The Wine Curmudgeon has discovered the flaw in the Cupcake Vineyards marketing juggernaut. It’s almost impossible to find the wines in a store, whether grocery or wine, that has any kind of inventory. It took me 10 minutes to locate the two bottles for this review, scuttling between aisles at my local Kroger; would a less determined consumer have done as much?
Maybe they would. Cupcake is the post-modern wine business success story, eclipsing even Barefoot and its millions and millions of cases. Three years after it started, Cupcake was named wine brand of the year, and its sales increased 67 percent in 2012, according to one market research firm.
Cupcake, as Blake Gray wrote last year, approaches wine from a different perspective. It markets its brand before it markets its products, so its customers don’t buy on varietal, like pinot noir, or region, like France, the way most of us do. Rather, its customers buy Cupcake first and worry about varietal and region later.
In this, the wine is marketed almost like women’s clothing, where Cupcake is the designer that shoppers look for before they look for a specific item like a dress or a skirt. That’s why Target has long offered designer collections, whether from Isaac Mizrahi, Jason Wu, or Phillip Lim.
None of this, of course, takes into account whether the wine offers value. That’s why I’m here – this year’s take is after the jump:
Take the 2012 sauvignon blanc ($10, purchased, 13%), which comes from New Zealand. It’s a typical lower-end Kiwi effort – a one-note wine with a blast of grapefruit at the front and not much else. It’s more interesting than Monkey Bay, but not up to something like Nobilio or Brancott, and you can find better wine for the same price.
But what you can’t find is the designer sheen that Cupcake brings. How many $10 wines suggest a lobster risotto pairing (on the back label, next to the comparison with a lemon chiffon cupcake)? That is, as I have noted before, marketing genius. This wine must be terrific and worth more than $10 if you can serve it with lobster risotto, a dish that hardly anyone has ever had but that sounds upscale and chic.
The same analysis holds true for the 2011 pinot noir ($10, purchased, 13%) from California’s Central Coast. It starts out as a slightly better than average grocery store pinot -- not as fruity as Mark West and with a little more earthiness -- but after a glass or so, the wine’s higher residual sugar shows itself. The pinot is not so sweet that it's obvious, but eventually there’s a hint of that cotton candy-ish feeling in the back of the mouth that a bone dry wine doesn’t have.
This bothered me, but is it going to bother the 20-something woman who buys the wine? Not at all. She’s more interested in the back label description – cherry cupcake with currant coulis and risotto again, this time mushroom. That’s her added value, in the same way that buying Mizrahi at Target added value to a piece of clothing. The Chilean Cono Sur and the French Luc Pirlet offer more wine value in $10 pinot, but Cupcake has its customers convinced that’s not the most important thing about buying wine. Which may be good for Cupcake, but not for the consumer.