Rioja’s next great leap
February 23, 2013
I’m currently spending a few days in Jacksonville, Florida with my sister to catch up, play some golf and get away from winter in Spain. Whenever I travel I try to learn about the local wine scene as well as to check out how much Rioja is available. Sadly in Jacksonville, very little.
Shipments of Rioja to the USA have exploded over the last ten years, reaching about 11 million bottles in 2012. While this figure pales in comparison to the 42 million bottles shipped to the UK, Rioja is now on the radar screen in major markets in the States. However, in order to approach UK-like numbers, which our region desperately needs to offset the collapse of the Spanish market, Rioja not only needs to consolidate sales in major wine-drinking areas like metro New York, Chicago, Boston, Miami, Washington DC, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle and the like, but also pay more attention to smaller cities such as Jacksonville, Columbus, Denver and Phoenix.
The US wine market is still very much driven by varietals and a quick walk along a supermarket wine aisle here in Jacksonville reveals that Rioja’s major weakness is its placement on shelves. Here, it’s usually hidden among the zinfandels or simply put randomly in the red wine section. The other day my sister and I took a walk through a major supermarket to check out the wines. We were disappointed of course to discover only four Rioja brands spread out in the red wine section. While I walked away, muttering and grumbling about Rioja’s poor presence, my sister walked up to a BIG distributor salesperson (discovered because he was wearing his company logo on his shirt) who happened to be checking stock and asked him why the store didn’t bring in more Rioja. “If more people bought it, we would bring more in” was his reply.
Whoa. “Well, if they don’t bring more in, how do they expect people to buy it?” is my reasoning. For a supermarket, what’s the point in carrying 60 cabernets, 50 merlots, 300 chardonnays and 25 sauv blancs when most of them don’t move? OK, they probably do, because supermarkets closely track the takeaway and profitability of stocked merchandise but also actively reward suppliers who put marketing and promotional dollars behind their brands, which shuts most of the small and medium sized wineries out. I think they could follow the lead of European supermarkets and retailers who give new brands a chance for exposure at wine fairs. I know lots of brands that would succeed here if only given a chance.
In the meantime, given the scarcity of Riojas in the Jacksonville market, I’m busy trying out new things. So far, my discovery of 2013 has been Ken Wright pinot noir from Oregon, thanks to a good friend who’s active in the wine scene in the southeast USA. I wish I could get it in Spain, but that’s another story.
(Photo credit: vertical jumping.com)