Is positioning your wine as a mixed drink ingredient a smart way to sell more bottles?
By Robin Shreeves
A September report from Terrain confirms that the U.S. wine market has seen little growth recently. As a result of the numbers, Terrain suggests that “producers will need to focus on understanding what consumers want and double down on their efforts to attract new customers to their brands.”
One thing consumers want at the moment is a cocktail, according to Drizly, which reports cocktail mixology is on the rise. Another growing sector, the low/no category, is expected to grow by one-third by 2026. Aside from creating no or low-alcohol versions of their wines, which few producers care to do, how can producers capture some of this category — as well as the traditional cocktail category — while still selling the wines they produce? Perhaps the answer lies in positioning some of their wines as cocktail ingredients.
Big Brand’s Playbook
Jen Wall has been Barefoot’s winemaker since 1995. She’s been around for Barefoot’s immense growth, taking part in what she describes as the brand’s “big drive and goal to democratize wine and make it more accessible for people to enjoy.”
One of her roles at Barefoot is cocktail creator. Clicking through the brand’s Cocktails & Inspo tab on its website takes consumers to dozens of wine cocktails with easy-to-find, non-alcoholic ingredients mixed with Barefoot’s wines. Nowhere does Barefoot claim they are low ABV, but since wine naturally has less alcohol than most spirits, the cocktails are ostensibly lower in alcohol than spirit-forward drinks.
“There’s a direct correlation to the promotion of a cocktail recipe that uses a wine or bubbly and the sale of those products,” says Wall.
To sell more wine and attract more customers, smaller brands may want to take a page from Barefoot’s playbook, at least with some of their less expensive, easy-drinking wines.
Wine as Ingredients
In the tasting room of Wilson Creek Winery in Temecula, Calif., customers enjoy mixing sparkling wines with other wines, mixing flavors. The winery took a cue from those customers.
“That’s what started [cocktail creation],” says Wendy Holder, vice president of marketing. “We thought, ‘You know what? We’re going to come up with some recipes.’”
After developing a few winners, they put those recipes online and in the newsletters sent out to those already invested in the winery — club members. Many of them love it.
“When we send out an idea for a cocktail, we’ll do a special package that we sell on our website,” she says. For example, “We have a mulled wine recipe that includes a couple of different wines and some mulling spices,” she says. They send the package out with a recipe card. It’s particularly popular around the holidays.
“We do believe we’re selling extra wine because of recipes,” says Wilson, explaining that the cocktails encourage customers to buy a couple of extra bottles they wouldn’t have otherwise.
Cocktails Draw People In
Pennsylvania laws let wineries offer other alcoholic beverages in tasting rooms, as long as they’re produced in the state. At Stony Run Winery in Breinigsville, Penn, that means it can sell cocktails.
Wine cocktails include a variety of mimosas as well as wine cocktails mixed with spirits, such as the Hawk Mountain Algonquin (made with rye, pineapple juice, and Vidal Blanc). Having cocktails — made with or without wine — attracts those who don’t enjoy wine on its own. It can also bring a whole group into the tasting room that may not have come in had cocktails not been offered.
“It seems like there’s always somebody who doesn’t really like the thing the group is going to taste, but they want to be out for the day with their friends and family,” says George Parkinson, Stony Run’s Brand Manager.
“The person who comes in and says, ‘I don’t really drink wine’ or ‘I don’t really like wine’ has the opportunity to go their own direction and be part of the crowd,” he says.
Wineries looking to increase bottle sales or attract non-wine drinkers to tasting rooms should try enticing customers with cocktails. Mix things up, so to speak.
Robin Shreeves is a drinks journalist and lifestyle features writer. Her wine writing has appeared in dozens of print and online publications including Wine Enthusiast, VinePair, Courier Post, Carpe Travel, Spirited Magazine, Edible Philly, Vintner Project, Edible Jersey, USA Today, and Drink Philly. She holds a Level 3 wine certification and Advanced Wine Speaker certification from the National Wine School.