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.
—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.”
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&mdas h;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.”