by Celia Bryan-Brown

Wine’s Magic Sauce

With the country sweltering through a heatwave, work sludges onwards towards August. Through an endless relay of ‘Out Of Office’ auto-responses, there’s only one thing everyone’s mind: holidays, and all that they symbolise.

Just returned from a holiday of my own, I’ve been reflecting, as I always do at this time of year, about why the syrupy Daiquiris and wine spritzers I reach for on the beach taste so, so much better on holiday. With only the rankest understanding of the psychology, I know that the physical, sensory and emotional environments in which we enjoy a drink on holiday is at least as important – if not more so – than the drink itself.

It’s a tricky time of year for wine retailers. Clement weather shifts gallons of rosé, beer and so-christened ‘BBQ reds’ – but school holidays and weather forecasts can fatally adjust fortune. Still, it sometimes seems that drinks retailers are reading from the same playbook – ascribing to a set of subliminal rules dictating how their customers will consume alcohol at a given time of year. The given result is that every retailer markets the same products in the same way for each eventuality. In the summer, this means barbeques, picnics and weddings. At Christmas, it’s at an endless number of family gatherings and drinks parties – and so on. Wine marketing is inextricably geared towards meeting a perceived need, rather than inspiring a feeling or emotional response.

Capturing the feelings or emotions inspired by a product is a proven, highly persuasive marketing strategy. Indeed, the very basis of consumerism is buying a product because of the way it makes us feel, not because of its USPs – it’s the reason people remain loyal to Fairy or Persil when the formulas are fundamentally identical.

Take new team management tool,, whose launch tag is ‘What Using Feels Like’ – peeling the plastic off a new phone or popping bubble wrap. They correctly surmise that illustrating an emotional response will generate a far higher click-through, (and probably conversion), than detailing their product USPs from the get-go. At the other end of the scale, bemouths such as Apple, Instagram and Google similarly communicate with their customers in terms of emotion.

By contrast, in the wine industry we focus overwhelmingly on the USPs of individual products – and of individual companies. We wring our hands as we discuss the seemingly insurmountable barriers to building successful wine brands – forgetting the success of DOPs and generic wine types such as Provence rosé, positioned as the unequivocal accompaniment to refined, elegant, sun-drenched summer gatherings. I think that it is all too easy to forget our consumer, the vast majority of whom know little about wine and – more importantly – who don’t want to know about it. All they care about is how it will make them feel – something spirits and beer companies manage to communicate far more effectively.

A casual cruise of the UK’s most notable wine retailers reveals an absence of awareness of this fact. The focus is on what each company can do for their customer, on what makes them unique in the market-place – but not on how they can make them feel. Emotional resonance is really a trick of language; a reframing of the subject matter to speak more keenly to the irrational side of the customer’s brain. Instead of ‘best BBQ wines’, make it the bottles which will draw equivalent admiration as your beer can chicken. Instead of ‘perfect picnic wines’, make it fashion-forward picks for park posturing. Don’t try to sell the exact wines people drank on holiday; sell them the wines that will make them feel like they’re on holiday.

I’m in no way suggesting that we should discard the detail which enriches the wine landscape for consumers, but an awareness of how people consume alcohol – rather than just knowing why – could be the magic sauce which has found me raving about drinks as diverse (and embarrassing) as Moscato Sangria, Retsina and astringent Turkish red sold by the litre rather than the bottle.

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