Women purchase most of the wine sold in the U.S., and the wine industry took notice this past year with a host of new products and marketing initiatives. There is Working Girl Wines from Olympic Cellars, with titles like Go Girl Red and Working Girl White; online wine store Lolawines.com, which refers to its community board as “juicy gossip postings”; and the wine group Red Bicyclette Social Club, for busy career women. Though nowhere on its label or website does Red Bicyclette wines state that they are especially for women, a trip to the label’s website finds cutesy animations of French men in berets and women tending sunflowers. There are sounds of birds chirping gaily, bicycle bells tinkling merrily. We were able to copy down a quick-n-easy recipe for stewed chicken with crème—and conveniently learn the correct pronunciation for mussels marinère at the same time. Who do you think they’re directing this one at?
This off-the-mark targeting reaches its full height with White Lie, Beringer Blass’ new lower-calorie, lower-alcohol wine for women. The marketing of this Chardonnay revolves around the maxim “a little white lie never hurt anyone.” Minor fibs like “My hair is naturally this color,” are printed on the red label under the White Lie name, in florid cursive, and an additional lie—”But it was on sale”; “I can’t wait for football season”—is offered on each cork. The company has even enlisted the talents of chick-lit author Jennifer Weiner (Good in Bed; In Her Shoes) to pen an endorsement of the wine and judge its promotional short-story contest.
In an interview with Business Week, Beringer Blass exec Tracey Mason offers the explanation, “We’re having fun by winking at ourselves.” But the line between Sex & the City cheeky and total denigration is a tenuous one, and it doesn’t take a genius to assess which side White Lie’s marketing strategy falls on. For their part, the makers argue that they are just giving women what they want. According to the press release, the creative team behind White Lie discovered that “an astounding 80 percent of women are dissatisfied with their appearance and that 45 percent are on a diet on any given day. And because of the increased demands of career and home, women have less time than ever for themselves or their friends.” In the press release, Mason also explains that “We wanted women to feel better about themselves and their choices, realizing that often our desire to have it all means we have to give up something in return: that yummy dessert, the book we’ve been meaning to read, or just sharing a laugh with friends over a few glasses of wine.”
So while the rest of us fat it up with a glass of regular Pinot Noir, we could instead be looking forward to a glass of…of what, exactly? The makers of White Lie say they are able to create a wine with fewer calories and less alcohol content by using varietals that have been harvested early, when the grapes contain less sugar. But how tasty is it? We purchased a $9.99 bottle of White Lie at Chelsea Wine Vault and brought it over to the beverage director at Gramercy Tavern, Juliette Pope, for a little blind taste testing. While Pope found it “pleasant,” she admitted, “that’s just it. There’s nothing left, which is the mark of an inexpensive wine. It’s inoffensive, but lacking in character. It’s not interesting or lasting.” While she thought that many people would find it perfectly fine, “for any kind of serious wine drinker, this does not cut it. It’s harmless, but you can do better for $10 with some qualified help in a wine store.”
As far as we’re concerned, we find the way in which it’s being marketed even more egregious than the fact that it is both inferior-tasting and created for women. Only one thing is more depressing than a wine that shamelessly plays into feminine stereotypes and insecurities: a wine that shamelessly plays into feminine stereotypes and insecurities—and sells well.