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Here’s a wine guy who needs to get out more

Steve Heimoff is one of the best wine writers out there. I own a couple of his books. But today’s post looks like something written in 1984 or so, although the Wine Market Council presentation was two days ago.

(Before going on, because this could get ugly, I’ll remind you that the category is Beer & Wine, not Beer vs. Wine.)

Heimoff points with particular interest to data compiled by The Nielsen Company.

WINE BEER
I like well-known brands:    1    34
I like to explore new brands:    42    5

I guess the numbers are percentages. Anyway, let’s get right to his analysis: “In other words, beer drinkers stick with their tried-and-true favorites (Bud Lite, Coors, whatever) and rarely venture outside their comfort zone. Wine drinkers by contrast are 8 times more likely to be adventurous and try something new.” [We won't deduct points because he might have confused Bud Light and Miller Lite.]

Then why are the beers the Brewers Association defines as “craft” rockin’ ‘n’ rollin’ in supermarkets? SymphonyIRI data certainly indicates beer drinkers are exploring like crazy.

So perhaps his guesses at “why” would be rendered moot with different numbers in mind. But it is so seldom somebody puts together a list of six points and gets every one wrong that it deserves to be repeated.

1. wine is inherently more interesting than beer.
2. wine changes with each vintage and people know that whereas beer always tastes the same.
3. wine drinkers listen more to gatekeepers, such as critics, than do beer drinkers.
4. wine is so much better with food than beer.
5. there are so many more wine brands than beer brands to choose from.
6. most importantly, wine drinkers are more adventurous than beer drinkers because we’re risk takers, curious, liberal, open to improving ourselves and our lives, smarter (but don’t think we know everything), and more hopeful than beer drinkers, who, for all their charms, are (let’s face it) happiest with a kegger and an ample supply of beer nuts.

(Remember, deep breaths.)

Added Jan. 28 (the next day): He says he was kidding. Just wish he hadn’t written “brewski” in doing so.

24 Responses to Here’s a wine guy who needs to get out more

  1. mk January 27, 2011 at 11:30 am #

    Well, at least he did some really thorough research and didn’t just, like, sit back and generalize about an entire population that he clearly knows absolutely nothing about.

  2. Alan January 27, 2011 at 11:38 am #

    To be fair, at least 50%+1 of beer drinkers are less adventurous than wine fans. But also to be fair, that is comparing apples to oranges as I am sure he is not thinking of the buyers of domestic “sherry” either.

  3. Dave January 27, 2011 at 12:11 pm #

    Saying that people are beer fans and listing Bud, Miller and Coors would be like saying wine fans are all about Franzia and MD20/20. He clearly doesn’t even know what a beer fan IS let alone what they are adventurous about.

  4. TimC January 27, 2011 at 12:14 pm #

    Wow, this makes him look like a left handed hitter waving at a Pedro Martinez change-up on a 1-2 count.

  5. Jack Curtin January 27, 2011 at 12:26 pm #

    That is mind-boggling.

  6. Mike Kallenberger January 27, 2011 at 1:16 pm #

    Mainstream beer is 95% of the beer market, so of course any stats about beer and the resulting generalizations will be dominated by mainstream beer drinkers. And the truth is that “mainstream” wines (sherry, Franzia, et al) are a much smaller slice of the wine market than craft beer is within the beer market. So while it’s true that he’s defining wine by the best wines and not doing the same for beer, that’s not entirely unfair. Try substituting “mainstream beer” for “beer” in that write-up and see if you still have the same reaction. (For that matter, then try substituting “craft beer” for “wine.”) Isn’t the real problem the way the big brewers have “dumbed down” beer? That’s what this writer, unknowingly but not entirely unfairly, is reacting to. Certainly, though, he should at least have been aware enough to acknowledge the craft category, and where it’s trying to take beer.

  7. Stan Hieronymus January 27, 2011 at 3:07 pm #

    Mike – Interesting idea on the word swaps. But I don’t think that excuses the apples to oranges comparisons.

    What happens if we compare the “craft beer” segment o the “craft wine” segment rather than simply noting mainstream beer sales drown them both? Unfortunately, I don’t know what you’d call “craft wine” or what sales were. But if you look here:

    http://bit.ly/hB9wo6

    you’ll see that total wines sales in 2009 were $26 billion (seems low). That includes box wines, non-vintages wines, plenty of wines “gatekeepers” don’t write about. That doesn’t mean they were good or good at the table, but they aren’t wines of adventure.

    The Brewers Association put “craft beer” sales at almost $7 billion in 2009, but that doesn’t include Yuengling, Blue Moon, etc., beers the drinking public considers “craft.” So a figure above $10 billion seems fair. That’s pretty impressive compared to any wine number.

  8. Jeff Alworth January 27, 2011 at 3:16 pm #

    Second what Mike says. Craft brewing–rocking and rolling off a very small base–has five percent of the market. So this number seems totally accurate. Also, the stats you provide add up to 39%, which means there are more answer categories or a poll-shattering number of “don’t knows.”

    As to his explanation–yes, that’s pretty asinine.

  9. Mike January 27, 2011 at 3:23 pm #

    Stan, you are quite right that he gets everything wrong and, furthermore, has no sources to back up what are clearly nothing more than his opinions.

    Speaking of which, could you point me to your source for “‘craft’ rockin’ ‘n’ rollin’ in supermarkets”?

  10. Mike Kallenberger January 27, 2011 at 3:57 pm #

    I hope this is “advancing” the subject and not changing it, but to me this all speaks to a larger issue. In my mind, it’s almost as though there are four categories of alcoholic beverages: spirits, wine, mainstream beer, and craft beer. The differences between craft beers and mainstream beers are much greater than the high and low ends of wine or spirits, and the same is true of craft beer drinkers and mainstream beer drinkers. (Permit me to over-generalize for a moment, especially since there are certainly some people who drink both.) To me, this is an almost tragic state of affairs for beer, and it is unsustainable. Craft beer is in the early stages of redefining what “beer” means to the average American, but until more progress is made, this divide will exist. What Heimoff says is not only true about the typical mainstream beer drinker, that hypothetical person would embrace most of that assessment. Not everyone sees “risk taker, curious, liberal, open” as a compliment!

  11. John Chase January 27, 2011 at 4:28 pm #

    I certainly hope that the wine community is a bit more discerning than to take this post at face value. Living in Flagstaff, there is still some serious prejudice against beer at some of the nicer restaurants, a trend I have not noticed as much in bigger cities. Every time I go to an expensive restaurant and see a wine list of well over a hundred and only three beers, one of which is guaranteed to be Fat Tire, my stomach drops. I have no interest in a beer vs. wine argument, they’re different and that’s how it is, I would however like to see people begin to understand the difference between liking something and thinking something is better than the next. Of course in Heimhoff’s case he uses that prejudice to erroneously report statistical findings, which propagate the wine is better than beer myth. Though Heimhoff may not want to admit it there is absolutely classicism among wine drinkers in their view of beer drinkers and this “study” serves a similar function as IQ tests did in the 30’s.

  12. Mike Kallenberger January 27, 2011 at 4:43 pm #

    A friend of mine made a great point regarding Heimhoff’s statement: “In other words, beer drinkers stick with their tried-and-true favorites (Bud Lite, Coors, whatever) and rarely venture outside their comfort zone. Wine drinkers by contrast are 8 times more likely to be adventurous and try something new.” But this was in reference to the numbers for “I like to explore new brands.” Brands, not styles. Unlike craft and mainstream brewers, the wine business has done a terrible job of branding. This is clearly an influence on the two numbers. What portion of that 42% is actually saying “I only like one style of wine, and I don’t care who makes it, because all the brands are basically the same?”

  13. David Martin January 27, 2011 at 5:35 pm #

    The barrels of beer produced for we the lessor of this post is proof that we stand together. Wine drinkers whine cant make up their minds and most often don’t know the difference.

  14. Stan Hieronymus January 27, 2011 at 6:29 pm #

    Mike – Rockin’ ‘n’ rollin’ is based on SymphonyIRI’s mid-year report (the latest one). The seven megabrands were down 4.1% in supermarkets. “craft beer” – and IRI uses the BA definition – dollar sales were up 13.2 in food stores in that period.

    Jeff – Granted, one in twenty beers sold sounds small. But the base is getting pretty big. In the late ’90s, simply by opening, brewpubs contributed 15% to growth. That was pipeline filling and brewpub sales long ago flattened out.

    But I’d argue $10 billion in annual sales is a pretty good share of mind and indicates people living in much of the country have access to a wider range of beers.

  15. Stan Hieronymus January 27, 2011 at 6:29 pm #

    David – As I’ve written here before, “Come on in, the niche is fine.”

  16. Stan Hieronymus January 27, 2011 at 6:53 pm #

    Mike K – Agreed on the idea that “beer” has become two categories and that’s not serving the large brewers well at all. Meanwhile, I worry about small breweries retaining what the late Henry King called “institutional memory.” In the end it is still beer and if you have influential drinks writers characterizing beer drinkers as people who swill beer from kegs and eat beer nuts nobody wins.

    I’m also amazed that larger brewers gave up the term “craft” so easily, but that’s probably another discussion.

  17. Darren January 27, 2011 at 7:53 pm #

    I wont be going round to Steve H’s place for a beer. Not only would the selection be poor, he’d also assume that I was a redneck!

    Someone send him a cask of wine (I thik you refer to it as a box of wine in the US?) or as we call it in Australia “goon” that’ll show him where wine drinkers are headed

  18. olllllo January 27, 2011 at 10:15 pm #

    7. The craft beer nut market is poised to explode.

  19. Mike January 28, 2011 at 4:29 am #

    Thanks for the reply, Stan. However, I don’t find dollar sales proof of very much since raising prices will also raise dollar sales. I realise, however, that they are of interest to retailers.

    On a recent trip to NY, for example, in a local (discount) supermarket, I found a local beer (Brooklyn Brewery) selling at $2/bottle). Spaten, a German brewery, was selling in the same supermarket at $10/six bottles.

    While this is not proof that prices were raised, it does show that there is a certain amount of irrationality in beer prices. Unit sales would not be affected by this.

  20. Stan Hieronymus January 28, 2011 at 7:01 am #

    Mike – Unit sales increased 12%.

  21. Steve January 28, 2011 at 7:31 am #

    Whoa — that last comment is just completely charged with vehemence and ignorance — and pretty hypocritical. If he was so adventurous, you’d think he’d know a little more true facts about beer.

    Darren — this SteveH has 4 different kinds of stout, 3 different kinds of Bavarian Weizen, some American Brown Ale, Munich Helles, Doppelbock — sundry singles of Big Foot, Celebration, Autumnal Fire, Anchor Christmas, and Sierra Nevada Anniversary beers in his beer cellar — c’mon over! ;)

  22. Steve January 28, 2011 at 7:36 am #

    Oh — and not to mention 2 or 3 labels of California Pinot Noir, Merlot, Zinfandel, and Chardonnay — along with a few bottles of our favorite label French Chardonnay. But I guess I’m just not an adventurous beer drinker. ;)

  23. Steve January 28, 2011 at 11:11 am #

    Added Jan. 28 (the next day): He says he was kidding.

    “Some people mistake parody for earnestness.”

    Yeah, especially when it’s expressed as clear as mud.

  24. Matt, The Palate Jack January 31, 2011 at 7:34 am #

    I thought Heimhoff’s apology was a sham and his original piece was skewed (or SKU-ed). He is as annoying and pompous as beer devotees that insist beer always trumps wine in food and cheese pairing, price points, and attitude of the drinker.

    Get over it. Enjoy both. Drink what makes sense for the occasion. Stop your bickering.

    Cheers, TPJ

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