Wednesday, February 24, 2010
Merlot's Death Hoax
The thrillingly named study, “Merlot Today: The State of the U.S. Merlot Market, Consumer Attitudes and Trends” (insert big yawn here) commissioned by California-based Blackstone Winery and The Nielson Company, finds that Merlot has the largest consumer base of any grape varietal in the U.S. The study also shows that Merlot is the varietal most closely associated with high quality at an affordable price, an increasingly important feature in these economic times.
Huh. I realize that New York City does not offer an accurate depiction of what goes on in the rest of the country, but poor Merlot is treated with nothing short of disdain around here. Mostly attributed to “the Sideways effect” based on the 2004 movie “Sideways” and its outwardly challenging depiction of Merlot, consumers seem to think that drinking Merlot is somehow shameful and that all Merlot based wines are loathsome. As Miles says in the movie, “… if anyone orders Merlot, I'm leaving. I am NOT drinking any f****ing Merlot!” For shame.
The Nielson research, released this month, fails to back up the so called “Sideways effect”, finding that, since the movie, Merlot sales have actually grown steadily in both dollars and volume. According to the study, the number of U.S. households purchasing Merlot is more than double those purchasing Pinot Noir, a grape the movie extols. Merlot, in fact, is still the third most popular grape variety, after Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. This is definitely not the case in our little shop in NYC, where not only does Pinot Noir outsell Merlot, but so do lesser known varietals such as Petite Sirah and Malbec.
Will it help Merlot’s image for people to hear it was thought dead but is, in fact, alive and well in America? If the effect is anything like celebrity death hoaxes, which have become increasingly popular in our social media driven society, it may do just that. The celebrity death hoax today is actually a mark of status and a boon to popularity. One would think, then, that it can only help Merlot. Perhaps people will come in to the store, head held high, asking for Merlot ― and snickering at those who snicker at them. Ahhh, we can only hope!
[As a side note, I had a hard time finding out exactly who was surveyed for this study. Nielson is certainly a reputable research company, but given the study was done on behalf of Blackstone, a winery whose self-proclaimed foundation is Merlot, I can’t imagine the press release would have been so widely distributed if the results had shown differently.]
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