Monday, December 13, 2010

20 Something by the Washington Wine Commission; a stroke of genius

You hear about it all the time - what will the wine industry do to court the millenials? I've seen some of their attempts at the local grocery store or wine shop. There are wines for girls who are girlie or wine for people who like labels with animals, or the often popular really cheap wine. Unfortunately, many of these attempts seem like they were conceived of by someone in a dark basement somewhere who's completely out of touch with what people want. "Put a pink label on it because young people like pink." "What you need here is a kangaroo. Young people love kangaroos, makes them think of petting zoos." "Young people don't really care about what wine tastes like, just as long as they can drink lots of it. Make it cheap."

While there may be some truth to those statements, they miss the mark. The Washington Wine Commission recently tried another tack to bring young people to the wonderful wine being made in Washington, and it was simply brilliant. In fact, they pretty much nailed it. What follows is either a formula for you to copy if want the youth of today to begin to think seriously about your wine, or an obituary for those ugly pink girlie, kangaroo-baring cheap wines. At least we can hope.

The first lesson of 20 Something is that the Washington Wine Commission is not making that square peg round hole mistake. If you want the younger generation to think about wine seriously, you bring it to them in a setting where they feel at home. The venue for 20 Something felt very much like a bar or a night club, and winemakers were making the rounds, rather than being stationed behind tables. This allowed them to approach the attendees as opposed to making it the other way around. If guests expressed interest in a wine, they were given a card with the name of the winery, the wine, and where they can find them online. Guests could collect the cards of wines they really liked without needing to remember all the details.

The old guard in wine is often left wondering why young people aren't coming to their chateau-y castle-y winery in ye olde countryside. That's simple: they're too busy texting. You expect them to put down their smartphones long enough to drive out to wine country, and get past the gated entrance to your chateau? Au contraire, mon frère. Young people are busy; or at least they think they are. 20 Something's event, held in Seattle's cosmopolitan Fremont neighborhood allowed them to make the scene without having to head out to wine country, and they could do it in very tight clothing with their texting machines in hand.

You cannot expect people to make wholesale changes and 20 Something offered the younger demographic the wine without (what can be) a stodgy or confusing tasting room or winery experience. Think of the night club atmosphere, the dark room and the lit up dance floor as training wheels. If these young folk start to think about wine as a beverage that they can associate with having a good time, then when they get to be my age and having a good time has them in bed by 10, they'll probably have a glass of wine with their sit down dinner in domestic bliss.

I spoke with Phil Cline of Naches Heights Vineyards at the event and he was having a great time. Phil told me that "consumers make decisions about what kinds of beverages they're going to drink, usually by the time they’re 26." While they may change varieties, brands, or styles, if they're a beer drinker, wine drinker, etc, they've come to this conclusion by then. 20 Something allows them to consider wine in an arena that is comfortable for them.

The Geek Lounge gave these young people a quick educational rundown on wine, offering attendees the opportunity to explore wines that may have been flawed by using sight, smells and tastes. Riedel stemware was on hand to demonstrate how different glasses can impact how you experience a wine. There were also opportunities to sample many examples of one varietal and wines that were chosen for some of the specific food pairings.

It wasn’t just wine, though. Some of Washington's best restaurants with a wine focus were on hand to provide small bites and allow guests to further explore how a wine might be changed by pairing it with food. Blog favorite Frank Magana of Picazo 717 as well as Seattle's Ponti Seafood and Brasserie Margaux joined other establishments provided imaginative and delicious small bites.

This event was a smashing success, and all the winemakers and wineries representatives I talked to really enjoyed the format. Seattle Wine Gal and Darek Mazone kept people entertained with music and a dance contest. But most importantly Washington wineries got the attention of the young whippersnappers that make up the millenial demographic, and while it was only one night, the focus and the good time that was had will certainly bring them back to some of the wines they had on this evening and Washington wine in general.


  1. probably a good strategy. Doesn't appeal to me, though. I recently found out that I'm on the very old end of the millenial spectrum, but I'd rather go out to the stodgy winery and not try to be hip anymore.

    But I suppose I was never hip in the first place...

  2. Sounds like a great plan. This industry has the opportunity to do some great things if they can get the 20 somethings on board. Events like this will certainly help.