Sunday, October 5, 2014

Thinking inside the (wine) can

"Well, that's pretty low brow," a customer muttered as she stopped and looked at the shelf. She was gazing unimpressed at a display of Underwood pinot noir, from Oregon, and yes, in 12 ounce cans. 

The nice salesman told me that the Chicago area is a test market for the packaging. I tried it and liked it (they also make a pinot gris, yes, in a can), and agreed to take a chance. It's selling. The pinot noir is so delicate as to make one question, a little, in this world of jammy "fruit bomb" wines, what is the difference between delicacy and meh-ness? Not that Underwood is meh, not at all. In fact I wonder if the winemaker is not sharing with us all a very sophisticated joke -- a pinot noir as ethereal as possible, in a package that the uninitiated will call "low brow."

And I say uninitiated for a reason. The customer who wasn't impressed also probably wasn't impressed by other innovations in the drinks industry, which she now buys happily. I am thinking of flavored vodkas, cocktails in foil pouches, screwcap-closure wine bottles, Beaujolais Nouveau for Thanksgiving, and so on. She got initiated. And at some point, she will buy wine in a can because it makes sense for a certain need. Just for a start -- it's unbreakable, light-protective packaging in a perfect size for two people on the go. 

It is a fascinating glimpse into human nature, though, to see people rear back and instinctively reject something ... and then slowly come around. In some matters they never do come around -- wasn't there that car, the Edsel? -- in some matters they have to be coerced (the mercury-filled CFL light bulb) -- in some matters they shouldn't come around at all. But that's another story.  

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