How My Mexican Dad Crushed the Can in favor of Vino

Can Mexicans be converted from beer to wine consumers? As a kid growing up I remember my dad coming home from work with a tall can of Sapporo on most weekdays. He always sat in the same seat in the kitchen and chatted with my mom as she cooked dinner. A drink after a long day at work – in his case, in the hot sun – is a pretty common way to relax for many people. For some it may be a glass of wine and for others it may be a beer or a cocktail. For those of us of Mexican heritage here in the U.S, usually, it’s an ice cold beer. According to a 2012 report by market research organization Mintel, wine is the least popular alcoholic beverage among Hispanics. Mintel’s research provides us with some insight into why that may be: Many U.S. Hispanics, particularly Mexicans, have simply not been exposed to wine in their home country. They come from a culture that largely consumes beer or tequila.

My dad surprised me one day when he brought home a bottle of Riunite wine after work. Huh? I’m pretty sure up until that point the only wine that he ever drank was the sacramental wine served in church every Sunday. His boss had given him the bottle.

Over the next 15 years I would come to see my dad’s love for wine grow exponentially. Initially it was slightly odd to me and I was self conscious when he would show up to family gatherings with a bottle of wine rather than a 12-pack of Bud. I thought family and friends would crack jokes (surely they did) about how we were trying to be high-browed or snobby – feelings tied to the fact that my family was raised in a culture in which wine was viewed as a beverage for only the affluent. But in today’s world and dominant market culture, wine is abundant and there is a perfect price point for everyone.

Since my dad brought that first bottle home, I really haven’t seen him touch a beer. Nowadays he is a frequent visitor to wine country, he buys wine by the case and has planted three acres of grapes in his backyard to support his new hobby – making wine. His present day favorites include Cabernets and a wide variety of dessert wines.

Over the years, I have noticed that dessert wines have the strongest appeal to Mexicans who are delving into wine for the first time. This observation is supported by findings from Wine Market Council Research released in January of this year which found that dessert wines were the favorite among Hispanics.  In my own family it is the wine that I have seen most successfully convert die hard beer-drinkers into wine drinkers – it’s the gateway wine, if you will. Why is this? Dessert wines are sweet, and easy to drink for “non-sophisticates.” Looking back at it, Riunite was the perfect introduction to wine for my dad. It wasn’t dry and it wasn’t bitter. It was sweet, soft and supposed to be served chilled. Had a Cabernet or Merlot been his first real wine experience, things may very well have turned out differently.

Since there is no prior wine culture or tradition among us, that means there are no rules. Common wine etiquette doesn’t apply. Sure most people are aware that dessert wines are, well, meant to be poured after dinner. But we don’t care. We drink dessert wines before, during and after dinner. We don’t do many food and wine pairings. It’s just not the way we operate. A glass of wine that tastes good while we enjoy the company of our family and friends – that’s what really matters. Of course, that may change as our communities open up to new experiences.

My dad’s success in introducing wine to various family members and friends is proof that it can be done. His hobby as a winemaker has turned him into a bon afide wine aficionado at least in the eyes of our relatives, who frequently ask him if they can bring friends over to his house to try it. Many people bring a bottle themselves, and pretty soon it turns into a tasting of homemade wine and a few brands found at your local Safeway supermarket. It’s a very relaxed and fun environment.

According to the same 2012 Mintel report I cited earlier, the Latino population is one of the largest untapped markets for wine, but that phenomenon is trending in a different direction now. The volume of wine consumed by Hispanics between 2005 and 2010 increased by nearly 50 percent, and levels of acculturation are impacting wine consumption, as a greater proportion of U.S. Hispanics become second and third generation here.

Wine makers need to begin taking baby steps into our community. Why wouldn’t they? Like grapes, the market is ripe for the picking.

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