Vino for the manly men: Masculine themes used to increase sales to guys

Cal Dennison likes a nice cold glass of chardonnay. And he's man enough to admit it.

That's hardly surprising because Dennison is winemaker at the Modesto-based Redwood Creek winery, but is he an exception?

Judging by some marketing campaigns, you might think so.

Take the Super Bowl ad that ran a couple of years back in which men invited to a wine and cheese party sneaked into the kitchen to unpack beer hidden in a fake wheel of cheese.

It was a stereotype played for laughs -- lots of men like wine -- but maybe one with a crumb of cultural truth. The designator for "average dude" in political campaigning in the fall was Joe Six-Pack, not Peter Pinot Noir.

It's hard to say exactly who's drinking what, but a Gallup Poll from July found that among women

who drink, 43 percent say wine is what they drink most often and 28 percent say beer. Among men who drink, 58 percent say beer is what they drink most often and 17 percent say wine.

"As a general rule, guys get together, they don't want to be seen with a glass of wine," said Nelson Barber, an associate professor of hospitality management at Texas Tech University, who has studied gender differences in marketing wine.

Wine companies would like to change that. During the past few years, some have adopted guy-friendly marketing with tie-ins to such red-blooded pastimes as camping and racing.

Take Maximus, a blend of cabernet sauvignon, syrah and merlot introduced by the Bennett Lane Winery in Calistoga a few years back. Bennett Lane, which owns a NASCAR team, is sponsoring a NASCAR West event at Infineon Raceway on Father's Day weekend.

Then there's "The Slammer," a syrah from Big House wines (the Soledad winery is near a prison), that features a back label showing a tough-looking guy with pants slung at plumber level.

Start with the outdoors ...

Redwood Creek is part of the E.&J. Gallo portfolio. It doesn't define itself by gender -- the outdoors isn't solely a male preserve -- but it is sold under a campaign strong on muscular pursuits; corks are emblazoned with GPS coordinates leading to hiking spots.

"Without a doubt, we start with the great outdoors," said Dennison, a horseman and fisherman. "If you decide to bring a little wine on an outdoor adventure, by golly, Redwood Creek is the wine of choice."

Natalie MacLean, editor of, a wine Web site, tends to be skeptical of marketing campaigns, but she understands a winery's need to stand out on crowded shelves.

Wines aimed at women, with labels such as "Mad Housewife," came out some years ago and MacLean said she isn't surprised to see guy wines follow.

"We all shop based on the label -- fluffy squirrel, castle in the middle distance -- it's whatever works," she said.

It's up to consumers to decide "whether the wine delivers -- for a man's man or a woman's woman," she said.

When selling wine, one thing you don't want to do is walk up to a guy in a wine shop and ask, "Can I help you?" Barber said. He theorized this may have something to do with that elusive asking-for-directions gene.

An opener such as "What kind of occasion are you thinking of buying a wine for?" is a better bet, Barber said.

Dennison has started some conversations with fellow members of his riding club, men and women.

It's "quite the rodeo cowboy culture, and the folks there, of course, are enjoying the odd beer or two," he said. "But as I spend time with them, I'm just getting pummeled with questions on wine and which wine we should have and what wine is good."

He's got Father's Day planned. Up early, get the boat, off to his favorite Sierra lake for fishing with his son and then back to the ranch to fire up the grill and cook their catch.

One guess what he'll be washing it down with.