Beer and football may go together like wine and cheese. But lately more and more people seem be favoring a Bordeaux over a Bud Light.
Wine has made inroads into football stadiums and living rooms across the United States on Sundays.
Americans still buy far more beer than wine overall, so there is no end coming to the beer commercials. But wine sales have been steadily growing faster than beer sales, especially around Super Bowl time, a reflection of the changing preferences of younger fans and an increase in women who watch the country’s biggest sporting event.
“The perception is that it’s all about beer, but it’s about people serving a wide variety of alcohol,” said Danny Brager, senior vice president at Nielsen, which tracks beverage and alcohol sales. “The Super Bowl and beer tend to be tied together in consumers’ minds, but consumers are shopping around.”
This year, wine will be more in the spotlight because the Super Bowl will be played in Santa Clara, California, near some of the biggest and most prominent vineyards in the country.
Not surprisingly, wine is a staple in Levi’s Stadium — home of the San Francisco 49ers and the site of the Super Bowl — where fans in the 174 suites have access to vintages from more than 60 high-quality California wineries through a program called Appellation 49.
Wineries from Sonoma County and elsewhere in the region are also promoting their wines to the million or so people expected to visit the region during the week before the game.
Beyond the Bay Area, wine is also making inroads into a sport better known for guzzling than sipping.
According to Nielsen, consumer spending nationally on beer rises by about $40 million in the week before the Super Bowl compared with the average spending on beer the three weeks before the game. During that same time, spending on wine and spirits grows by about $20 million.
The gap is not as wide as it may appear when one considers that beer is a much larger category, Brager said.
During the entire year, beer makes up 48 percent of all spending on alcohol at groceries, liquor stores and other retail outlets. About 37 percent is spent on spirits and 15 percent on wine, according to Nielsen. Beer’s share of overall spending on alcohol has declined by nearly 5 percentage points in the past 10 years.
The steady growth in wine sales has been less visible because unlike large beer makers, few wine producers advertise nationally. The market for wine is also fragmented, with thousands of brands from around the world.
During the regular season, NFL fans still favor beer over wine by a big margin. But as the playoffs begin and more people throw viewing parties that include more women, spending on wine increases. Women make up about 46 percent of the people who watch the Super Bowl, versus about 33 percent during the regular season, Nielsen said.
Wine is not just about fans, though. More players and coaches are gravitating to wine as well. Some, like the Super Bowl-winning coach Dick Vermeil, have been around wine their entire lives. Vermeil, who grew up in Calistoga, in Napa County, has returned to California after coaching in Kansas City, Philadelphia and St. Louis, where he guided the Rams to a victory in Super Bowl XXXIV after the 1999 season. He is active in his vineyard, Vermeil Wines, even driving a tractor.
Others, such as Joe Montana, the Super Bowl-winning quarterback, lend their names to wines that others produce.
Charles Woodson, who recently retired from the Oakland Raiders, has invested money in Charles Woodson Wines, a vineyard where he helps select the fruit.
Then there is Carmen Policy, the longtime executive of the 49ers during their glory years in the 1980s and 1990s, as well as the Cleveland Browns. About 15 years ago, he and his wife bought a 14-acre plot in Napa Valley and hired an architect and vineyard manager. They set about growing cabernet grapes in 2003. The Casa Piena sells for $150 a bottle while Our Gang goes for $75.
Policy said that wine has a growing profile among former players and coaches because it is a healthy pursuit, brings people together and is something that can be shared with a spouse or girlfriend.
“The lifestyle around wine, entertainment, great food and a relaxed environment becomes very much of an appeal,” Policy said. “Then there’s the excitement that draws people together. We call it the wine business, but it isn’t so much the business as the experience.”
Some former players like wine for the challenge, too. Clay Mauritson, who played linebacker at the University of Oregon, returned to his family’s grape-growing business in Sonoma County after an injury derailed his playing career. Rather than go into marketing as he planned, he discovered that making wine got his competitive juices going.
“In football, there’s always someone working harder than you, and you wake up at 5 a.m., and you pay attention to every detail,” he said. “You certainly apply that to viticulture and winemaking.”