Patel’s experience is not unique.
Pinot Grigio drinkers, say retailers, res-
taurateurs and importers, are loyal (to
the grape if not the label) and price-
sensitive, focusing mostly on Italian
labels and brands around $10. In this,
Pinot Grigio is a common-denomina-
tor wine stylistically, a high-margin
cash cow when sold by the glass, and
a mascot for imported white wine ev-
erywhere. Not coincidentally, eight of
Nielsen’s top 10 Pinot Grigios showed
sales growth in 2012, and four of them
grew by double digits.
Yet Pinot Grigio has the potential to
be more than just an $8 white wine sold
only to women of a certain age. Santa
Margherita, the category leader, has re-
tailed for $20 and more for years, and
there are also opportunities with brands
in the $12-$15 range. In addition, Pi-
not Gris from California and Oregon
has made inroads among younger and
more adventurous wine drinkers. (Pi-
not Gris and Pinot Grigio are the same
grape genetically; the choice of nomen-
clature in New World regions is often a
marketing decision.)
“That whole area in the middle has
less competition and more room for
growth,” says Francine Kowalsky, the
director of marketing for the national
brands portfolio at importer Frederick
Wildman. “There is a consumer who
wants to buy what I call ‘affordable lux-
ury’—willing to try something different
that costs a little more that offers qual-
ity for value and isn’t what everyone
else is drinking.”
Always Popular... and Safe
Pinot Grigio has been an on- and off-
premise staple for more than a decade.
In 2012, reports Nielsen, sales rose 8.8%
and it was the second-best selling white
wine after Chardonnay.
“Why has Pinot Grigio remained
so popular for so long?” says Alfonso
Cevola, corporate director, fine wine
group, for Glazer’s Distributors in Dal-
las. “It’s easy to pronounce. It was part
of the backlash for the Chardonnay
craze because it wasn’t expensive, alco-
holic, oaky—and it was more than just
a cocktail.”
Yet, in many ways, it has long been
in a rut.
“There has always been a hierarchy
with white wines,” says Christopher
Freeze, vice president of the wine divi-
sion for 21
Amendment, an Indiana
Pinot Grigio: The All-American
Imported White Wine
This Mild-Mannered Bianco is Entrenched as a
Coast-To-Coast Favorite. But at What Price?
By Jeff Siegel
henever it’s beach season in South Florida, Raj Patel knows exactly
what his customers want: Pinot Grigio. “It’s refreshing, it’s white, it’s
light drinking, it’s only a little fruit, and there’s no oak,” says Patel,
who owns Caladesi Wines in Dunedin. “They come in, and they want their
Pinot Grigio, and they don’t want to spend a lot of money for it.”
Pinot Grigio from Alto Adige a step up from the more generic Italian
offerings, with more intensity, character and length. Right: Sonoma’s J
Vineyards makes three Pinot Gris, including Russian River Valley and
Cooper Vineyard bottlings atop a California one in screwcap.
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