the abuse of alcohol) it is considered taboo to talk about it amongst the friends I have at church. Still, we find quiet fellowship with Christian friends and share our communal fascination with wine amongst family. Many of the members of our families (both blood and bond) still believe that although we have the liberty to enjoy our vices they do not. Our children and the younger adults that we have fellowship with are much more easily persuaded that moderate consumption with reasonable restraint can allow one the freedom to enjoy many of the finer things in life without being consumed by them. So, I believe that Americans are headed toward universal acceptance of wine as a mainstream beverage, and the published health benefits, Sideways movies and advertising are each doing their parts to break down the stigmas, but it will not happen over night.
Stuart Bander
Chicago, Il —  January 20, 2007 8:48am ET
James you are quite correct, although we have definately seen a great increase of wine awareness (if nothing else by the rarity of Lancer's) but as you pointed out awareness does not mean that wine is now in the minds of most Americans. Although I do believe that even with the somewhat strange glances at my wine collection, very few people will turn me down if I happen to offer them a bottle. It will take many years before wine becomes a part of our culture, it will take hundreds of years just to align us with most of Europe, we will never allow our 5 year old children to drink wine, where in many countries in Europe it is very common. The long and the short of it is that we have come a long way but we have even further to go.
John Jorgenson
Seattle, —  January 20, 2007 10:51am ET
Okay . . .I have a question . . .Why is it that the comma (') and quotation (") keys get obliterated when we post here?
Matt Devan
Fairhope, Alabama —  January 21, 2007 8:45am ET
saying that wine isn't mainstream because people don't know enough about it doesn't ring true imo... beer is certainly mainstream, but few of the folks guzzling it know malt from hops, or where CO2 comes from, or henry's law for that matter. Is bottom fermenting yeast a lager or ale trait? It is mainstream, but folks generally just drink it; look at the watered down beer they are drinking... surely equivalent to the grocery store plonck that wine lovers drink. Yet I haven't heard anyone question the devotion of beer drinkers. Beer tasters? now that is a minority!
James Peterson
San Antonio, Texas —  January 21, 2007 1:20pm ET
Mark me down on the side of NOT. I have had so many people comment about how they were nervous bringing wine to my house (as a host gift usually), because they have no idea what to bring a ''wine connoisseur''--their words, not mine. When that stops, only then will I consider wine to be mainstream. I mean, it's not that difficult to find a very good value wine...
Mr Randy Beranek
Napa, CA —  January 22, 2007 4:11pm ET
Speaking of wine in advertisements forces me to think of the Dr. Shoals ad where people are comparing how "jellin" they are with their new Dr. Shoals jell pads. One man states that he is so jellin that he's zinfandelin. The camera then cuts to him holding a glass of blush colored swill...ugggg... If that is mainsteam, let all us wine lovers be locked away in a SAC underground tunnel.
Dana Nigro
New York, NY —  January 22, 2007 7:41pm ET
John, to answer your question about punctuation, our comments tool can not recognize "special characters" unless you put in the code for the html entity for that character. If you have your computer set to type in "smart quotes" (the curved ones) instead of straight quote marks, the comment tool considers that a special character. (You can, for example, shut off smart quotes in Word under Tools, under AutoCorrect, under AutoFormat and AutoFormat as you Type.)

It's frustrating, I know. And it's on our list of things we are trying to find a solution for. If you have trouble shutting off smart quotes, please contact our customer service department at wsonline (at) mshanken (dot) com with more details about your system and we'll see what we can do.

Dana Nigro
Managing editor, Wine Spectator Online
Paul Manchester
Santa Cruz, CA —  January 24, 2007 5:27pm ET
Hey John from Seattle, nice comments!! I'm also an envangelical Christian and I agree with you on a lot of what you said. I have a lot of friends that are surprised to hear that I know and appreciate so much about wine, but then they are intrigued by it and realize that you can enjoy fine wines without abusing the situation. I recently discovered that a friend at church helps to produce some Pinots from the Monterey & Santa Lucia Highlands regions and now we taste wine together all the time. I'm careful not to stumble anybody just because I know that a lot of people have a problem with it and I want to honor other people and their sensitivities. But I do believe that wine is becoming mainstream due to what John had to say and seeing it pop up a lot on commercials, and also I grew up in the surfing community here in Santa Cruz and it's making headway in that crew as well. So give it another 10 to 20 years and I think we'll be headed toward the European level of wine within the community.
Scott C Silton
Mountain View, CA —  January 27, 2007 1:43pm ET
Historical reality check: 30 years ago, American beer was nasty, the restuarant scene was far worse, and less diverse ("American" cuisine was "steak"), and wine was even more marginalized.

While most Americans still don't intellectualize any of these pleasures, Brewpubs are common, and wine bars are proliferating. The upper middle class is striving for sophistication... more fairly, striving for enjoying life.

There are plenty of clueless nouveau-bourgeois out there, for sure, but there are enough wine proselytizers in the mix to gradually raise the bar. Consider the rise of Syrah and the improvement to CA Chard just in the last 5 years: it might not have permeated the country, but tastes are evolving. Merlot was already headed toward scorn here in SF area and then Sideways gave it a nice kick down the hill. Many of the Asian restuarants I enjoy have rewritten their wine lists (alas, still not enough Kabinett), the times, they are a 'changing

But will it ever be like in Europe? That is dubious, especially when there are easy political points to score by playing the elitist know-it-all snobs against *real Americans* I mean, really, we are talking about an industry embedded in California, home to Hollywierd, Nancy Pelosi, and assorted degenerates ;)
Anacleto Ludovic
paris france  —  January 27, 2007 2:28pm ET
wine in america: rome wasnt built in one day and every 10 000 miles journey begin with one step . At least people are intersted in wines. In Europe is diferent. Young people drink vodka and rhum and wine is in a fall. Like Cognac, thanks for the Cognac producers, China is now open to the market. If it was for the European market, those brands will simply disapear. There is a law in France call , loi Evin, that banned all support, commercial and merchandising about alcool , wine, and tobacco. The only exception is Cognac because of the free fall of consumpcion.That why , wine in America is not mainstream but , there it goes. Keep up the passion and let wine exist!!! Thanks to you , wine still exists!RegardsLudovic
Trevor Witt
Waterloo, Ontario, Canada —  January 28, 2007 8:28pm ET
James...An excellent blog on this topic. From my experience in the last 10 years with family & friends, wine interest and consumption is on the rise. When people really taste good wine they become enticed to try again. Ask my wife!! Without publications like WS, Decanter & Robert Parker, we sure would be in the dark ages.Keep the info coming! We're reading!!
Lee Edwards
Little Rock, Arkansas —  January 29, 2007 6:13pm ET
James,something is definitely happening. I am in the process of obtaining my Sommelier certification. People respond so overwhelmingly positive and impressed when they find this out about me. It is as if I am telling people 15 years ago how I am going to college because I want to be a lawyer. Same reaction. Times are certainly changing.
James Molesworth
January 30, 2007 9:28am ET
Lee: More sommeliers than lawyers...now that's something to shoot for!

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