The lead marketer for America's largest winery said Tuesday that vintners should strive to democratize the wine marketplace rather than solely focusing on premium brands derived from North Coast vineyards.
Speaking at the Wine Vision conference at the Hyatt Vineyard Creek hotel, Stephanie Gallo, vice president of marketing for E&J Gallo Winery of Modesto, said the wine industry should focus on getting American consumers to drink more, with only 33 percent of wine drinkers imbibing on a regular basis.
Foreign wine drinkers consume much more than those in the U.S., where per capita consumption is 2.3 gallons annually, she said. In contrast, German per capita consumption is 6.3 gallons a year and the French 14 gallons.
Gallo said the U.S. industry could double its growth within the next decade to 700 million cases. That would be remarkable for an industry on pace for about 2 percent volume growth for 2016.
"We believe change is starting to happen," Gallo said. "Consumers are starting to view wine as a casual social beverage, and not as an elitist beverage."
The fourth annual conference was held in the United States for the first time after being recruited by the Sonoma County Winegrowers association to showcase the local industry.
Gallo's speech was the highlight Tuesday as it contradicted much of the wine industry's conventional wisdom that promotes focusing on wines at $10 and above. The North Coast has benefited from such premiumization, given that grapes from Napa and Sonoma counties are the most expensive in the country.
The almost 79-million-strong millennial market does not have a snobbish view of wine, Gallo said, and has led to innovations "because of their willingness to embrace concepts and products not necessarily steeped in traditions."
For example, Gallo has had success with its sweet moscato category, which is looked down on by wine critics, though it brought in new first-time drinkers. It used that success to launch its sweets line, a slightly fizzy wine in peach, pineapple and berry flavors, which again exceeded Gallo's sales expectation. In fact, 22 percent of the volume of the brand was from those who had never drunk wine before.
"I think that is excellent news for the wine category," she said. "How do we begin to create products that appeal to consumers who are interested in our category but may be intimidated to buy it?"
Gallo has not shied away from the premium market with recent purchases of J Vineyards and Winery in Healdsburg and Talbott Vineyards in Monterey County, but not at the expense of other categories.
"We see premiumization happening as a category leader," Gallo said. "I also think we also need to focus on what are we doing as an industry to help continue to democratize wine. How do we bring new consumers into the wine category, and most importantly, how can we continue to expand category occasions?"