So, here goes with my innermost thoughts on this paradox:
- There are plenty of young people involved in the Northwest wine industry, so what gives? It's true. With Washington and Oregon wine being the new kids on the block when compared to California, or France and Italy, we've consistently found a healthy, youthful energy among winemakers and staff throughout the region. Winemakers looking to get their start can do so much easier than in more established (and expensive) areas. We're seeing winemakers who planted a vine and a dream 10 years ago right out of college putting out some amazing stuff. Why, then, is the clientele markedly older? See #2 and #3.
- Wine is expensive, yo! Well yes, it can be, although not always. No matter how you cut it, your average college-age drinker can get a whole case of PBR for the price of a decent bottle of wine, with a marked increase in the drunkenness factor. The younger crowd usually makes less money, may be starting a family, paying off student loans, and hopefully starting a retirement fund. Your older folks are better established in careers and may have more disposable income to throw around. If you read our article on value labels, though, you know it doesn't have to be that way. I'm currently in a hotel happily sipping a glass of 2007 Columbia Crest H3 Cab Sauv -- the bottle cost maybe $12. I'll save the $20+ bottles for time with friends.
- But I don't know how to swirl, sniff, sip, and all that stuff! Let's be honest, wine can be intimidating stuff. The culture surrounding the industry is steeped in tradition, and for your average Joe it can seem all snooty and stuff. Now, you and I know that isn't the case, particularly in the Pacific Northwest, but this is perhaps the crux of the paradox. If someone like me attends and event and there is nobody in my age range at the event, I may not want to go back because I don't see people like me around. It gives the impression that one must be experienced and refined to enjoy our beloved alcoholic grape juice.
- Who cares? You should. Say you are a winery who has a client base that is 80% aged 50 or older. Not knocking our older friends, but there is a limited duration in which that client will continue to purchase wine. Maybe 20 or 30 more years? Now, take your 25 year old "up-and-coming wino." Establish a solid relationship with that customer and you have 50 years of wine purchases and word of mouth marketing to look forward to. Both are important markets.
- What to do? OK, so in 4 not so brief points, I've hopefully imparted on you the fact that there is a bit of a paradox around age in the wine world. Both young and old are important markets, but they seem to be contradictory in some ways. Market to one, alienate the other...and vice versa...usually at the expense of the younger crowd. How to crack that egg and effectively encapsulate the 20's crowd while maintaining market share during the golden years is key. One thing that I've found quite effective is use of social media. Yes, I'm talking about blogs, Facebook, good websites, and Twitter. That's a real easy way to connect with a young crowd and develop a following. A welcoming tasting room and staff can go a long ways, as can a portfolio of wine that includes both value bottles and the more expensive variety. Consider some events that are more educational in nature, or would attract a younger crowd. Maybe even a young professional event at your winery to engage a different market?