The other day the infamous Jancis Robinson (“internationally known wine writer respected for my independence”) sent out an innocuous tweet while waiting for an event to begin. It went like this,
“Why aren’t SA wines more appreciated in the US? (You can tell I’m nervously waiting for charity gala to start.) Rowley Leigh ready to cook.”
Twitter being twitter and requiring abbreviations all over the place, me being me and knowing little about wines from outside the Americas, I had to reply… “I don’t know… what are SA wines? RT @JancisRobinson: Why aren’t SA wines more appreciated in the US?”
The twitter community was quick to respond and I got many answers telling me, duh, she meant South African wines! Somebody, thank goodness, actually said it COULD have been South American wines, but since we do drink South American wines here in pretty sizeable quantities, at least in our house, I figured she must have meant South African wines, too.
But it leaves a question that DOES beg to be answered. Armed with a few pieces of data and some assumptions that I carry about how the general consuming public in the US buys wine priced under $25 per bottle, I’ve come up with a few ideas that probably contribute to our lack of interest in South African wines.
- Political problems created a massive stumbling block
This one’s not my idea, I stole it from Eric Asimov. But he makes a good point. Right about the time American’s were “learning” about wine the culture of Apartheid and the associated trade embargoes, made it impossible for South African wines to find their way to the U.S. So we learned about California wine, French wine, and Italian wine instead.
- Americans are Xenophobes
I’m not personally a xenophobe, but culturally-speaking, our melting-pot doesn’t like new ingredients. It especially abhors anything it can’t read (which these days includes 4th-grade textbooks), and many of the labels I looked at contain German- or Austrian-sounding names (another group of wines that doesn’t get much attention from the general consumers of America)
- Americans buy based on the pretty pictures on the label
There’s something interesting that I noticed in the labels of the wines from South Africa. It’s very subjective, but they reflect a different culture of marketing & packaging design than ours. I’ve noticed this in my adventures in e-commerce, but I’m sure it holds true in the physical world as well. What works in America doesn’t work other places. Other cultures have different aesthetics than ours and while other cultures like what we do, we shy away from what seems different than the our “style” of doing things.
- We’ve been taught that Southern Hemisphere Wine = Cheap Wine
Unfortunately, the Australians are learning this the hard way, but Americans have been programmed to believe that wines from the Southern Hemisphere are inexpensive and not well-made. Now I’ve had enough fantastic wine from Down Under, New Zealand, and Argentina to know that ain’t true, but it is the “grocery store” version of how Southern Hemisphere wines are marketed in the US. If I’m already thinking it’s cheap because of where it comes from, why spend my money to try the one or two bottles that MAY show up at my local store?
If I’ve misunderstood, been wrong, or left out important information, school me please!
Keep in touch with the people I mentioned in the article.