The top wine brands in wine for last year have just been announced and two top contenders globally were Yellowtail (Australia) and Barefoot (USA). They have both been enormously successful in attracting wine drinkers and are produced in quantities measured in the tens of millions of cases. However, in the grand scheme of things, they are small fry compared to brands in other drinks categories, such as whisky or vodka.
What is it about wine drinkers that as soon as a brand becomes quite famous people start to steer away from it? Think Piat D’Or (The French adore…), Stowells of Chelsea (right under the noses of other wine merchants…), Blue Nun Liebfraumilch and various other all too briefly famous wine brands. It is as though as soon as it becomes fashionable to turn up at a party with a branded label, it becomes unfashionable just as quickly. We want to blend in and be drinking the “right stuff” but are equally reluctant to become mainstream and boring. It seems that wine drinkers are far more exploratory (and interesting?!) than vodka drinkers.
I wonder what the life expectancy of Yellowtail will be seen in this historical perspective. They were established in 2000 and the original 540 hectares of vineyards in Australia which, although quite a large by any standard, now accounts for about 3% of the grapes they require for wine production. They export more wine to the USA than all of France combined! Barefoot Wines is even bigger and, combined with their parent company E.J. Gallo, they allegedly account for 40% of California’s entire wine production and churn out three times as much wine as Yellowtail (about 35 million cases).
There are a few other brands in the top 10 that you should have heard of and most likely drunk at some point. These brands are Hardys (Australia), Echo Falls (USA), Sutter Home (USA), Casillero del Diablo (Concha y Toro in Chile), Robert Mondavi (USA) and then a couple you probably haven’t heard of. The unfamiliar ones are predictably Chinese (Changyu and Great Wall) and between them are the same size as Yellowtail which astounds me.
The wine trade has always been a bit snobbish about branded wines. There is a fine line between consistency and boredom. For example, Tennents Lager is very consistent and hasn’t yet breached the boredom threshold. It is mass produced and yet retains quality to a sufficient degree and hence has longevity as a brand. As the young craft-beer drinker matures, will they step into the same slippers as their parents? By being exposed to alternatives will they be reluctant to slide into mainstream?
This is also the problem facing wine brands. As they get more people into wine drinking soon people get exposed to alternatives and come to realize that the brand that got them into wine is just a starting point on their wine journey. Commercial brands are just one part of the story though. Historically, the first ever wine brand was called Haut Brion and was mentioned by the English diarist Samuel Pepys on the 10th April 1663. If you know your wines then you might be familiar with this wine today, even if you can’t afford to buy it. So, some wine brands have longevity after all.