I’m always interested in the questions my students ask about wine and so I look forward to their final papers, where they have pretty much free rein to pick the questions and search for answers. My Fall 2008 class seemed to be particularly concerned about what I think of as ethical questions – wine and the environment, for example, and fair trade wine. I wrote about their papers here.
My Fall 2009 group was very different in terms of their interests and “wine personalities” — and they were disproportionately female — and their choice of paper topics reflected these facts.
All in the Family
Three questions attracted more than one student’s interest and so are worth noting here. Marc and Isabelle both wrote on the future of family wineries. They are both business majors and interested in the fact that an unusual number of wineries, including very large ones like Gallo, Boisset and Yellow Tail, are family firms not private partnerships (The Wine Group) or public corporations (Constellation Brands).
Their papers examined the problems and limitations of family-owned businesses and what industry-specific advantages might account for the success of family wineries.
Wine, Women and their Health
Two students, Kelly and Libbie, decided to use their backgrounds in science to probe questions about wine and health in more detail than is typically seen. Kelly wrote on the chemistry of the “red wine paradox” while Libbie examined the question of whether pregnant women should drink wine. The conventional wisdom, of course, is that moderate wine consumption (2-3 glasses per day, especially red wine and especially with meals) provides positive health benefits except for pregnant women, who are specifically told to avoid any alcohol on government-mandated warning labels.
The research papers showed that the health issue is more complex than is generally appreciated and provided a surprising answer to the question, should expectant mothers drink wine? Although there are obvious problems with excessive alcohol consumption, research studies indicate that very modest wine consumption (in the range of one glass a couple of times a week, as I recall) can provide health benefits to both mother and baby.
It is obviously a delicate balance, however, and the fact of rising alcohol levels in wine (which I wrote about here) makes getting the balance right increasingly problematic.
What Do [Young] Women Really Want?
Two of my favorite papers were written by young women who wanted to know more about how wine companies tailor their marketing to their particular demographic. Elyse examined marketing to the so-called Millennial generation and Anna focused on wine brands designed to appeal to young women like herself. Women purchase more wine than men and young women are the key wine buyers of the future, so it makes sense that wine companies would try to target and develop this market.
Anna identified the wine brand pictured above as an example of marketing to young women. She noted that brand name, the choice of colors and several other factors made Bitch wine particularly attractive to young women wine buyers, especially those who are new to wine. Take a close look at the label and I think you’ll see what Anna is talking about. Pink label, sewing (female stereotype) imagery, Bitch rhymes with stitch, even the little hearts and crosses that suggest needlepoint.
Bitch Bitch Bitch
She called particular attention to the back label. Some wines use the back label to provide production details or tasting notes. Bitch wine, however, just says “Bitch bitch bitch bitch …” and so on.
Would Anna buy Bitch wine? Probably not. She found the packaging appealing, but the lack of more detailed information about the wine itself was a real negative. She might have tried it a few months ago, she said, but after taking our class she knew too much about wine (and asked too many questions) to respond positively to this marketing scheme even though the imagery attracted her.
Bitch seems to be wine for women who are beginners in wine, she said, and Anna isn’t a beginner any more.