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Wine Drinkers Unadventurous in the Spirits Department

Wine Drinkers Unadventurous in the Spirits Department
© Connexion International
New statistics presented at Napa conference.

Wine drinkers imbibe a lot more beer than previously realized. And even if they like unusual wines, when they buy spirits they go mainstream.

Studies of the U.S. alcohol market often treat wine and beer drinkers as separate tribes. But two different speakers on Tuesday at the Wine Industry Financial Symposium in Napa looked at the crossover, and it is considerable.

John Gillespie of Wine Opinions told the symposium that 25 percent of high-frequency wine drinkers also report drinking beer either daily or several times a week.

Unsurprisingly perhaps, high-frequency wine drinkers prefer craft beer, by a large margin, and 60 percent report that they "never" drink domestic beer "priced below premium."

But the spirits habits of wine lovers are unexpected. Vodka is the favorite (as it is with the general public), although American whiskey is in second place. And the only spirits that a majority of high-frequency wine drinkers say they "never" drink are Canadian whiskey, and brandy and Cognac. The base material for the latter two is, ironically, grapes.

"Maybe what wine lovers are saying is, 'Whatever you do, don't distill it,'" Gillespie said.

Wine lovers' favorite vodka is reported to be Grey Goose, which makes some sense as it's from France. For American whiskey, Wine Opinions found they prefer Jack Daniel's, and for Scotch, they eschew single malts in favor of Johnnie Walker.

The poll measured the opinion of 1,151 high-frequency wine drinkers, defined as those who report having wine daily or several times per week. That number includes 555 high-end wine drinkers. 

"My supposition is that wine is the one place where they take the time and the involvement to go beyond the mainstream," Gillespie said. 

In a separate presentation, Citi Research vice president Vivien Azer said the search by consumers for less mainstream brands was a weakness for the wine industry in its battle for "throat share" with beer and spirits. She pointed out that the beer aisles in stores were dominated by a few brands, while retailers were overwhelmed with so many wine brands that they turned many potential additions away without tasting them.

"When you go to the Bourbon section, you've got three or four choices," Azer said. "There's no need for the spirits companies to discount because the customers keep buying the same things. Wine has so many SKUs [different bottlings] that something is always discounted. People learn to expect discounts from wine."

But Gillespie said that was the nature of the wine industry. From his survey, 15 percent of high frequency wine drinkers are "uninvolved," meaning they usually buy the same brand and don't think about options. But the other 85 percent prefer variety.

"Fragmentation is what wine is all about," Gillespie said. "That's its nature."

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