Kelly J. Hayes: WineInk | AspenTimes.com

Kelly J. Hayes: WineInk

Kelly J. Hayes
Aspen Times Weekly

The suffix “-ology” derives from the ancient Greeks, who used “-logia” at the end of words to describe “the speaking about or study of a specific science.”

If you participate in wine as a winemaker, wine writer, or even a wine consumer, you quickly become aware of all the sciences, all of the “ologys”, that pertain to producing and marketing a bottle of wine.

Geology (study of the earth), meteorology (study of the weather), entomology (study of insects), pedology (study of soils), botany (the study of plants) are just some of the sciences that can influence those who make wine.

Perhaps the most important “ology” in the wine world, however (and the world in general for that matter), is psychology. If the goal of a winemaker is to create a wine that people want to buy (Granted, that may not be the goal of all winemakers, but certainly the majority are in the game to make a profit.), then it is imperative to understand the psychology of wine consumers.

Myriad factors go into a decision to buy a particular bottle of wine. Price, packaging, ratings, reviews, recommendations, where a wine comes from, and our own egos all play a part in which wines we choose and pay for. Those who make and market wine try constantly to come up with the magic formula to convince consumers that their wine is the one, the right one, for us.

As free-thinking, intelligent human beings, we like to believe that the only thing we consider, or at least the determining dynamic in our decision-making process, is simply that we like a wine. We prefer to think that overt salesmanship, the gold medals, the advertising and those annoying scores don’t drive us in a direction that our palate doesn’t already want to go anyway.

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But is it really that simple?

According to Wine Business Monthly (June 15, 2008), 10 universities around the globe collaborated on a study designed to find out why people purchase a particular wine in either a retail store or from a wine list. The universities, as far afield as Sonoma State in California, the University of Adelaide in Australia, Ben-Gurion University in Israel and – my favorite – China Agricultural University, conducted 2,757 surveys asking consumers to rate the reasons they chose a bottle of wine.

Overwhelmingly, throughout the world, the number 1 reason people gave for making a purchase decision was … (drum roll, please) … They had tasted the wine before. Here in the United States, of the 203 people surveyed by Sonoma State, 54 percent, that’s about 110.16 of the respondents according to my learned calculator, said previous experience with a wine is what made them buy a bottle. The second most widely used criteria was a recommendation from a friend.

There were some slight variations in the data globally. Brazilians seemed to be more influenced by brand names, the French tend to consider the food they will pair the wine with more than the Israelis or the Chinese. For the most part, however, the message was that gold medals, shelf talkers, the varietal, the place of origin, and (shockingly, for those of us who write about wine), reviews all take a seat far back in the bus when it comes to influencing wine buyers.

It would seem that, based on this study anyway, the most important science for wine marketers to understand is “free-ology”, the study of giving things away so that people can sample them and then become buyers.

OK, so there is no such science, but it is a concept that drives many businesses, especially on the web. Think Apple iPhone applications – which are first given away, and then, after users have enjoyed the free experience, the sellers offer paid upgrades. Or free music downloads given with the idea that a sample of one song will entice listeners to buy a full album.

According to this study, if you want to sell your wine, the key is to get people to taste your wine. Free tastings would appear to be the most effective way to improve the bottom line. The more you give, the more you get.

That is, if you believe the study.

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