If you’re selling wine, positive reviews from top crit-
ics and recommendations from sommeliers are crucial.
Marketing teams that create consumer events and
flood journalists with samples and information can
help shape perceptions. But every so often, an unexpected event can have a huge impact on the popularity
of a winery, a grape variety, a region.
Priest himself had experienced the phenomenon on
a smaller scale. He was working at Wild Horse, a boutique property in California’s Paso Robles region, when
the popular country singer Dolly Parton happened to
mention that she enjoyed the winery’s Riesling. “We
sold out our entire stock in one day,” Priest recalls.
Why is wine so susceptible to the phenomenon? You
are what you eat, the saying goes. But in terms of how
you want to be perceived on a given day, you’re more
likely to be what you drink. Choosing a particular
bottle — a coveted cuvée, an inexpensive picnic wine
or anything in between — is an immediate and direct
way to brand yourself. “You can make the decision,
‘This is how I’m feeling today, in front of this group
of people,’ or ‘This is how I’m going to impress this
woman,’” says Brian Larky, whose Dalla Terra Imports
brings Italian wines into the United States.
That flexibility makes wine vulnerable to the vicissitudes of pop culture. “Your wine becomes popular
because a soccer player in Sweden likes it and you just
have to be nimble,” Priest says. “I remember being at
Roederer in Champagne and they were almost apologetic that hip-hoppers were drinking Cristal. And I
said, ‘Are you kidding me? People are drinking the wine
who’ve never tried it before. That has to be good.’”
Hip-hop’s influence on sparkling wine began when
Jay Z mentioned “Cristals by the bottle” in the 1996
rap “Can’t Knock the Hustle.” Roederer, among the
more staid of Champagne houses, suddenly found its
top cuvée serving as the de rigueur tipple for rappers,
record moguls and millions of wannabes. That lasted
nearly a decade, until Roederer made it known that it
wasn’t relishing the connection. By then, Lil’ Kim had
included the line “Still over in Brazil, sippin’ Moscato”
in “Lighters Up.” That was followed by a direct brand
reference in Jay Z and Kanye West’s “Make Her Feel
Good” remix: “Saracco Moscato, it do taste good.”
Says Larky, the agent for Saracco at the time, “The
entire category went through the roof.”
“It’s the element of kismet,” agreed Nicole Carter,
a vice president of Treasury Wine Estates. “The stars
align. Moscato went from zero interest to being seen
all over the world in what seemed like a matter of
seconds. It was a cultural trend.”
The phenomenon isn’t new. F. Scott Fitzgerald intro-
duced Americans to sauternes in The Great Gatsby.
James Bond made Bollinger Champagne a symbol of
elegant insouciance. But with the rise of social media,
drinking like your favorite rap or country star has
become instantaneously possible. “People are aware
of what bands are doing, where they’re hanging out,
what wines they’re enjoying,” Larky says.
A REGIONAL BOON
Sometimes the effect is on an entire region. Frances
Mayes’ non-fiction Under the Tuscan Sun introduced
tourists to the town of Cortona, where the wine Vino
Nobile di Montepulciano is made. “We had a very good
moment for wine tourism at that time,” says Federico
Carletti of Azienda Agricola Poliziano. “Tourists would
arrive speaking about the book.” It happened again after
the book was made into a movie in 2004, especially
since some scenes were filmed in Montepulciano.
When the 2010 FIFA World Cup was held in South
That was the case in 1991, when the U.S. news program
Africa, the wines of the entire country got a boost. It
started during the event. “Over a six-week period, we
did the equivalent of a year’s sales,” says Mike Ratcliffe,
managing director of his family’s Warwick brand and
his own Vilafonte. “Then people went home and
started asking for the wines.” The largest effects have
been in the biggest markets: China, which had little
connection with South Africa before the World Cup,
and the U.S. “Within a year, our U.S. sales had dou-
bled,” Ratcliffe says. “I’m confident that’s the reason.”
Occasionally, a story benefits wine across the board.
60 Minutes broadcast a segment titled “The French
Paradox.” It highlighted France’s significantly lower inci-
dence of heart disease than in North American coun-
tries, despite diets higher in animal fats — and alcohol.
For years, studies had linked moderate consumption of
red wine to heart health, but the concept hadn’t reached
the general population. Overnight, it did.
“Changed the category,” Carter pronounced. Then
she laughed: an acknowledgement that some things
are beyond even an ace marketer’s control. Fate and
fashion, she knows, could easily have sent things
spinning the other way. [
EVERY SO OFTEN, AN UNEXPECTED EVENT CAN
HAVE A HUGE IMPACT ON A WINERY.
THE GODFATHER, PART II
While Michael Corleone drinks
Bardolino at his son’s communion
party, you should be drinking one
of director Francis Coppola’s
own Inglenook bottlings. Look
for the 2009 or 2010 vintage of
the flagship Rubicon.
SILENCE OF THE LAMBS
Though it includes Hannibal
Lecter’s famous, “I ate it with
fava beans and a little Chianti,”
you should be drinking the wine
featured in Thomas Harris’s novel.
Rich, complex Amarone, such as
Allegrini’s 2008, is made by pass-
ing young wine over dried grapes.
While Bogart and Bergman toast
to "As Time Goes By," you should
sip the champagne featured: a
non-vintage G.H. Mumm Cordon
Rouge. Or upgrade to Mumm’s
Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs.