Most People Will Never Get Into Wine – And Why That’s OK (The Launch of Crushd, And Analyzing The Wine Geek Pyramid at WBC11)

Vinted on August 3, 2011 binned in best of, going pro, wine bloggers conference

Chances are pretty high that, if you’re reading this (and you’re reading this), you are a wine geek.

And by “wine geek,” I mean that you are atop the U.S. wine consumer pyramid (that’s if you’re living in the U.S., of course – those of you outside the U.S. are just gonna have to play along on this one). As in, the tippy, tippy, holy-crap-it’s-a-looooong-way-down-from-here, tippy-top of the pyramid.

And it doesn’t even matter if you consider yourself an avid oenophile or not – simply by virtue of treating wine with any semblance of importance in your life, you’ve firmly entrenched yourself in wine-geek-out territory, at least when compared with the general consumer-going public in America.

And don’t worry about it…. because it’s okay.

In fact, I’m going to explain why that’s not only okay, but that you ought to revel in the fact that you are in the upper echelon of the wine-buying U.S. public. In fact, I’m going to explain why it’s downright awesome.  After a bit of exposition, of course.  C’mon, you think I’m gonna let this thing go under 1300 words?  Are you nuts?

It all came to me after day one of the 2011 Wine Bloggers Conference, during a steamy, 8-billion degree, 5000% humidity evening in downtown Charlottesville (I might have exaggerated that last bit), in which a bleary-eyed (due to travel-, conference-, weather-, and wine-induced-fatigue) yours truly took part in an off-premise “fireside chat” on the topic of Wine & Tech, which eventually turned about as heated as the sweltering northern Virginia night.

The event was organized by wine industry think-tank group Vintank and Crushd (the team behind a newly-released iPhone wine-journaling app). Thankfully (since most of us were already melting through our clothing) there was no actual fire was lit at the host venue (Orzo Kitchen & Wine Bar), and to assist (as if we needed it) getting our tongues wagging and opinions flowing, there were several interesting Rioja wines being poured courtesy of Vibrant Rioja (I can now attest personally to the tastiness of a well-chilled 2010 Marques de Caceres dry white Rioja on a stiflingly sultry Virginia Summer evening, by the way)…

In this mini-event/side-show, I was a member of a panel that included Paul Mabray (Vintank’s Chief Strategic Officer), Anthony Schiller (Co-Founder of Crushd), Pia Mara Finkell (of CRT/Tanaka, who works PR on the PR side of Vibrant Rioja and was one of the members of the Millennials & Wine panel that I moderated at this year’s WBC). Our discussion was moderated by direct-shipping crusader and veteran wine blogger Tom Wark (of Fermentation & Wark Communications), to whom I owe a bleated thank-you for mentioning me recently in his wine media equation (though I personally think that my numeric equivalent in that lineup is probably a fraction… with a denominator that has a lot of zeros…).

Things got heated when we talked specifics about Crushd. It’s not that Crushd isn’t a nifty app – it is, and if I owned an iPhone I would have already downloaded the thing and used it during the “speed-dating” wine tasting format to which we are subjected during the Wine Bloggers Conferences.  The secret sauce of Crushd is that it has a sophisticated way of quickly and accurately determining where you can find and purchase any given wine that you find in its system as users journal and recommend what they’ve recently tasted.  I’ve little doubt that functionality will find avid users in the already-crowded wine mobile app space. Mobile wine apps like that are incredibly useful to us geeks… but transformative for non-geeks?  Probably not; in fact, mobile apps seem most transformative for those making wine (and growing grapes) rather than for those consuming it.

What got the intellectual-debate-temperature rising was how Anthony (who I should note is a very intelligent guy who has helped put together a very well-designed app) pitched Crushd, namely as a means of elevating the average consumer from not-even-very-casual wine drinker to budding oenophile.  Pretty much no one agreed with that, including me, because (in my logic, at least), that task isn’t even possible.

Paul Mabray underscored this with a few stats which in summary boiled down to this: there are generally three categories of wine consumers, the Uber Oenophile, the Aspiring Oenophile, and the Causal Wine Drinker, generally increasing in number from 250K to 62 million as you head down the pyramid (see inset pic – click to embiggen!).

Most U.S. consumers (obviously) fall into the Casual Wine Drinker category – and they don’t give a sh*t about wine, and many of them never will. No app is going to change that. In fact, nothing is going to change that.

Why not? Because wine geekism isn’t for everybody, just like needlepoint geekism isn’t for everybody. This is not to say that wine or needlepoint cannot be enjoyed by just about anyone (though I’d caution trying to enjoy them at the same time, I suppose – no drunk needlepointing, people!) – they most certainly can. It’s just to say that some people will never care about wine appreciation passionately, just as some will not geek out over needlepoint.  In the pyramid of wine consumers, a tiny group of hardcore geeks sits at the top, a slightly larger core of people who care enough to possibly take a photo or a wine, and/or journal it somehow (usually in relation to a shared experience in which the wine was enjoyed) sit in the middle, and then there’s everybody else – and that everybody else is a huge number of people, but not necessarily a big potential market.

You’re outnumbered at the bottom of the pyramid by about 250 to 1, hombre!

Personally, I don’t really care about actively trying to convert people who don’t yet give a toss about wine. I’d rather help grease the skids for those entering the tippy-top of the pyramid, the potential wine geeks, to help speed up their journey of appreciation and get them moving towards their own personal moments of wine enjoyment enlightenment.  I think apps like Crushd can help in the same way, but they cannot create a market that just isn’t there.  And while that means a smaller market of like-minded geeks, it’s okay because we’re a prolific bunch. We’re the kind of people who blog, stick hundreds of tasting notes into CellarTracker, and hold tasting parties.

The way I see it, chances are very high that the people who don’t care about wine now will never care about it that deeply – some might, and will, but most probably won’tTrying to swim against that tide by “converting” non-wine-lovers into wine geeks is a waste of my time – and, more importantly, a waste of theirs.  When and if they decide they are into wine, I’m hoping they will come to me and I can add some value to their lives. Until then, I remain happily trying to add value to the lives of the already hopelessly-converted wine geeks drinking the “oh-my-GAWD-is-that-a-Pinot-Noir-icewine-I-have-to-try-that!” kool-aid.  Awwwww yeeeeeaahhh!!!!

Here’s why – If you’re already a geek at the top of the pyramid, then ascending even higher doesn’t seem so bad, so far, or quite as difficult than it might appear from the very bottom of that climb, now does it?

You’re already most of the way there, my friend – why not just keep going?  Momentum is on your side, and the homework of delving deeper into the wine tasting and learning “geek forest” sure is fun, and amazing, after all!

Cheers!

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    Comments

  • Maggie


    Very interesting piece. I think you're right–there are many folks who simply don't care much about wine. Some may be moved if they try something fabulous, but some may not really see any difference, and many will never try much wine beyond what's sold for under $8 at their grocery store. At some level it's depressing (especially for those of us trying to be an online resource for wine drinkers) but at another it's freeing–effort should be spent gathering the community of wine lovers, having good conversations with people who care, and not trying to "recruit."

    • 1WineDude


      Maggie – EXACTLY what I was trying to get at here. People are smart, they don't need to be preached to or told what to like. Let them come to wine on their own terms, and hopefully we I can be a valuable resource to them when they do.

  • nick


    have you written about your random use of bold? it really makes these things annoying to read.

    • 1WineDude


      Nick – I could… though it's not actually random… that's me trying (maybe unsuccessfully?) to make the longer posts "scan-able" because otherwise it's a looooooong read.

      • @mariepayton


        I like your use of bold and support your view that it makes the articles easier to read!

        • 1WineDude


          Ah – and a +1 for the boldface! :)

  • Albert


    Dude….. As usual, you are right. I think breaking it down in a pyramid format is easily understandable. I think the point here is that there is a vast market for wine in this country, but a small percentage of that consumer base 'geeks out.' I do not believe through prose or even an evangelical campaign, you will be able to convert that bottom tier. Wine is personal. It either 'occurs' to you or it doesn't. For some it never happens. For others, it is a wine that we remember drinking that changed our appreciation for wine and thus our relationship with it…. I think that is the beauty of wine.

    • 1WineDude


      Albert – agreed! But I think you meant to say “most unusually, you are right” ? :)

      • Albert


        Maybe…. we always have to leave room for error, right?

        • 1WineDude


          Albert – What I meant was, "Joe, I can't believe it… because you're usually wrong… but *this time* you're right!" :)

  • @clivity


    I would differ on one point, the possibility to fall into the chasm of wine geekism is quite a bit greater. In my case probably should not have happened, from Pittsburgh (strike 1) modest income friend circles (strike 2) but a bottle of Washington wine piqued my interest, (toe in the chasm) took a drive over to wine country(leg in), a few tasting room experiences and verticals later, full on geekism. That would have to be one damn profound needlepoint.

    • 1WineDude


      @clivity – Totally get what you are saying there. But I still think the number generally is small, because the number of people who geek out about any topic is small, with a few exceptions (food is one, iPads are another :).

  • Thomas Pellechia


    Joe, this particular diatribe points to (maybe unknowingly) why I go nuts when various bloggers have the audacity to tell wine producers what they should or should not be doing. Most producers would starve to death if they had only geeks to keep them solvent.

    As a side note, the comment above about your use of bold type, and your response ought to tell you something about the means of effective communication: gimmicks are not the answer to making an essay readable, at least not to literate people ;)

    • PAWINEGUY


      Thomas, great point. My biggest pet peeve with bloggers (and I'm generalizing here) is that many have never spent a day in the wine business, yet rant about how wineries / wholesalers / retailers could better run their businesses. In some cases they may have a point from a consumer's perspective, but they should stop telling everyone that CA Sangio / Tempranillo / Malbec are the next big thing. They are the next small thing, and that's fine.

      Niche markets serve a purpose, including a low cost of entry, which wine bloggers have happily exploited.

      • 1WineDude


        PA – you are touching on a point that I will be exploring in an upcoming post, which is… is there really any harm done to the wine biz and to consumers if lots of people are blogging about wine…

    • 1WineDude


      Thom – I'm guilty of doing that, though not on the winemaking side of things :). I agree with you – I had a long discussion with a winemaker here in PA, he was bumming about having to make sweet wines to pay the bills. But the wine wasn't crap, or poorly made, it just wasn't a geek wine and he is a geek :). I was telling him "what's the harm, it funds doing what you love!"

      As for the boldface – I'll reconsider for future posts. Having said that, the comment above is the first real negative feedback I've gotten and I've used that for years (I'll take your comment as #2 :), so I don't want to go too nuts on that yet…

    • Joe Herrig


      Incredibly good point from Thomas about bloggers trying to influence the direction of wineries. Begs the question (or should I say, flogs the dead horse again?): when wines of suspected sub-par quality are poured at events like WBC, is it more important to please the palates of the bloggers, or pour wines that are intended to appeal to the bloggers' audiences who, theoritically, are not supposed to be a bunch of other bloggers?

      • 1WineDude


        Joe – one would hope the latter, though I suspect it was the former in the hopes of the latter!

        I have to say, I've seen winemakers just about lose their sh*t laughing at stuff they read in print and online that speculates as to the winemaking and/or grapegrowing causes for some aspects those writers pick up in the finished product in bottle. So I try to steer clear from even going there unless I am really sure of what I am smelling, or had a chance to ask the producer (good example: I was *sure* that a Chilean producer acidified their Torrontes based on how the wine tasted in its acid profile… but I don't make wine and so I asked them about it when I visited, and they were like "yes… how did you know?"… and even then I never wrote about it!).

  • winingways


    Joe I agree with most of your very interesting post. No mobile app is going to spawn a legion of new oenophiles but new wine geeks are created every day. New aha moments are being experienced and converts are coming over play for our team. I did not grow up to be a wine geek. I danced around wine for years not knowing anything about it. My transcendant moment did not ocurr until about 15 years ago. But no

    • 1WineDude


      Thanks, winingways – similar thing happened to me, and also did that with craft beer… and now there is NO going back! :)

      • winingways


        Had my own craft beer faze and still love but wine is kinder on the carbs.Sent from my iPhone

        • 1WineDude


          @winingways – yeah, there is that factor…

  • Wine Harlots


    The Crushd app to me, isn't for uber-wine-geeks.
    It's a fun little app that brings the possibilities of social media to wine.
    I haven't had the full user experience yet, as they just launched, and they don't have enough users yet to clearly see the potential.
    The whole potential of Crushd (IMHO) is getting casual wine drinking having fun with the wine experience.
    I think the commerce part of the app shows promise — friends will have the ability to easily find the wine I just drank — or when they are in a specific store, see all the "Wine Harlot Approved Wines" I tasted.

    Great meeting you at WBC11.

    Best Wishes,

    Nannette Eaton

    P.S. — Yeah, the SEO-designed bold, italics, multiple colors etc are very distracting.
    But it's not just you — sometimes Tom Wark's posts are so busy it makes me reach for anti-nausea medication.

    • 1WineDude


      Nice meeting you, too, Nannette!

      One point about the boldface – there's nothing SEO about it. It's about being able to scan the post with your eyeballs quickly and pull out the most pertinent themes. Almost EVERYBODY does this when reading online. The italics are just for emphasis and sometimes, well, I just get carried away! :) I hope the multiple colors thing isn't too applicable to me, I've tried to have some general coherence to the colors on the site so they're at least from similar color families, not too distracting, etc. (of course, the ads are another story… and their own headache-inducing nightmare for me sometimes…!). Agree that Tom's site is badly in need of a redesign. :)

  • @piamara


    Hey Joe,
    Great speaking on the fireless fireside chat with you and great post!

    I agree there's a smaller group of wine nerd/ninjas who will engage with this kind of app, but the boys at Crushd can take comfort in the fact that there are enough uber-users and aspiring nerds out there to keep all of the solid wine apps busy.

    For me, the combo social and commerce functions of Crushd are what sets it apart. That should be the selling point. Converting non-wine nerds is irrelevant.

    Thanks again!
    Pia
    @piamara

    • 1WineDude


      Thanks, Pia – it was my pleasure to sit on the panel with you! Agree that Crushd has something going for it in the commerce piece.

    • Albert


      I agree! Good point.

    • Joe Herrig


      a drunken ninja is very dangerous, but not as stealthy.

  • @reneewinerd


    I have often felt bad or silly for my growing wine geekism so thanks for the post! I know know that I am not alone and have fellow geeks to follow and can share my expirences with. I adore wine and the whole process from stock to bottle and like to learn as much as I can. Thank again and keep fighting the good fight:)

    • 1WineDude


      @reneewinerd – You are most certainly NOT alone!

  • Arthur


    If most people will never get into wine, can we finally stop dumbing down wine (the product and the way we talk about it) in order to attract those who'd rather just have a Budweiser or a Fuzzy Navel?
    If someone is not drawn to something, talking to them like they are a retarded kindergartener will not change their mind.

    • 1WineDude


      Arthur – Yeah, I think i am in agreement with you on not dumbing wine down. Sure, we can make it a bit more accessible, but that is different than what you are talking about… I *think*. Might help with some examples of what you consider dumbing down. Cheers!

  • Erin McGrath


    Hi Joe – I actually (finally) met you in person on the way over to the Orzo panel. Good post, and you brought up some issues that I too considered in regards to Crushd. In fact I wrote about that app myself last night (in an admittedly less-organized and thought-out post.) As a member of the wine industry in the retail/e-commerce area, I found the major pro of this app to be the reach it will give to brick and mortar stores. My store is actually included in the results when wines are searched, and an online purchase is a few clicks away. In addition, the actual store location and directions are easily accessible. That is pretty cool.
    The downside (mind, my experience is detached as I too am unable to download the app and use it – I’m on Android) is that it will not necessarily appeal to the casual wine drinker (a point discussed at the panel)- and IMHO the one most likely to wonder what their friends drank and liked. The demographic that this app targets (generally speaking) purchases wine on the fly – and usually for same-day or evening consumption. I’m glad they were able to capture that group, as they also usually aren’t loyal to a certain store for instance (they’ll just buy the wine wherever) and this may encourage that.
    The bigger picture leaves me a little nervous as I can’t help but wonder what is happening to good customer service in the wine biz, and how this will affect those of us employed by brick ‘n mortars. While my store has a huuuuuge online presence, some aren’t so lucky and depend on that personal interaction to build store loyalty. If the next gen is always relying on pals for recommendations (the Yelp effect, I like to call it) what will be the consequences? Of course, that’s a whole other can of worms that I won’t open at the moment. Thanks for posting some honest thoughts on Crushd.

    • 1WineDude


      Hi Erin – totally remember meeting you, great to finally connect! I think the power of the point of sale is still very, very great – I wrote about it not too long ago here ( http://www.1winedude.com/index.php/2011/06/01/who… ) and from what we can tell from the data, the store clerk still exerts a very high (if not the highest) influence on the wine that gets purchased. Cheers!

  • @mariepayton


    Hi Joe, I think helping the casual/aspiring wine drinker enjoy wine and taking away the intimidation factor is huge. If there are apps that can provide info and also let someone know where they can buy a bottle of wine they enjoyed in a restaurant, then it helps them. Does it convert them to uber-wine-geekdom? No, but that's okay!

    Two additional points: I think your use of bold typeface is fine, and it was 5000% humidity in C'veille!

    • 1WineDude


      Thanks, Marie – Maybe it was actually 5001 humidity…

  • gaga4grapejuice


    I am an aspiring wine geek… I love wine and really appreciate the many varieties, aromas and flavors. Thank you for sharing this. I really enjoy reading your blog.

    • 1WineDude


      Cheers, gaga!

  • Jason Phelps


    Wow! Lots of comments about the bold type.

    Anyway. I too am skeptical about the true audience for an app like Crushd. Even the fascination with mobile apps on the part of many of the casual drinkers the real key is going to be able to keep them using the app once they find it. Why would they. Socializing is organic and having an app for social media driven wine conversation is just one thread of the "conversation". Once the conversation switches gear is there an app for that? Maybe, but is isn't sustainable. People aren't going to app out for everything and they won't sustain their love for many apps at a time, it isn't human nature.

    So we get back to the audience who have the wine geek drive. They are who you are going to get, are fewer and will still fall prey to issues of longevity based on the fact that real life is not happening in an app.

    And not having a cross platform solution at launch is so last week. We've come to far to support that anymore. Partnering with one isolates the audience immediately. First impressions suffer.

    Jason

    • 1WineDude


      Jason – great points, but I think where Crushd has some momentum is the fact that it *is* cinnected to real life, in terms of being able to tell you where you can get a physical bottle nearby…

  • Trackbacks

  • Trackback from Terroirist » Daily Wine News: Vintage Wine Lists
    Thursday, 4 August, 2011

    […] Joe Roberts explains why most wine blog readers ought to “revel” in the fact that they’re in the “upper echelon of the wine-buying U.S. public.” […]

  • Trackback from Is the bottom of the pyramid of wine drinkers a potential market? I say YES!
    Thursday, 4 August, 2011

    […] today I read 1WineDude’s post which shared his perspective on Vintank’s “pyramid of wine drinkers.” The true wine geeks hold […]

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