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Wine’s BIGGEST Unanswered, Market-Killing Question: Why?

On Feb. 21, 2022, Wine Gourd author David Morrison — who is a globally recognized and widely published scientist, biostatistician, and wine drinker — posted this very coherent and detailed post: The wine industry is asking the wrong question.


Dr. Morrison certainly knows his way around both data and wine, and prompted me to look at another question that must be asked of the industry is to work its way out of a steadily declining market position:




Why do people drink wine? Or don’t? Or prefer other AlcBevs? Or stop drinking wine? Or punt out of their wine club?


The currently stalled WineRAMP effort to create a consumer market promotion similar to “Got Milk?” is fundamentally flawed and would be doomed to failure even if funded because it lays out no plans for market definition, messaging or other statistically significant, actionable data on the “why” questions.


Other than seat-of-the-pants, anecdotal guesses, the wine industry currently has no idea how to effectively target its demographic segments or to create successful tailored messaging for each of its constituent groups.


This, despite the scores of pages of valuable, and well-reasoned strategy on how to create the WineRAMP organization:


Those are valuable, detailed documents but fail to address messaging by physical or demographic market or by ranking the priority of market expenditures. For an overall third-party view, please see: Wine, The Wallflower: Industry Honchos Plan Joint Marketing


The Plural Of Anecdote Is NOT Data


Currently, everybody seems to have their own favorite set of anecdotal “why” answers — mostly based on their own unique attitudes and occupational experience.


But, without solid buying decisions and motivational data, organizational money would not be well spent.


However, with actual data accurately and credibly gathered, it could be disseminated publicly to allow individual wineries — or consortia –to prioritize their own expenditures, and target the demographics they feel suit them best.


A GenXer is not a Millennial, is not a GenZer, is not a Boomer. Messaging will vary. Communications outlets will vary. But without fundamental answers, WineRAMP is just another industry off-ramp to losing consumers.


Below Is The Sad State Of Answering “WHY?”


In 10 years of searching for “why,” the two charts below are the best I have located. True, there have been a handful of ad hoc, non-statistically valid surveys with a small number (50 or 150) of subjects, but those are not valid reflections of the market as a whole, and cannot provide needed guidance for messaging and market segmentation.


Neither of these (and other ad hoc studies) indicate any of the characteristics of properly done surveys (also see standards, below charts.)

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Minimum standards for credibility : Source: American Association for Public Opinion Research: Survey Disclosure Checklist


  • Disclosure of conflicts of interest,
  • The number of subjects surveyed and whether those are a statistically valid sample,
  • How the subjects were selected,
  • How the questions were asked,
  • When the questions were asked,
  • The medium of conducting the survey (online, in person, by phone etc.),
  • The exact wording of all the questions,
  • When and where the questions were asked.
  • A statistically credible margin of error.

An Object Lesson In Almost-Impossible Marketing Data


In 1973, I was teaching in the communications department at Cornell University when the Governor of Mississippi, Bill Waller, asked me to work directly with him. Part of my duties were to serve as head of the state’s Department of Travel & Tourism.


At the time, that sounded to me like trying to promote package tours to Lower Boondockistan. But Waller had built a reputation as the prosecutor of the assassin of Medgar Evers, and was paving a path toward greater diversity and social justice.


Because I was born and raised up in Mississippi and wanted to see if I could help the poorest state in the union, I took the job.


And like the wine industry, everybody had their own personal idea of what to do and how to do it. Fundamentally nobody knew why anybody would visit the state, or where they came from, or what would motivate them. Just like today’s wine industry.


So, my first act at spending the state’s money was to commission a nationwide survey by Market Opinion Research which was one of the top firms at the time.


I took boatloads of grief from all quarters, especially the knuckle-draggers in the state legislature.


But in the end, the survey data on motivations, messaging and visitor origins became a foundation for creating a set of prioritized target markets, demographics, and messaging for each of them.


The overall data-driven strategy was complicated, but among the biggest draws were:

  • Blues music fans across the nation,
  • History buffs from the Midwest and neighboring states,
  • Winter sunbirds from Ontario and Quebec, and
  • Gamblers from Mississippi and surrounding states.

Based on actual data instead of anecdotal BS, laws to legalize gambling passed after tough legislative battles.


Money was made available to develop Mississippi Delta Blues venues and museums.


Small lodging operators were financially boosted to encourage them to enhance rooms with mini-kitchens which sunbirds wanted.


There was more involved, but the resulting economic and financial progress was based on the survey data that allowed targeting the best markets, find out what potential visitors really wanted to shape the most effective messaging.


State tourism dollars increased dramatically.


A logical conclusion


The parallels here are valid for a state, a wine organization, or a corporation that wishes to expand its market and increase its income: Success requires accurate data to target customers, know their needs/attitudes, and to create the correct messaging, along with accurate demographic and geographic targeting.


The big lesson here is this: If solid data and its logical and creative use can boost tourism in Mississippi, it can certainly work for wine.


A modest proposal


What is needed is an effort to raise funds for a proper and statistically valid marketing and communications study that will make all the results publicly available so that millions of industry minds can develop the best plans and activities for their operations.


That distributed brainpower and effort can create a larger and more useful result than what could be expected from yet another industry bureaucracy influenced by its own self-interest. Some of the brightest and most capable brains can also be found in academia. The results of such a distributed effort will offer mountains of data for colleges and universities to analyze … and produce even more ideas.


The wine industry as a whole is starved for good data. Some data is available for the upper 1% which can afford to pay for it.  But the progress of an entire industry should not be locked behind a paywall accessible only to those who need it the least.