Red, White -- or Light?

A California winemaker uncorks a historically hard sell: A reduced-calorie wine aimed at women. Two execs discuss the plan

As the primary shoppers in most households, women buy 80% of "everyday" wines, largely at the grocery store. Yet females make up only 60% of wine drinkers. Now, Napa Valley's Beringer Blass Wine Estates is vying for more women's palates with an alcoholic offering designed to address a never-ending concern for many: weight control. On Apr. 4, Beringer Blass, part of Australian beverage giant Foster's Group, plans to launch White Lie Early Season Chardonnay, the first reduced-calorie wine from a major vintner since the 1980s.

At $10 a bottle, White Lie has 97 calories a glass, 25% fewer than regular chardonnay, and 32% less alcohol. BusinessWeek Correspondent Louise Lee recently spoke to Tracey Mason, director of innovation at Beringer Blass, and Jane Robichaud, director of wine-making, about selling vino to female consumers. Edited excerpts follow.

Q: Why would a low-calorie wine appeal to women?


So many women have crazy lifestyles, and we're always looking to cut a little bit out of our diets. So, Beringer wanted to create a wine that's lower in calories and alcohol. We recognize that women don't always need that regular 14.5% alcohol-content wine. With that level of alcohol, we often won't have that second glass, or we'll stop ourselves or have none at all.

But women often want wine after work, or a glass with lunch. White Lie is trying to assist women in making a healthier choice when they want wine. Women want to cut calories where they can, but they still want what they want.

Q: What are some of the subtleties in selling a low-calorie wine?


In focus groups, women told us they didn't want a diet wine. Diets are associated with tasting bad. They also said, "Don't make me feel bad or like I'm giving something up." If you read the back label of White Lie, that's where it says that the wine is lower in calories. We say it subtly, not overtly screaming it out.

Q: Why the tongue-in-cheek name White Lie?


It's something that we as women all do. We're having fun by winking at ourselves. We all tell little lies like "My hair is naturally this color," and "I always get up early to exercise." When we talked about this in our focus groups, everyone smiled and threw out the white lies that they tell. We're printing some of these lies on the label and even one on every cork.

Q: How does Beringer lower the calorie content of White Lie?


These grapes are grown in Santa Barbara, which has a cooler climate than does Northern California. Unlike in the northern end of the state, you might not see the sun all day long. With less sun, the sugar content in the grapes never gets too high. Also, we harvest the grapes early in the picking season, when they have lower sugar content. With less sugar, there's less alcohol and so fewer calories.

Q: What makes White Lie different from all the other wines out there aimed at women?


Any wine with a pretty flower on the label might appeal to women. There are lots of feminine-looking labels out there but without our humor and edginess. We went a step further to think about what's actually in the bottle, and not just on the outside of the bottle.

Q: The industry has tried low-cal wines before. Why didn't they take off?


In the early 1980s, there were some wines with an alcohol content as low as 6% to 7%. But that was a problem. There was way too little alcohol and so too little flavor.

Q: What's the sales and marketing strategy for White Lie?


Our primary sales channel will be in the supermarket chains in 12 major markets. We're planning an extensive Web-based campaign. We hope to partner with top women-trafficked Web sites. Next year, we'll have more radio ads and billboards. We're going to take all the profit from White Lie for the first 18 months and plow it back into marketing.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.