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Can Joe Six-pack become Charles Chardonnay?

Sun., June 7, 2009

BERKELEY, Calif. – Cal Dennison likes a nice cold glass of chardonnay. And he’s man enough to admit it.

That’s hardly surprising since Dennison is winemaker at the Modesto-based Redwood Creek winery, but is he an exception?

Judging by some marketing campaigns, you might think so. Take the Super Bowl ad that ran a couple of years back in which men invited to a wine and cheese party sneaked into the kitchen to unpack beer hidden in a fake wheel of cheese.

It’s hard to say for sure exactly who’s drinking what, but a Gallup Poll from last July found that among women who drink, 43 percent say wine is what they drink most often and 28 percent say beer. Among men who drink, 58 percent say beer is what they drink most often and 17 percent say wine.

Wine companies would like to change that. During the past few years some have adopted guy-friendly marketing with tie-ins to such red-blooded pastimes as camping and racing.

Take Maximus, a blend of cabernet sauvignon, syrah and merlot introduced by the Bennett Lane Winery in Calistoga a few years back. Bennett Lane, which owns a NASCAR team, is sponsoring a NASCAR West event at Infineon Raceway this Father’s Day weekend.

Then there’s “The Slammer,” a syrah from Big House wines (their Soledad winery is near a California state prison), that features a back label showing a tough-looking guy with pants slung at plumber level.

Redwood Creek doesn’t define itself by gender – the outdoors isn’t solely a male preserve – but it is sold under a campaign strong on muscular pursuits; corks are emblazoned with GPS coordinates leading to various hiking spots.

Natalie MacLean, editor of a wine Web site, tends to be skeptical of marketing campaigns, but she understands a winery’s need to stand out on crowded shelves.

Wines aimed at women, with labels such as “Mad Housewife,” came out some years ago and MacLean isn’t surprised to see guy wines follow. It’s up to consumers to decide “whether the wine delivers – for a man’s man or a woman’s woman,” she says.


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