The Achilles Heel of U.S. Wine Marketing

I started my career in wine & spirits PR after leaving Europe to chase an American I fell for in my senior year of college. Luckily, both worked out fine – I love my job in the U.S., and I am happily married to the man I left Austria for.

Maybe it’s because I haven’t been back in three years, but as I am visiting home this week, I can’t help but notice an undeniable advantage that European wines have over wines from the U.S.:  they are made in a cultural context of “easy living” that seeps into every bottle and lies at the core of European wine marketing campaigns worldwide. That’s the Achilles heel of U.S. wines and their respective marketing. The American way of life doesn’t have the same appeal as Europeans’ philosophy of living, and living well.

Photo credit: Werner Schandor

Take France, Austria and Spain for example. Each a major wine-producing region, the concept of “easy living” is deeply ingrained in their culture to the point where each language has a special term for it. The French call is “laissez-faire,” which can be translated as “let it be.” In Austria, the term “Gemuetlichkeit” describes a state of unhurry and indulgence, usually achieved in good company. And the existence of the term “siesta” that describes a mid-day break from work in Spain speaks volumes about how much this country values living life to the fullest.

Here is my theory. When shaping a wine marketing strategy, forget terroir. Assuming that quality and price of two bottles are similar, consumers will choose the wine that represents a more appealing lifestyle. By uncorking the bottle, they want to catch a whiff of the people who make it, their way of life, their food and culture. In today’s wine marketing, it’s as much about the wine itself as it is about the lifestyle and culture that surrounds it.

The U.S. has some catching up to do in order to compete with Old World wine marketing campaigns when they pull out the lifestyle card. Nevertheless, there are a few simple ways American wines can create a desirable cultural identity for themselves, including:

  1. Redefine boarders: Create your own cultural microcosm by defining what your winemaking area stands for. Whether it’s a few vineyards or entire valleys joining in, find the connective tissue and create a marketing strategy around it.
  2. Create traditions: Food, art and music are powerful tools to bring culture to life. Think about creating new traditions, like an annual festival, that celebrates more than the wine, but the people and passions that surround it.
  3. Appoint an ambassador: Look for an actual winemaker or grower that embodies your cultural beliefs and can speak to trade and media on your region’s behalf.

Being in Austria reminded me of how important cultural context becomes in wine marketing. Quality differences aside, it’s what surrounds the bottle of wine that counts. With a little bit of work, U.S. wine regions can develop intriguing identities that speak to wine lovers all over the world.

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