When Emma Spike moved to Chicago, she thought a wine tasting group like the one she had belonged to in New York would be the perfect way to make some new friends.
Not finding one, she decided to start her own and, last year, founded Lincoln Park Ladies Wine Club. About 20 women get together, each bringing a $20 bottle of wine that matches that month’s theme. For instance, French reds or sparkling wines. Bottles go in paper bags, so they can taste and critique.
“It’s a good ice breaker. Everyone’s taste is different, so you can talk about the different notes. It’s a good conversation starter,” Spike said.
It’s been about a decade since marketers and the wine industry started paying closer attention to women like Spike. It seems women, and especially millennial women, are having a love affair with wine. Recent studies by the Wine Market Council and Nielsen show women are buying and drinking wine more often than men and more often, in general. As a result, the industry is taking note of women’s habits around wine — how they consume it, how they shop for it and how it fits in their lives.
“We do know from our research that 60 percent of wine consumers are women, so of course, women are very important to the wine industry and for reasons beyond those percentages,” said Jennifer Jo Wiseman, vice president of E&J Gallo Winery. “One reason is because women frequently connect to one another and gathering around food with family and friends.”
Women are likely the ones buying the wine because they tend to be the primary shoppers in their households. “(In the past), consumer research would focus solely on the moments when people consumed products and not incorporate the moments when they were actually making the decision in the shopping aisle,” Wiseman said. Current research is focused on how women shop. Convenience has become an important feature. Wine might be available at different locations within a grocery store, signs or pamphlets might suggest typical food pairings, and wine can now be purchased at some convenience stores. People can even grocery shop at some stores with a glass of wine in hand.
The industry is doing more than catering to women who are buying wine to drink at home. In a nod to the fact that about half of Super Bowl watchers are women, Yellow Tail wine advertised during the game this year for the second time in 40 years.
“Why not plant a seed that you can watch the game and drink wine,” said Marina Velez, a senior product manager with The Beverage Information Group. “Why wouldn’t I have wine while I’m tailgating?” Recently, she’s been able to enjoy wine while catching a Yankees game.
Velez also attended a concert where she bought a small, plastic bottle of sparkling wine. Wine purveyors have found success in packaging that makes the beverage more convenient. As a result, Champagne is no longer just for New Year’s Eve or very special occasions. “Now the trend is to celebrate each moment, to celebrate when you get together with family and friends,” Velez said.
Millennials are driving some of these trends. Like many of her peers, Katie Roller made wine part of her life after studying abroad. While in Spain, she saw how wine was ingrained in the culture and decided to add it to her lifestyle when she returned home.
“It spoke to me and changed the way I thought about food and wine, and the way I feed myself,” she said. Roller works in the wine industry in New York’s Finger Lakes region and is a member of Women for Winesense, a national networking and educational wine organization for industry professionals and aficionados.
Such groups offer women a way to connect in the male-dominated industry and give them an outlet for their point of view. The wine industry made some mistakes when it first started paying attention to women, said Deborah Brenner, founder and CEO of Women of the Vine & Spirits, an organization for beverage professionals. Cute names and labels, and varieties with fewer calories or a lower alcohol content didn’t fare well.
“Women aren’t buying wine because of a gimmick,” Brenner said. Drinking wine has become a lifestyle for many women. Cooking shows have had an impact on the way people cook at home. Wine is more common at the dinner table and as a result is enjoyed on a regular basis. Women are just as likely to open a bottle in celebration as they are to have some with popcorn, and are as happy to have it with company or alone after work, Brenner said. Women and wine make a natural pairing because wine is meant to be shared, and that works with the way women socialize.
A group of friends hosting wine tastings in their homes each month inspired a wine-tasting event business in Bend, Ore. More than 10 years ago, Diane Sienko and her friends were turning women away from their group because they couldn’t seat more than eight around their kitchen tables. Sienko saw an opportunity in her foodie, wine-drinking town. In partnership with Bend Wine Cellar and the Jackalope Grill, she offers “Women Tasting Wine” to 30 to 50 women each month. Women meet to taste three flights of two wines paired with food. Winemakers, one from France, sometimes come to speak to the group.
It would be a different experience if men were included, Sienko said. “Women taste wine differently than men,” she said. “They like to talk about it, and men don’t talk when they are tasting. They sip and nod. They might write something down, but they don’t talk.” The women are as much about learning wine regions and grape varieties, as they are about socializing, she said.
In Ohio, women can stencil signs, paint ceramic pottery, crochet an infinity scarf or discuss books while sipping wine at The Winery at Spring Hill. Two radio stations also host a monthly ladies night with games. Before the business opened nine years ago, owners discussed what weekday events they could offer to draw in women from the surrounding Cleveland and Youngstown areas.
“A lot of people who go to wineries are women,” said Tom Swank, vice president and wine maker. “Women will go out in groups and have a ladies night, where men typically go to a bar or a sporting event.” Swank has found the strategy improves his business on weekends, as well. “Women are the decision-makers when it comes to social activities. We like to cater to them so they bring back their friends and husbands,” he said.
By Kristy Kennedy
April 3, 2018
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