There are many strange terms that get bandied about in the wine world. Here are several that it is time to send the way of things.
I frequently read about such-and-such a winery being a producer of ‘super premium’ or ‘ultra premium’ wine. The description is usually on a winery website or a back label. Super premium. Are we talking about wine or are we talking about gasoline grades?
When I first became interested in wine I used to wonder what in the world these terms meant. Were they supposed to convey some meaning that I was expected to understand? ‘We are a boutique producer of super premium wine.’ Super sounds good. Ultra sounds better I guess. Was there a higher category? I always wanted to read, ‘We are a producer of über ultra super premium wine.’ I wanted a winery to take it to the limit!
Let’s be clear. To consumers, these terms mean absolutely nothing. However, for wineries and marketing type folks, these terms are used both to describe wine quality - nebulously defined - and a particular market segment – usually rigidly defined.
From a quality perspective what a winery is trying to say is, “We make really high quality wine.” But here’s the thing. You never see a winery that says, “We make okay wine at high volumes at good prices.” Even if this is the case, few want to say so.
From a market segmentation perspective, these terms have definitions that typically describe wines that are, interestingly, at the low end of the price spectrum. Why? Because this is where most of the action is in terms of volume sales. You might not think about the difference between, say, an $8 bottle of wine and a $10 bottle of wine, but other people do and these are, in fact, different segments.
Here’s the way Nielsen looks at the definitions of the ‘super premium,’ ‘ultra premium,’ and other categories for wine:
Let me get this straight. Washington wineries that are boasting about producing ‘ultra premium’ wines are talking about wines in the $10 to $15 range? I don’t think so. I assume they are talking about the wine from a quality perspective?
While I have seen a few wineries say, ‘We are a producer of premium wine,’ I have not seen any that say, ‘We are a producer of popular wine.’ I have also yet to see a winery say, ‘We are a producer of luxury wine,’ even if they are making wines in the $15+ price range. Why? Because the term luxury has a certain connotation that might make some consumers uncomfortable. Expensive wine is a luxury but to say it is a dangerous thing. So ‘ultra premium’ is about as high as it goes, which is of course where most Washington wineries sit making it useless from a differentiation perspective.
For people interested in market segments, I understand that these categories have meaning. Somehow though these terms have crept out into the consumer world where they seem bizarre, adding to the opaqueness of talking about wine. It's time to take super premium and ultra premium off winery websites and the backs of bottles and put them in the trash bin. Let's talk about wine in a way consumers can understand.