A couple of decades ago, I used to order book from Barnes & Noble, in the USA, and have them sent to me, in Australia. I stopped doing this when twice in succession the books went to Austria, instead.1 B&N were charging me airmail rates but providing me with surface-rate service — Powell's bookstore, also in the USA, used to send me books by seamail, and they got to Australia faster, by not going via Europe.
The point here is that geography is not most people's strong suit, and they rarely consult a map — everyone "knows" that Australia is a small island somewhere off the coast of South America; and that Sweden (my current location) is somewhere in the Alps. It is only the locals who know where they really are.
So, how can we expect the average wine drinker to know where their wines come from? It turns out that we can't. Even awareness of the names of wine regions is very poor amongst the average wine drinker.
Wine Intelligence, a London-based organization that provides information support for the wine industry, conducts many surveys each year,2 and some of those surveys involve questions about wine regions. One of the 2018 surveys included a list of named wine regions, worldwide, and 4,000 "regular wine drinkers" in the USA were asked to specify which ones they could actually recall as being wine regions. The results are shown in the first table. [Note: the arrows refer to changes from previous surveys.]
You will note that there are 5 US wine-producing regions in the list, which all make it into the top 12 in terms of awareness. It is not surprising that Napa Valley heads the list, but you might like to ask yourself why 27% of the respondents have not heard of it, at least with regard to wine. Moreover, you could ask yourself why some of the foreign wine regions are better-known than the local ones. In particular, the winemakers of Oregon seem to have a lot of ground to make up.
The French actually do better than the Americans, in the list, having 3 out of the top 5 regions, all with >50% awareness. The Italians do reasonably well, although you may be surprised that more people are aware of Sicily as a wine-producing region than they are aware of Chinati, Prosecco or Piedmont. We are repeatedly told by wine writers that Tuscany and Piedmont are the best-known Italian wine regions, but this survey says that they may have to revise their opinions.
No region outside of these three countries makes it into the top 20, or gets more than 20% awareness among the US wine drinkers.
Almost this same survey was also given to 2,000 well-to-do Chinese people who self-reported as being drinkers of imported wines. Their results are shown in the next table. Note that the general awareness of the names of wine regions is less than it is for the US drinkers (possibly due to the language barrier).
Bordeaux is the only region that achieved >50% awareness, even though French wine massively dominates the Chinese wine-import market. Moreover, Bordeaux handsomely beats the only Chinese region in the list. Other countries do better in this survey than in the American version — for example, the Australian regions have greater awareness, which is not unexpected given that Australian wine is second only to the French in China.
For me, the most interesting result is, once again, the position of Sicily in the list, which has considerably greater awareness than all of the other Italian wine-making regions. It is only a dozen years or so since Sicily returned to the "wine map" of Italy, as drinkers and critics alike started to realize the vinous potential of the island, but it has clearly come a long way in that time.
Australian wine regions
Wine Australia, the nationally funded statutory service body for the Australian grape and wine community, has been interested in the awareness of Australian wine regions, outside of Australia. To this end, they commissioned Wine Intelligence to conduct a bespoke survey in July 2018, in both the USA (1,000 people) and China (2,000 people). The survey had two parts: (i) a list of 15 Australian wine-growing regions, used as a prompt for awareness; and (ii) a request to list Australian wine regions without any prompting.
The results are discussed in this report: What’s in a name? A look into awareness of Australia’s wine producing regions. I have summarized the data for the prompted list for both countries in the above graph, which shows the percentage awareness. [Note: the tables shown above are reproduced directly from this same report.]
Note that the recall of the names of Australian wine regions is much greater among the Chinese than among the Americans — indeed, the greatest US recall is equal to the lowest Chinese recall. Furthermore, the four regions labeled in the graph indicate that the Americans and Chinese recall very different wine-making regions from Australia.
The final table (below) shows the responses from the US drinkers when asked to name some Australian wine-producing regions without any prompting. The table lists the top 15 responses, listed from top to bottom in terms of frequency; and they are grouped into columns based on what the names actually represent.
The most popular response (from only 6% of the respondents) was the name "Yellow Tail", which of course is the name of the most popular imported wine brand in the USA (see this blog post). The wine-producing region for this brand is actually called South-Eastern Australia, since the grapes come from several irrigated grape-growing areas.
So, only 4 of the 15 responses listed in the table are actually the names of wine-making regions in Australia; and 3 of the others are not even geographical terms, but merely words from wine labels.
This reminds me of another recent report I read, which showed that UK drinkers do no better — when asked about the most famous Australian wine region, the answer by the majority was apparently "Jacob's Creek", which has been the most popular Australian wine brand in the UK.
I will have to redress this general lack of awareness of Australian wine geography in a future blog post!
1. The name "Austria" comes from the Medieval Latin word "Austriaca", which is the Latinised form of the Old High German name for the country "Ostarreich", which translates as 'eastern kingdom'. The name "Australia" comes from the Latin word "Australis", translating as 'southern', as used in e.g. the expression "Terra Australis", the southern land.
2. The survey methodology is described as:
"Invitations to participate in an online survey programmed by Wine Intelligence are distributed to residents in each market. Respondents are directed to a URL address, which provides access to the online survey. Based on given criteria (e.g. age, beverage, frequency of wine consumption) respondents will either proceed or be screened out of the survey. [We] monitor completed responses to build samples representative of the target markets’ wine drinking population based on the most recent calibration study. When a representative sample is logged, the survey is closed. Wine Intelligence will then clean out all invalid data points (e.g. those who sped through the survey or gave inconsistent answers to selected questions) and weight the data in order to ensure representability."