Marketing Wine to the Next Generation

Young entrepreneurs tour California wine country to demonstrate selling wine to millennials

by Andrew Adams
mutineer millennials
The panel of speakers for the Mutineer Magazine's presentation on marketing wine to millennials included (from left) Christophe Smith, Tyler Balliet, Sarah Elliman and Mutineer founder and editor Alan Kropf.
Sonoma, Calif.—At a large wine festival in New York, Tyler Balliet witnessed what he described as “one of the saddest things I ever saw.”

A group of young people who—while excited to be at the $85-per-ticket event—were clearly flummoxed about how to appreciate wine. Without knowing what to do, Balliet said one member of the group turned to another and said, “Screw it, let’s just get drunk.”

The story, Balliet said, serves as an example of how the wine industry has failed to connect with the younger generation of U.S. wine drinkers. According to Mutineer magazine editor and founder Alan Kropf, it’s emblematic of the insular, niche wine culture that has reduced the joy of drinking wine to mere scores in a 100-point system.

To change that, Kropf, Balliet and a host of other young wine experts paid a visit to California’s wine country this week to present the Mutineer Magazine Marvelous Millennial Wine Marketing Circus.

Before stopping at Sebastiani Winery in Sonoma last week, the troupe peddled its message in the California wine locales of Calaveras County, Santa Barbara and Paso Robles. They delivered a presentation in Napa Valley at Charles Krug on Friday. The “circus” included confetti blasters, free popcorn, music and the appearance during one presentation of a helium-filled, shark-shaped remote-controlled blimp that floated above the heads of the roughly 100 people in attendance.

Kropf said the surge of new wineries in the past decade, the advent of new media and rise of direct-to-consumer sales have created the opportunity for a profound cultural change in the wine world.

In the past, Kropf said wineries have been focused on a limited revenue- and balance sheet-driven view of the industry. Success in the future will depend on how authentic wineries are in their effort to connect to consumers. “Good wine is not enough anymore,” he said.

Instead, wineries will have to be innovative and unique in their marketing while not sacrificing the authenticity of brand image.

Communicate your message
Balliet took his experience at the New York wine event to found Second Glass, a company that produces educational wine festivals dubbed “Wine Riots.” He said the youngest members of the millennial generation (ages 21-22) can’t imagine life without the Internet or even their smartphones. With nonstop access to the world’s collected wisdom, millennials are bombarded with information rather than having to seek it out like members of previous generations.

The same is true in the wine world. Balliet said young people have grown up in a world where wine is everywhere. When they turned 21, wine had already made its transition from just one small section at the grocery store to whole aisles. “Even the dive bars I went to had four wines by the glass,” he said.

Despite the prevalence of wine, Balliet said millennials still seek guidance regarding what to drink. A clear message from wineries is crucial. Balliet said people don’t describe their new cell phones with technical jargon but instead describe the neat features. Similarly, he said that an effective message for wine is not filled with technical or sensory descriptors that may seem like gibberish to the average consumer but more like how someone would describe a wine to a good friend. “It’s so important to speak differently and tell people what to do with this thing,” he said.

Provide an experience
Sarah Elliman, vice president and co-founder of CellarPass, said that when young people go wine tasting, they are not just looking to sample wines. “When we come to wine country, we have a purpose: We want an experience.”

Elliman noted the new tasting areas at Raymond Vineyards, which include the luxurious Red Room draped in red velvet and the club-like Crystal Room. “I think this is a very good example of what’s going on and taking tasting to an experience.”

But Elliman said creating an experience does not require a million-dollar investment. Like others on the panel, she stressed the importance of being authentic, saying “it’s probably one of the most key, meaningful words.”

To that end, a winery could still provide an experience by a simple food pairing or culinary demonstration. An experience can also just be focusing on the story of how the winery was founded. If that story is real and powerful, consumers will take that story home with them and share it with their friends as they pour a glass of wine. “The more we know, the more credible we are in our voice when we talk to our friends.”
mutineer millennials
Christophe Smith discusses how he established the online video stream Harvest Live at Titus Vineyards in Napa Valley.

Tell your story
Looking for a way to tell the story of a Napa harvest, Christophe Smith, the sales and marketing director for Titus Vineyards, improvised an audio-visual cart and placed it in the back of a pickup truck that he parked in the middle of a vineyard. The result was Harvest Live—a way consumers could experience the frenzy of harvest from their homes.

He said that at the beginning of a live online campaign you might only get five viewers—and only two of those potential customers. The key is to have a plan in place to increase that audience through social media. “People will start to catch on,” he said. “You should grow a little bit every day.”

Yet, some campaigns just don’t succeed, and Smith added one should have a “timeline for failure” to give up on a lagging project.

In a fitting coincidence, as the group discussed reaching out to the younger generation of wine drinkers, the Facebook IPO received an initial value of $38. While the company’s saw an early flurry of trading Friday, the stock value had dropped by 11% today.

Using new media such as Facebook, Pinterest and bloggers combined with the traditional media of newspapers, magazines and TV is the basis of an effective public relations campaign said Ashley Teplin, partner of the firm Teplin+Nuss. She said a winery needs to offer a unified, cohesive brand identity on its website and in the way it communicates to the press and consumers. “It all has to sound and look and feel the same.”

Posted on 05.23.2012 - 21:58:52 PST
Seriously awesome article. You really captured the spirit of our collective message and we appreciate you sharing it through Wines & Vines. Thank you!
The Mutineer

Posted on 05.22.2012 - 10:03:40 PST
What I find interesting is that wineries actually need to be told that they should avoid gibberish and apply KISS, or that they need to keep things real or "authentic," when marketing to Millennials. But there were twenty-somethings reaching the age of wine appreciation 10, 30, 50 years ago, and nothing's changed: if you wish to reach newbie wine drinkers, you gotta be real and speak their lingo. If wineries need to be reminded of that, then it's their own dumb fault.

Yes, it's true, wine is more ubiquitous than ever, and you would think Millennials, those spoiled brats, would have an easier time than previous generations to absorb this prevalent wine culture. Actually, they do. You want hard? Go back to the nineties when wineries were trying to reach Xers, and throwing wine raves and dumbing down wine lingo to ridiculous lows to wean them away from their beer and soda pop. You don't need a weatherman, said Dylan long ago. The answers have always blown in the wind.
Randy Caparoso

Posted on 05.22.2012 - 13:55:38 PST
Authentic you say? Well, that is indeed what my four daughters say.. We at the Four Sisters Ranch want our wine club members to put on their mud boots and come on down to the vineyard when we are ready to harvest, hand them a clipper and let them cut us some grapes from the vine. We want our Cabernet and our Syrah to have a little Paso Robles excitement in the taste profile and how else does the consumer know it but to walk our vineyard with us, unearth the mineral rich soils, taste the Paso water, watch that amazing sunset with a glass of wine, sitting in the middle of our vineyard by our 100 year old farmhouse or drive the ATV on top of our "Little Grand Canyon" and look over the valley of vineyards--looking out for miles and miles over this magnificent landscape. That's natural, the Paso Way--the friendliest town you would ever want to visit. Cheers...Rena