Shifting Tastes in the World of Wine

It’s not uncommon to hear the phrase “I need a drink” at the end of a long day, and Americans seem to have longer days than most. In 2019, Americans consumed 871 million gallons of wine – more than any other country by nearly 200 million gallons.[i]

That number may be on the rise due to the quarantine and isolation requirements dictated due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Recent data suggests that alcohol consumption by U.S. residents rose by 24% from March 7 to April 18,[ii] and the only thing more popular than wine is liquor.[iii]

However, there are often strict regulations surrounding the sale of liquor. Beer and wine sales are more lenient.[iv] That means there’s an entire audience of consumers who might prefer higher alcohol content and the accompanying burn but who cannot purchase their drinks of choice as easily as they might purchase a bottle of wine or a six-pack of beer. 

Many wineries have begun to capitalize on this, repositioning themselves through product and process alterations. How? They’re aging their wines in spirit barrels. 

Photo of wine and liquor bottles by Chris F from Pexels
Photo by Chris F from Pexels

The wine purist may protest, but the trend began in the early 2010s and has only gained traction since then.[v] The practice of reusing old barrels for aging is not new, but generally these barrels travel upmarket rather than down – in other words, wine barrels will be recycled to age liquor, but not often the other way around.[vi]

However, just as some consumers may prefer a French Oaked wine, others enjoy the richness of flavor added by aging wine in old bourbon, tequila, and rum barrels. The increased alcohol by volume (ABV) doesn’t hurt either. 

Take a look at the Apothic brand of wines. Apothic positions themselves as an innovative winery, producing unique wines that are enjoyable, bold, and unforgettable.[vii] In this way, they were uniquely situated to launch Apothic Inferno in 2016, a red blend aged in whiskey barrels for 60 days. It has an ABV of 15.9%, which is significant when you consider that an average wine has an ABV of 11%.[viii]

The packaging of Apothic Inferno doesn’t vary much compared to the company’s other vintages, but the label does feature eye-catching flames behind the signature Apothic “A,” and it was originally marketed as a small-batch limited release. It became a permanent part of the Apothic product line in 2019. 

Apothic Inferno logo from PR Newswire
Apothic Inferno (PRNewsFoto/Apothic)

Even these minimal changes in branding equate to a higher price for Apothic Inferno. Total Wine & More lists Inferno at $12.79[ix] compared with $9.47 for the traditional Apothic Red Blend[x]. The markup isn’t huge, but it’s there.

Beringer Winery took a different approach to their line of liquor barrel aged wines. Beringer is often looked upon as a grocery store staple that offers affordable wines (some of their vintages sell for less than $5 at Total Wine).[xi]

But Beringer isn’t all cheap, sweet wines – it’s actually the oldest consistently operating winery in Napa Valley, one which has the resources and creativity to launch a line of spirit barrel aged wines to complement their existing product line.[xii] The line includes Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, and a Red Blend, all aged in Bourbon barrels and all 14.5% ABV. It also includes a Red Blend aged in Rye barrels and a Sauvignon Blanc aged in Tequila barrels (15.1%). 

Left: Beringer Main & Vine Cabernet Sauvignon
Right: Beringer Bros. Bourbon Barrel Aged Cabernet Sauvignon
Photos courtesy of Beringer.

What’s interesting about this new line of Beringer wines is how they’ve reimagined the packaging. Rather than the usual minimalist label featured on the majority of their wines, the spirit barrel aged wines feature a picture of the winery’s founders and a font and color palette common to the late 1800s.[xiii] The wines are also packaged in bottles traditionally used for spirits rather than the sleek, straight bottle many wine enthusiasts know and love.

Another unique feature is that the label is interactive – consumers must simply download the Living Wine Labels app from the Apple App Store or Google Play store, point their camera at the Beringer Bros. label, and up pops an interactive, augmented reality where the brothers talk about their new venture and how they can draw attention to their winery.[xiv]

The spirit barrel aged wines are retailing at triple the price of Beringer’s Main & Vine line. Total Wine & More lists the Bourbon Barrel Aged Chardonnay at $14.49[xv] versus just $5.47 for the Main & Vine Chardonnay.[xvi]

What Beringer has done is create a completely new brand persona for their spirit aged wines. The new labels and even the shape of the bottles help the wine stand out when shelved next to similar wines in the store. Whether or not the spirit aged wine trend is here to stay or just a passing fad, Beringer has taken the next step to help their wines stand out.

Questions for Marketing Managers to Consider:

  • As a marketing manager, what consumer trends exist in your industry, and how would you seize those opportunities?
  • As a marketing manager, what technology is available to my team, and how can we use it to further our reach?
  • How does packaging play into helping our product stand out?