Outlaw Wine? 19 Crimes Succeeds by Breaking All the Wine Marketing Rules

25162619 Crimes, the popular brand from Treasury Wine Estates, does everything wrong. It breaks all the “conventional wisdom” rules. It is everything that shouldn’t sell in the U.S. market. And yet it flies off the shelves. What’s going on?

19 Crimes is an Australian wine brand, which is the first problem. Sales of Aussie wines have been in decline here in the U.S. for years. The Australian section of my local upscale supermarket’s wine wall has shrunk to a shadow of its former self.

Sad and Doubly Cursed

Although 19 Crimes has evolved into a lineup of 7 different wines,  including Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, the core grape variety is Shiraz, and that’s the second problem. American consumers drink plenty of Syrah and Shiraz in red blends, but they don’t seem to want to buy it as a varietal wine. Sales of Shiraz have been sinking right along with Australian wine in general — a double curse!

And then there is the branding. 19 Crimes — outlaw wine! The name comes Australian history (history wine — oh no!). Great Britain once expelled its most hardened criminals to Australia. Any of 19 crimes could get you sentenced to transportation to Australia — banished to the end of the earth. Who wants to buy a criminal wine?

And, each label, of the core brand features a photo of a sad man — the mug shot of a convicted criminal. Who wants to buy a sad man wine? Who wants to associate themselves with a loser? How in the world can a wine like this get on the shelf, much less sell more than a million cases?


Wine by Design

Well, the answer is that 19 Crimes seems to have been rather precisely engineered to appeal to an important demographic — millennial men, especially those who see themselves as a bit of a rogue. Outlaws, if you know what I mean, who identify with others who defy convention.  Outlaw wine for self-styled renegades? Now you are beginning to see the 19 Crimes logic.

I bought a bottle of the red blend and, after I stared at the sad man for a while, I tasted it. Sweet and tannic, that was my reaction, and better chilled sangria-style than straight up. Not to my taste, but I am not the target audience.

Some of the most popular brands on the market today totally succeed with tannic sweet red blends pitched at a particular market segment. A friend who seems to have some inside information told me that the 19 Crimes flavor profile is no accident but rather the result of lots of careful research and consumer testing. No surprise there!

Every bit of the package is carefully linked to the brand identity and I’d encourage you to take a close look the next time you buy wine. But you will have to purchase and open the bottle to see my favorite part of the branding system — the cork!

The cork? Well, that breaks another stereotype, of course, since we sometimes think of Australia and New Zealand wines being topped by screwcaps. But there are many reasons why cork is so popular today and 19 Crimes cleverly adds a new advantage to the list: collectibility!

You see each cork is printed with one of the 19 crimes — my cork is #11: stealing roots, trees or plants or destroying them. That seems like a pretty petty crime to get my sad guy shipped to Australia, but it might be just the thing to start someone more into it to buy bottles and pull corks relentlessly until all 19 crime corks are captured.

Virtual Story-telling

19 Crimes is a story wine designed to appeal to a particular consumer category and Treasury has taken the next logical step by creating a virtual reality app that animates the sad men (and the sad woman on the Chardonnay label), so that they can tell their own sad stories.

Bringing the inanimate to life is a feat with a long artistic tradition — think Pygmalion, Pinocchio, or — especially relevant in this context — the scene in Gilbert and Sullivan’s comic opera “Ruddygore” where painted figures step out of their frames to deliver a stern warning.

The 19 Crimes figures tell their stories, humanizing their identities, and then step back onto the label. Art may be served by this, but marketing in the form of consumer engagement is the clear intent. If you want to hear all the stories, I suppose, you need to collect all seven wines in the lineup. It must work — I’ve heard that Treasury has  expanded its virtual reality program.

19 Crimes provides many lessons for anyone trying to understand today’s wine market, but perhaps the most important is that it is dangerous to generalize about generations when it comes to specific products such as wine. Many have written that millennials seek authenticity in products and experiences — and this is an important trend. But one size doesn’t necessarily fit all and some millennials (and probably consumers in other generational categories, too) obviously see themselves in a different light.

Identity trumps authenticity. Outlaw! You don’t need no stinking badges. And now there is a wine for you.

Congratulations to Treasury and 19 Crimes for their remarkable success. What’s next? Arrr, Matey. I’m thinkin’ Pirate wine is a pretty good bet!


Here is that scene from Ruddygore. Enjoy!

10 responses

  1. Hi Mike,

    It’s been some time since we wrote, I hope all is good with you.

    Thank you for the this excellent post below on 19 Crimes wine and the lessons from it. I know first hand of the success because 19 Crimes booth was just in front of our in Prowein show in Dusseldorf! More accurately, we were in their shadow – from 3 days there, no one in their massive booth was curious to stop by and have honey wine, and like you, their wine is not my style so we didn’t go over there either. 

    Here are some updates from us:

    – Take away lesson from Prowein for us is that the Asian consumers are more interested in our wine (they like sweeter, goes better with their food, and they are less set in their grape-wine ways, as Europe or USA). 

    – Tastings are key for us anywhere – our novelty product has high conversion to sale after tasting is high – sold 12 bottles in 3 hours at Safeway in N. California last week (no more than 20 people tasted), when hadn’t sold 12 bottles in 6 months just on the shelf. So a tasting room in a hight traffic area is in order.

    –  we just released our 3rd vintage 15 months on Chardonnay barrel for the dry (nice vanilla notes) and 15 months stainless on the sweet.

    –  we are coming out with a grape wine for a more diversified portfolio – I’ll keep you posted as it develops. So learning that  it’s not easy creating a new category of upscale wine-like honey wine so any advice appreciated…

    Cheers, keep up the interesting posts! 


    Ayele Solomon, Proprietor/Winemaker The Honey Wine Company – www.beeDvine.com  p: +1 415 644 8607 • ayele@beedvine.com 

    Award-winning “BRUT” & “DEMI SEC” Bee d’Vine, “The Honey Wine for Wine Lovers” Download your complimentary ebook or audiobook, The Celebrated Story of Honey Wine “Honey wine moved humans from nature to culture” – Claude Lévi-Strauss

  2. Now that millennial women have their wine (Cupcake Vineyards) millennial men have theirs (19 Crimes). This is not about a particular brand, per se, but about consumer brand marketing and distribution. The companies behind these two brands have deep brand portfolios (TWE has over 70 brands in its portfolio; TWG over 30) and the *end-aisle promotional dominance* so key to stacking pallets outside grocery store loading docks.

    With 19 Crimes TWE may have broken all the wine marketing rules, but none of the grocery distribution rules.

  3. Interesting post Mike, I have never heard of 19 Crimes, I wonder if it is sold in Australia or is it just for the US market, will have to keep an eye out for it the next time I am in Australia.

  4. Like Oz traveller, I’d not heard of this wine, so I looked it up on the website of the biggest Australian wine retailer where it was easily found. It is under screwcap over here (maybe they print on the inside of the screwcap). Thomas makes a good point about grocery distribution rules and the TWE portfolio in general (I’m a little surprised it is only 70, but they have killed off or sold off a few recently) and this is a supermarket wine. I don’t think the market in Australia would accept it being under cork.
    The name makes me think that it wasn’t originally aimed at the US market – there are a couple of beer brands in Australia that play up that historical angle and have been fairly successful at it.
    Funnily enough, on the retailer website, there is the ability to write reviews and most of the reviews seem to be written by the 50+ age group. Maybe that is the demographic of people who write reviews on retailer websites.

  5. In Australia, having 18th or 19th century transported-convict ancestry is considered a badge of honour. It is interesting that the concept was accepted on the other side of the Pacific (convict transportation to the Thirteen Colonies stopped more than 200 years ago for obvious reasons). Well done to TWE, making the purchase of cheap wine fun, interesting, educational and creating an emotional connection to a very basic product.

  6. Mike: Great article but will offer one correction. The prisoners transported to Australia were generally not “hardened” as you suggest. The hardened criminals were quickly hung in England of that period (late 1700s until mid 1800s). Those transported were typically either petty criminals or political prisoners. Prior to the Revolutionary War those same types were transported to North America.

  7. Having lived in Australia, I appreciate that Aussies honor their ‘Bush Rangers.’ Perhaps they expected the same ‘Jesse James’ acceptance here?

  8. Thing is.. I do very much like this wine. I have in the past had good wines and said “I must keep this bottle and get another” but of course forget it.. no way with this wine- You are not going to forget this label. I terrific wine -with a terrific marketing ploy, good luck to ‘them’

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