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This one’s too easy


The metastasization of wine competitions continues! Last January, I spoofed on how these ersatz contests are springing up like mushrooms after a Summer rain. Now there’s another one: the NextGen Wine Competition, billed as “the only competition by and for Millennial Wine Buyers, judged by their superstar peers age 21-35!”

Well, when I announced my “Voice of the People Worldwide Wine Awards Competition” I was obviously pulling your leg. But this time I’m serious: I am announcing the “Baby Boomers Wine Competition.” It will be by and for the Boomers, and only Boomers will be allowed to judge.

No, I’m lying again. There won’t be a Boomers wine competition. I only threw that out there to facetiously point out how silly this is all getting. I mean, if there’s a Millennial wine competition, why not an Octagenarian wine competition? How about one for the handicapped? An Asian-American wine competition? No, wait, I have it: a Gay Wine Competition, complete with rainbow flag awards and tap-dancing pourers. By the way, lest you think I make this stuff up, the Millennial Competition’s webpage has a link for “Sister Competitions” including the National Womens Wine Competition and the Organic and Biodynamic Wine Competition.

How about a Biodynamic Womens Wine Competition? They could get Lynda Carter out of retirement to host it.


Look, I like Donnie and August Sebastiani, the “Honorary Co-Chairs” of the Millennial Competition, just fine, insofar as I’ve known them over the years. They inherited their entrepreneurial genes from their Dad, Don Sebastiani, one of the most brilliant marketers the California wine industry has ever seen. And the team of judges the competition has assembled seems to be a talented one, including winemakers, P.R. mavens, social media consultants and sommeliers — all Millennials.

But what do the organizers mean when they say “The Millennial Wine Competition is the first competition designed to let Millennials tell wineries and wine marketers what they want.”? Let’s deconstruct that statement. There are 70 million Millennials in this country. Surely, not all of them want the same thing. Surely, they do not speak with one voice. So the statement is false on its face. What it really means is “The Millennial Wine Competition is the first competition designed to let Millennials judge some wines ($95 per wine entry fee, please) and then issue a press release saying which ones got medals.”

With each new competition, the value of all competitions is diminished. I don’t think the organizers see it that way, but that is the end result. Am I going out on a limb when I guess that a 26-year old person is probably not going to buy a wine because it won a medal at the Millennial Wine Competition? What if that 26 year old is a woman, and she sees that another wine won the National Womens Wine Competition? What if she’s a Green person and sees that yet another wine just won the Organic and Biodynamic Wine Competition? What if she then sees that wine #4 got 100 points from Steve Heimoff? What if #5 has a shelf talker from the store saying the wine is terrific? You see my point: these competitions are just muddying the waters, further confusing a population that’s already hopelessly confused about wine.

I also think that wineries are going to be facing a dilemma when it comes to deciding which competitions to enter. They can’t enter them all, can they? Too expensive, especially if you’re a little family winery. That pretty much limits entrants to corporate brands, which severely constricts the credibility of these competitions. So it might sound a little self-serving, but  I think the public’s interest is best served, if they want critical reviews, by sticking with trusted reviewers — regardless of their age or gender — who review everything in their regions.

And this:

UCLA is conducting some research on wine consumer attitudes and perceptions. I encourage readers to go to their website and click through to take the online survey.

  1. Since you inserted the notice about the UCLA research, we should also note that the Bibendaum Times has put out an online survey seeking data to further Tim Hanni’s thesis about taste buds-

  2. As I try very hard to remember the attributes of the Millennial market, isn’t one of their traits Authenticity? Aren’t Millennials suspicious of marketing and the critics? If so, this competition ought to net about zero interest…amongst Millennials.

    Cool link to the UCLA research, thanks, Steve.

  3. Steve, as a cancer survivor, I am painfully offended by your use of “metastasization” when discussing competitions

  4. Steve! Surely you jest. Can’t you see that all will not be right with the world until every wine on the shelf of every store and on every wine list has its medal, its points, its puffs and its stars? I just thank god for all the folks now crowding in to do the heavy lifting of all that tasting and medal-awarding, and all the others ready to aggregate and average the results so that every consumer in every demographic niche will have a clear picture of what wine is worthy of their attention.

  5. Steve, as a stage IV cancer survivor I am most definitely not painfully offended my your use of metastasization, whose definition is simply “spread,” particularly in the context of “dangerous spread.”

  6. Marlene, I feel bad for having upset you. Please accept my apology. John: Thanks for writing. Obviously, this is a sensitive subject.

  7. Steve:

    As a “millenial” (everyone else’s term, not mine), I certainly agree that the merits of a serious wine competition which seeks to promote certain wines as “millenial wines” as opposed to “boomer wines” is a ridiculous, hilarious notion, the irony of which you justifiably parodied in this and previous posts.

    I guess the reason that this whole idea does not bother me much, however, is because I just don’t take it seriously whatsoever. I see this as a very simple, smart way to make a huge amount of cash over a single weekend by hosting what amounts to a giant cocktail party. I confess that I know NOTHING about how the economics of these wine competitions work, except that I’m sure that wineries pour their wines for free and that the management company of the wine “competition” gets all of the cash from the post-competition tasting event, in which folks pay something like $50 or so (maybe they get a discount if they’re in the trade though, to make things even more enticing for wineries to participate).

    So basically, the management company who puts these wine competitions on doesn’t really care if their wine competition has merit or not. They just want to get as many people to attend the post-competition tasting event as possible. What better way to do that than to have a wine “competition” for Millenials aged 21 – 30 (or whatever it is).

    In my view, the savvy marketers behind this wine competition knew that they could call it a tasting for “Millenials” because it sounds serious/legitimate and because they knew that wineries will badly want to participate because they are so dead-set upon learning more about, and winning in, this market segment. They also knew that tons of Millenials are going to show up because the tasting event is going to be jam-packed with other 20-somethings getting tipsy. Even if the wine competition has merit, the post-competition “tasting” is nothing but a glorified cocktail party. Did anyone go to Zap this year? Good lord, people could barely stand up on their feet!

    Sorry for such a long post. This is my first time posting. I’ll tighten it up next time.


  8. Cory, good stuff. Thanks. Let your posts be as long as you want. No prob.

  9. I am with John Kelly on this for all the reasons he cited. I am not offended by the word and am relieved that it did not happen.

    And what a nice post from Cory. Easy to read and totally sensible.

  10. Valerie says:

    A couple of things…Millennial is spelled with 2 “L”s and 2 “N”s. Secondly, as a Gen-Xer, I’m more than tired of being left out of wine discussions/articles. I frequent wine tastings and wine stores, and from what I can see, those buying are Gen-Xers and Boomers. I see people my age @ wine tastings and sure, some Millennials come in, but they never return and I rarely see them buy a bottle. Therefore, I can’t understand why I see article after article on the Millennial’s power wine buying. I honestly don’t see it. Thanks for listening.

  11. Paul in Boca says:

    If you want to see a wine competition where more than 90% of the 400+ wines entered won medals, check out

  12. Valerie, I think the articles are looking toward the future, when Millennials will be buying more wine as they grow wealthier. (Well, let’s hope they grow wealthier.) The theory is that if a winery can make a young person a fan, that person will remain a fan for life. (Hey, I didn’t say I believe it, only that it’s standard operating theory in marketing.)

  13. Morton Leslie says:

    I am totally confused about generation labels. If anything has metastasized it is generation labels. Everyone seems to have one but me.

    It’s maddening not to belong to one because I don’t know how I am supposed to act. Can someone summarize them for me? And if there isn’t one for individuals born before 1946, I suggest it be known as Generation P (standing for generationally pissed).

  14. Well, Morton, with all due respect, there’s a name for your generation: fogey. Only kidding, of course. Some of us value your experience and wisdom. Put me at the top of the list. But we live in a different culture. I’m a Baby Boomer, and Big Media focused on my generation for decades as the superstars who were driving American culture. Now, it’s the Millennials. I can deal with it, being a denizen of the media myself. I just hope people will forgive me if I occasionally satirize it, which is really easy.

  15. Hi Steve,

    Whew! For a second there I though I had landed on HoseMaster’s site. Millennials are just like any other generation coming into a marketer’s cross hairs; for generations, any large group of emerging consumers have been the perpetual favorite target of many corporations, (i.e. record labels, most of which no longer exist today). Our good friends at the Beverage Information Group did considerable research recently and found this group to be: more willing to purchase wine at lower price points and experiment with finding new brands. Thus the cross hairs. So what if Sutter Home finally beat out Yellow Tail last year in sales? If you’re schlepping a $9 dollar bottle of wine, then Millennials are your crowd.

    I like that younger people are interested in experimentation with wine and will perhaps develop into sophisticated and knowledgeable wine consumers but for now, this is generation is only a windfall for wineries whose focus is mass produced wine, inexpensive wine. Over time, however, the belief is that Millennials palate’s will become more sophisticated and the generation as a whole will ascend to buy better wine. Time will tell, but really, marketers have been dead wrong before and wiped out entire industries. For me, not a great track record.


  16. Hi David, I like it also that younger people are interested in wine. That is our wonderful industry’s future and always has been. I am just suspect over our modern obsession with generations, pitting one against the other as though we are enemies. Obviously we are not. We are all Americans. The various population groups will sub-divide as they will, and in the end, good old-fashioned quality will triumph. Or so I hope.

  17. Steve, as a cancer survivor, I’m with John Kelly and not at all insulted by your metastasization comment…you could have used a better word, however.

    As a handicapped person, I am interested in a competition for GLBTers, with one eye, and left handed, who are of Puerto Rican/ Black ancestry, that have served at least one yr in prison, and are handicapped. If there are those who were insulted by that because their “one-ness” wasn’t addressed, please add your name to the list. You see how ridiculous this is.

    On a serious note, the issue of where to compete, and how many competitions, and when, etc, is a very real issue to small producers like us. Last yr, our first, we entered SD, LA, OC, Critics challenge and half a dozen other smaller venues. Once you enter a venue, you rapidly get bombarded by requests for others…repeatedly. It is painful on two counts; first is cost of entry, and second is anywhere from 6-8 bottles/entry. Worse, if you should win gold medals , as we did twice, you then get to donate a case of each wine for auction to the charity of choice of these competitions. Exactly where and when does this end?

    I’ve talked about this at length with other grower/vintners, and it is something everyone frets about. The best advice given to me was enter a few meaningful competitions, but don’t be giving a decent % of your production away. For the record, two international Gold medals got us Zero , as in none, orders for our wine. Yes, it is a great marketing tool, but gold medal winners, especially with the # of contests out there(ARK, MO, NY, TX, Wisc, to name a few), really don’t amount to a hill of beans except in marketing materials…and even there I don’t think it matters that much.

    In closing, just a question: how many wineries out there won gold medals last yr? Ans: a ton of ’em. Check out the LA list…it goes on for several pages in small type, and there are maybe half a gazillion categories, some of which have very few entries. I agree with your thesis. Stop it already.

  18. Hey, Morton. Stop reminding folks of our age. We are treasures. Priceless. We don’t need no stinking label.

  19. Larry, I’ve always thought these competitions aren’t worth the cost of entry. And the more of them there are, the less value any one of them has.

  20. Morton Leslie says:

    I talked to my Mom last night. She says I’m a “war baby”, but if I had waited a few months to come out I would be a Boomer… and be in better company. Being a fogey, I think the differences between generations are greatly exaggerated. We are mostly driven by deep seated instincts that cause us to basically come out the same in the end. When I was in my youth I smoked weed, drank beer and cheap wine and didn’t trust anyone over 30 or anyone on Madison Avenue, but look at me now. (Now that I think about it, I guess I haven’t progressed much.) Anyway, my kid is doing exactly the same thing, but after he has kids and a little pocket change he’ll be buying wine based on Heimoff reviews. Mark my words.

  21. I totally agree that there are too many wine competitions and that the tags of specific groups (all named above) are ludicrous. I respectfully disagree however, with the “all wine comps stink” concept. I have judged at major/serious west coast comps. (San Diego, Sonoma, SF Chron, Monterey, etc.) for 16 years. Panels typically feature 3 to 5 judges of different age, gender and wine biz perspectives. The palates of a trained veteran Napa winemaker and an Italian somm from NYC and a hip young writer/blogger can all provide valid perspectives in coming to a consensus on the merits (and medal-worthiness) of a wine entry.

    I say wine comps. provide a more valid reality check for a winery than the thoughts of a single writer/reviewer. I also say, choose your competitions wisely. As an NSM for Ortman, I choose how we spend our marketing money and we only enter four per year.

  22. Larry – exactly right! I will not put my wines in any competition that requires that I “make a donation” of a couple cases or big bottles. Period. Years ago when I did, I actually tried to follow-up on where those “donated” wines ended up. You would think I had asked the mob boss where his mother lived for all the warmth and cooperation these requests were met with.

    In exactly one instance I was provided documentation that some – not all – of the wine actually had been donated to an auction benefiting a non-profit, and knocked down at less than the retail value. Awesome. I don’t know where the rest of the wine went, but I ended up suspecting the whole system is a bit of a scam. Now I have set up a fixed annual allocation of total production for charitable donations – and none of it goes to wine competitions.

    As for competitions it’s tough to define “meaningful.” In 25 years I don’t recall a consumer ever asking me how many medals we have won – only distributors. Given how much attention small wineries get from distributors these days it could be argued that none of these competitions are especially meaningful to us.

    That said I still put our wines in a few, but more as a reality/sanity check for myself than for any marketing value. For example I like the focus of the tastings put on by the Sonoma Valley Vintners & Growers: instead of one huge event they do 4 smaller ones a year with a limited number of categories, and only for wines made with Sonoma Valley fruit.

  23. Steve, more to the point, what are the competitions (if any exist) whose medal awards actually do mean something? As far as I can tell, these are simply money-making enterprises that prey on wineries. They get corporate plonk and newbies who don’t know any better as entries. They do not get the really good wineries because those wineries don’t need no stinking badges!

  24. Paul, I agree. But nobody’s forcing the wineries to enter the competitions!

  25. Although I would never touch a comp with a 30 brix pole, it makes sense to cater a comp for the next gen drinkers. They’re the future consumers. In the tr, they aren’t joining the club and sending a case back home but they are joining the club and taking a few btls with.

    DTC and marketing to the young drinkers go hand in hand.

  26. little late here:
    What’s the big deal. Sounds like someone had a unique idea and may make some money off of it. It seems like there is a ‘bloggers conference’ or a ‘social medai symposium’, just about every weekend. Somebody foots a bill to put those on right?
    If I was a winery who wanted to catch the Millenials (which one of those I am). I would fork over the $95 for the wines I beleive in. YOu can’t buy much exposure for $95 these days…
    Just don’t show up ‘your father’s’ cabernet…

  27. Trying to bring some sense to the situation…

  28. Brendan says:

    Really who cares if there is another competition. Lets have 1000 more of them, it means that more people are drinking and talking about wine.


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