As is often the case, you don’t see many of life’s twists coming. Most of the time you don’t even notice them until they hit you square in the face. That was the case when I cam across a Los Angeles Times’ piece – “Wineries pour efforts into targeting younger drinkers” by Tiffany Hsu. The article reflects on the people and experiences encountered while attending a Wine Riot event in LA. Wine Riot is a traveling symposium that cycles through major cities across the country geared toward attracting twenty and thirty-year-olds who are curious to experience a new atmosphere of fun wine education. Considering the focus of this site, I had no choice but to jump-in quickly.
(Photo from, Chiacgoist.com)
In so many ways Tiffany Hsu’s piece underscores many of my thoughts about how wineries need to court young drinkers and newcomers alike — future success will be built upon keeping things simple. Breaking down wine into simpler and less stuffy experiences that focus on the enjoyments of wine rather than the pretentions. This doesn’t mean that wineries who have the right sites and “know how” to make classic, age worthy wines should forego their potential for newer price sensitive markets, but it does highlight that if wineries want to persuade new business then they should start with the social aspects of wine first, and move into deeper educational arenas second.
Much of the new interest in younger drinkers is driving from the most fundamental laws of life — we all die. And if we’re lucky enough we may retire and live out our golden years. However on cheaper, fixed incomes that prevent extravagant spending on expensive wine.
“[Baby} boomers born right after World War II are starting to retire. As they adjust to fixed incomes, they are downsizing their wine spending and the amount they drink, according to research group IBISWorld… Meanwhile, the youngest drinkers, 21- to 34-year-olds known as millennials, are looking more appealing.”
But this new activity of focusing on the emerging millennial market (70 million plus people) is not predatory. Most millennials have a curiosity to be culturally well-rounded and live balanced, quality lives. Wine is serving as one aspect of this end goal, and wineries hope to appeal to this desire for culture and good living, as they have done very successfully already. A fact Mrs. Hsu intelligently points out in her piece quoting Jesse Porter of Young Winos of LA about emerging wine drinkers:
“Young wine consumers are willing to experiment and eager to develop more sophisticated palates… But companies that pander to buzzy youth trends are pigeonholing the demographic… None of these misguided appeals address the ever-growing desire among young drinkers to know what it is they’re drinking, why it tastes the way it does and how that information will help them discover other wines they like.”
In many ways this should be the resonating core of the piece. Young, new, and at times, nervous wine drinkers are interested in learning about wines for it’s understood and classical beauty, but simply want to learn at their own pace and with a deconstructed method. Rebellious to institutions of the past, yet intimately connected to the experience at hand.
(Photo from, upout.com)
It’s the same sort of desire that took college courses out of cramped lecture halls and onto the greens of Academic Quads for discussion rather than unilateral lectures.
Wine Riot, which was founded by Second Glass (started by Morgan First, 29, and Tyler Balliet, 32), is rolling from city to city as an experimental ground that future focused wineries are lining up to participate in.
However, my only issue is that Wine Riot appears to be disproportionately corporate, and doesn’t focus on smaller producers who by-and-large produce the best wines across all price points. Although larger corporations like Constellation, Diageo, Foley Family Wines, etc. produce reliable wine, their products are mostly an exercises in scaled scientific theory devoid of a craft approach, and do not deserve the complete spotlight.
(For a full list of Napa wineries that are under corporate umbrellas check out this link. You’ll probably be surprised to see wineries that you thought were independent are much less so.)
For intimate wine loves the humanizing “soul” of wine has much more to do with a personal connection to land and labor over scaled controls, and people have been showing approval with their wallets for this agrarian approach by paying top dollar. That’s not to say that larger operations do not have a place in the market, they certainly do. However they don’t deserve the whole share of the pie and should be communicated within historical context. (ie: winemaking coopertaive vs terroir driven wine).
But what can I say, nearly all American beer drinkers start with Bud Lite before they moving along to better beer options. So why expect these same young folks to do anything different with wine.
(Photo from, brightestyoungthings.com)
Nevertheless, it is exciting to see new energy on attracting younger wine drinks. But the real long-term benefit is not the immediate sell of wine, but the grooming that’s going on. Something that in time will inspire confidence in these same young folks to make their own wine decisions themselves. Essentially prepping them for future wine education and exploration.
It’s truly great stuff.
I hope there are more creative events like Second Glass’ “Wine Riot” into the future where wineries can band together and promote their philosophies directly to a more virginal crowd. Perhaps it will even separate the old guard form the new. You don’t want to be the last winery to realize you should have paid attention to us young folks, and unfortunately have a big dose of reality hit you square in the face… OUCH!
For more info on Second Glass and if a Wine Riot event is coming to a city near you, click on the image below.
(Photo from, secondglass.com)
Founder & Author – WINEreproach.com