Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Why don't wine companies boast about sales like movie companies?

Is it a good movie? Doesn't really matter, does it?
Every Monday, entertainment sections around the U.S. run stories about the films that made the most money over the weekend. They're more common than film reviews, and have become reviews of a sort themselves.

A film, no matter how poorly plotted, is a success if it sells enough tickets. No matter how delightful it is, a film comes in for mockery if its opening weekend doesn't measure up.

Were these stories in the business section, I wouldn't raise an eyebrow.* But they're not: they run alongside features about music or sports or food.

* I cannot actually raise an eyebrow anyway.

They are the ultimate triumph of capitalist conformity. They tell us what other people are watching.

As you can tell I'm not a big fan of this style of film coverage. But I did recently get to wondering why wine isn't covered the same way.

Movie ticket-sales stories came about because big studios want them. The studios quickly report and trumpet sales results. Occasionally they take their lumps, but the idea is that a hit film will gain momentum when people realize everyone else is seeing it.

For companies striving to move truckloads, a wine sales story would seem to have exactly the same impact on exactly the same audience. Imagine this story: "Apothic Red up sharply; 200,000 bottles sold last weekend." Wouldn't a lot of people want to taste the wine that everybody else is drinking?

Don't misunderstand: I don't know that this would be good for wine culture. It would get wine in the media more often, and maybe it would increase the number of American adults currently drinking wine regularly. However, I'm not sure this is the way I want people to talk about wine.

But it sure would be a good thing for Gallo, as well as its big-boy competitors. So why hasn't it happened?

I have two theories. One is that wine sales have traditionally been hard to track over a short period. However, new cash register technology is changing that. Nobody can easily know how many bottles that small local wine shops are selling, but they're not the shops that sell most mass-market wines anyway. Supermarkets, drug stores, wine chain stores: their sales could now be measured this way.

Second is that Gallo, for decades the only big player and still the biggest, has a long tradition of disliking any media coverage and avoiding it as much as possible. That was Ernest Gallo's fixation, as explained in Blood and Wine. But Ernest is gone and while Gallo still isn't what I'd call open to the media, its dealings with the press have changed a lot, probably not coincidentally as it has moved into higher-end wines. The biggest change is philosophical. Gallo still wants to control its press coverage, much more so than other companies, but it seems to actually want to be in the paper.

I don't know that Gallo would be the one to initiate a story like this. It might be Constellation, it could be the Wagner family, or it could be any winery big enough to put out a press release that reads "Our wine sold 100,000 bottles last weekend!" That sounds like a lot, and might be enough to encourage some newspapers and other media to run it.

I'll probably complain about this when it happens, not least because writing this feels like volunteer work for Evil Corp (see Mr. Robot). Maybe this post was written by my smarter, more evil twin?

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  1. The problem is that, no matter how true it is, no-one wants to think that wine is produced in bulk.

    If you publicise the volume in which a wine is made and sold, it immediately becomes less special. There is no scarcity value in a film (your analogy), but if a wine is scarce, then it becomes more sought-after (and often more valuable).

    That's why, instead of publicising its colossal sales, a bulk wine like Banrock Station is now trying to imitate small-batch, rustic wines: - the complete reverse of your thinking!

    I'm afraid that no-one ants to drink the wine everyone else is drinking - they want to drink the wine no-one else can get their hands on.

  2. I know that's generally true of most wines, but is it really true of wines like Barefoot and Apothic Red? Do people who drink those really think they're getting something exclusive?

  3. I don't know anything about the movie business, but I assume that it's not too difficult to track overall sales volume, maybe because of the small number of movie theater chains. Even with modern technology, it might be difficult to track short-term wine sales.

  4. Given Franzia bag in the box sells is about 14% of the gallons of wine consumed by americans in any given year with about 22% of the total gallons in BIB and about 1/3 of wine being sold in 1.5 liter bottles is nearly half of wine consumed by nobodies who don't think?.

    1. Or maybe it's consumed by regular folks who want to unwind at the end of the day.

      Movie theaters have to pay a percentage of ticket sales to the studios, so those numbers are in the hands of the people who benefit from publicizing them. If ticket sales info was seen as a proprietary trade secret, like sales volume must be for retailers, the equation might change.

  5. Syndicated data market research firms such as IRI and ACNielsen track unit volume wine sales through grocery stores and "big box" retailers.

    And Marvin Shanken's Market Watch trade magazine annually publishes each April its "Spirit & Wine Hot Brand Awards" report that gives 9-liter case unit volume sales for leading wine brands.

    (Not accessible on the Web.)

    If you have $890 burning a hole in your pocket, consider buying this:

    [Aside: "* I cannot actually raise an eyebrow anyway." Blake, you need to go easy on the botox.]

  6. Bob: I can raise both eyebrows simultaneously. But I cannot do The Belushi.

  7. I would guess it's more a question of shelf-life. Contrast how long a wine can be sold vs. how long a single movie is in theatres. See also this article on box office importance.