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08.03.2006

The Return of the Wine Cooler

I'm in fifth grade. Michael Jackson and George Michael are forces of nature. Hair is big, and so are socks. Sex is starting to be a topic of discussion, and the very first experiments with alcohol are taking place. The drink of choice? Wine coolers. They could easily have been invented by someone looking to push booze on kids. Fruity flavors, bright colored bottles, two funny guys on the TV talking about them during prime time. What's not for kids to love? Plenty of secret swigs happened out behind the playground wall or in the woods on weekends. Adolescents will be adolescents. But then they all went away. America's notoriously short attention span must have moved on to other forms of alcoholic entertainment, and if I know the national palate, probably to stronger stuff. The friendly guys all but vanished from TV screens and were relegated to smaller and smaller sections of grocery store shelves. Good riddance as far as I'm concerned.

Imagine my shock -- even horror, then -- when I saw the headline this morning: "Wine Cooler Sales up 300% across America."

Can you imagine my distress?

Now before you start worrying too, I should let you know that this is all one big misunderstanding. A definite case of lost in translation. You see, that headline was from a British magazine. And they speak English over there, but they don't speak American.

Wine coolers indeed. What they meant to say was "Americans are buying wine refrigerators like they're going out of style."

Which actually, is an interesting story. In the context of the summer heat wave we're having it's hardly surprising. But looking deeper, these statistics are from not just the last few hot months, but from the last year or two. One of the more telling points in the article was the suggestion that most new custom homes over a certain size built in the US are including wine cellars these days, at the request of the clients.

Is America in the middle of a renaissance of wine drinking? Many of us have heard the statistics about wine surpassing beer as America's drink of choice for the first time since such questions were asked. While exciting for those of us in the wine industry it's hardly true. While it might, indeed, reflect what people are saying, the only real way you can measure these things is with cold, hard cash, and there's still several orders of magnitude more beer sold in this country than wine every year no matter how you measure it -- by volume, by overall cash spend, or by frequency.

But this new statistic about wine refrigerators is interesting mostly because such devices have traditionally only been tools of the wine collecting elite and the wealthy dilettante wine lover. But the gradually dropping cost of these items, along with their appearance at places like The Home Depot and Wal-Mart has given many more people the opportunity to purchase one, and surprisingly, those opportunities are being seized more often than I would have expected.

Imagine a future where the average American home always has a wine refrigerator stocked with wine. It's a vision of utopia to exciting to contemplate. I get far too worked up just thinking about it. Excuse me while I go watch some vintage Michael Jackson videos to unwind.

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