To introduce its new White Lie brand in New York, Foster's Wine Estates didn't choose a restaurant with a big-name chef or host a comparative tasting. Instead, it gathered a group of women in a trendy spa, offered them massages and brought in Jennifer Weiner, author of popular "chick lit" novels such as Good in Bed and In Her Shoes.
Welcome to the new world of wine marketing. It's an oft-cited fact in the wine industry that women drink and buy a majority of the wine in the United States; according to a 2003 study from the Wine Market Council, 60 percent of the Americans who consume wine once or more a week are women. Increasingly, wine producers are making efforts to target women, with humorous labels, bottles decked out in lingerie-inspired packaging and brand names that sound like romance novels or perfumes.
"Unlike standard consumer package goods, which are highly marketed, wine was essentially marketed as genderless or more male-oriented than female-oriented," said Mike Lynch, cofounder of the Mad Housewife brand. "If women are buying brands, it makes sense to speak to them."
But are these products genuinely addressing the preferences of an underserved audience, whose tastes may range from white Zinfandel to high-alcohol Zinfandel, or are they just another example of the wine world talking down to women? That depends on the wine and its target audience.
|Seduction, a Napa red blend, comes in a lingerielike gift bag.|
O'Brien said he was afraid that women would be skeptical of a wine with an obvious gender orientation, so he tried to create a serious wine, just with packaging that will appeal to women's aesthetic sense. Priced at $28, the supple, polished 2003 Seduction (89 points on Wine Spectator's 100-point scale) is made primarily from Oak Knoll District grapes and aged in French oak; just under 2,000 cases were produced. The winemakers are former Silver Oak general manager David Cofran and Hugh Chappelle, once at Flowers, now at Lynmar.
Each bottle comes in a sheer, crimson gift bag, and though the front label is elegant, the back avoids typical winespeak, reading: "Romance of the heart, passion of the soul. A voluptuous wine with sensual flavors and a velvet kiss." Though Seduction is carried by wine shops and restaurants, including decidedly non-feminine steak houses, O'Brien hopes to eventually sell it primarily by mailing list.
|Retailers have played off the Mad Housewife label with 1950s kitchen-themed displays.|
The back labels of the resulting Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, priced around $7 to $8, say things like "The dishes can wait. Dinner be damned." Retailers have created floor displays with old fridges loaded with Velveeta and Spam, and the Mamapalooza rock concert had Mad Housewife as a sponsor. Lynch, who aspires to have a 500,000-case business in a few years, said, "The idea was great packaging that women paid attention to and maybe picked up as a goof and came back because they liked it."
|The design and name of Meditrina was intended to appeal to women, but not overtly so.|
Likewise, Olympic Cellars' screw-capped Working Girl Wines originated from the personalities of the women who run the winery. "We didn't start out to say we are marketing to women," said Kathy Charlton, owner of the 9,200-case Washington producer. "It's just who we are, what the winery is, what we stand for. For us, it's not a cute label or a gimmick wine." The winery donates 2 percent of every bottle sold to a local family planning clinic's program for low-income women.
|Olympic Cellars, which is owned and run by women, released a line of working woman-themed wines.|
"Everyone's tastes are different," said Charlton. "You can't really make a wine for a woman."
But that's exactly what Foster's is trying to do with White Lie Early Season Chardonnay, introduced in May and developed by a team of women, including winemaker Jane Robichaud. Beyond the lipstick-red label and florid script, White Lie's real distinction is what's in the bottle: a wine lower in alcohol (9.8 percent)--and therefore lower in calories (97 per 5 ounces)--than a typical California Chardonnay. White Lie is "lite" wine--crisp, with little oak treatment.
"We're saying if you like wine and choose not to drink it during the week due to the consequences, we've created something for you," said Tracey Mason, the company's director of innovation.
White Lie was created by harvesting cool-climate Santa Barbara grapes at a lower-than-normal sugar level. That would be 21 Brix, but the wine label doesn't get too technical. Instead, the corks bear white lies such as "But it was on sale" and "Never on a first date." At $10, and with a production of 100,000 cases, it's intended as an everyday wine.
In the end, it seems wines for women are being treated no differently than clothing or beauty products. Charlton, who confesses that her favorite wine is her Handyman Red, isn't entirely happy with that. "I feel sometimes that the ads done in the apparel and food industries have crept into the wine industry: Drink brand A and you'll look and feel prettier; drink brand B and it has less calories. I don't think that's what wine is."
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