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Marketing to Millennials: will wine writers still matter?


The Journal of Wine Business Research is calling for papers for a special edition on Generation Y and Wine that will appear next year.

“One important current area of focus for marketing research is the next generation of consumers – the group known as Millennials, Echo Boomers or Generation Y (the term used here),” they say, in an obvious nod to tens of millions of potential buyers. Their definition of Gen Y? “Generation Y comprises those born roughly between 1977 and 1999 (the precise dates are subject to discussion), and for the next 40 years this generational group will become increasingly important as wine consumers.”

Their call for papers [love that phrase] lists these “suggested themes”:

– Motivational perspectives relating to Generation Y and wine consumption.
– Consumption and purchase behaviour, consumption occasions.
– Marketing to Generation Y, particularly contemporary marketing techniques (E-commerce, buzz marketing etc.)
– Gen Y and their relationships with wine brands.
– Gen Y and wine involvement.
– Generation Y and wine tourism.
– Generation Y and wine in relation to other alcoholic drinks.
– Issues relating to health, abuse, safe consumption and social problems.
– Gen Y and how they differ from older generations.
– Social Networking, communication usage.
– Segmentation issues.
– Methodological Issues.

Folks, this is the down-in-the-tall-grass neighborhood of the wine industry, a dark, dangerous, MEGO place where you don’t want to go unless you are heavy duty into  the mosh pit of marketing and sales. I’ve always divided the wine industry into two segments: production and business. Production people have dirt on their boots. They’re the winemakers and cellar rats, and I get along fine with them because they’re generally happy folks, and why wouldn’t they be? They work out in Nature and drink a lot.

Then there’s the business side, which includes everybody who has to get dressed up to go to work. They drink a lot too, bless their souls. My closest relationships on the business side are with P.R. people, for obvious reasons; but I also know and like a lot of people in sales and marketing. They’re generally super-smart, and I like talking about the inner workings of the wine industry, which is really complicated and interesting. (I also include merchants and sommeliers on the business side.)

Winemakers historically didn’t have to know much about the business side. There was a pretty good firewall between production and business, and both sides respected each other’s turf. That started to change in the 1990s; today, winemakers have to know a lot about business, because it’s gotten a lot harder. Winemakers don’t have the luxury of saying, “Oh, I could care less about networking and segmentation issues, I’d rather walk my vineyard.” If they’re employed winemakers, they’d get fired if they took that lazy attitude. If they own their own business, then not caring is a good way to find yourself in the poorhouse.

A lot of winemakers realize that understanding Gen Y is pretty important. But a lot of them don’t. The ones that do are getting a heads-up on the others; in the Darwinian struggle for existence that is a free market, they have the edge. I can understand why some winemakers and owners don’t “get it” right now. They’re still selling wine to Boomers, and why change something if it ain’t broken? But now really is the time for wineries to figure out how to sell to the population who, over the next 40 years, will become the biggest consumers in America.

I said that I divide the wine industry into two parts, production and business. There’s actually a third leg on the stool: writers. We’re obviously not on the production side, but we’re not on the business side either. We’re this weird appendage to the whole system, the Fourth Estate: journalism. Thomas Carlye introduced the term in 1787, when he wrote, “Burke said there were Three Estates in Parliament; but, in the Reporters’ Gallery yonder, there sat a Fourth Estate more important far than they all.” Much later, Oscar Wilde wrote, “Somebody — was it Burke? — called journalism the fourth estate. That was true at the time no doubt. But at the present moment it is the only estate. It has eaten up the other three.” I am proud to call myself a reporter. We wine critics certainly have absorbed more than our share of power; I freely admit it, but it troubles me much more in the political sphere than in wine writing, which ultimately is pretty piss ant. However this blog is not the place for politics. I have these questions: Will social media now eat up the old Fourth Estate and make it — us — irrelevant? Or will the Fourth Estate simply adapt itself to a new medium? The latter, I suspect. Reporting, and with it its expertise, is not going away.

  1. I think with everyone now able to instantly be a reporter, a la CNN’s iReport, the most important attribute of the best professional reporters will be leadership. New social networking is more conducive to following than ever, and in my experience, people are generally so busy they are relieved to be able to sit back and follow someone they build a trust in.

    Excellent reporters will need to exemplify integrity (witness Dr. Vino vs. Parker) and identify the real issues and events that are worthy of becoming involved in. That important role of objective, non-political leadership will never go away.

  2. Steve, I think you already know the answer to your own question. Social Media is (are?) the fourth estate. An independent observer/commentator vehicle for evaluating/reviewing/discussing all aspects of wine. All this hand-wringing over the “demise” of print and the “difficulty” of reaching the Millennials is bound to fade away. There will soon be post-Millennials (or whatevers) and some further evolution of social media (or something else). What will remain are 1) producers 2) marketers and 3) commentators. All aimed at 4) consumers.

  3. I agree that wine reporting, and with it its expertise, is not going away.

    Two reasons:
    1)Most social networking is about social, not about business or learning stuff. That’s why it is called social. Two-thirds of Facebook users are only there to keep in contact and communicate with family and friends. An even higher percentage would never “friend” a person they didn’t know. It’s even more slanted on My Space. There are business related social networks, though everyone there is trying to sell. No one is there to buy. I make it a habit of asking every Gen Y’er I meet, ,and I meet quite a few, if their use of Facebook has ever influenced a decision on what they should buy. They look at me like I am from outer space. “Der, No!”

    2)The biggest difference between generations is their age. Surveys show Gen X’ers are more family oriented. Der, again…that is because they are raising families. Gen Y’ers are less family oriented in surveys because they are not. Gen Y’ers supposedly look to one another for information, not Madison Avenue. We are told they would rather not work, than pursue a career that does not bring them joy. They are optimistic, care about the earth, peace, and fellow man. They are more familiar with the latest technology. Uh, I think that describes me and my peeps in the sixties! I remember a bit of rebellion against “The Man” myself.

    This stuff is a lot more simple that people would have you believe. I have the occasional privilege of hanging with college students. Most from the UC system, some from private colleges. You take a good look at them and you see yourself at that age. No-one can tell me they are different, except that they are younger, less experienced in the world, and have less of their own money. But look at them. They all dress casually (sloppy in mho), but the boys have their special brands or cargo shorts, and the girls all seem to need designer jeans and designer bags, but have a way of making them nonchalant. The flip-flops they all wear are not just flip-flops… they are “Rainbows”; their sunglasses are Ray Bans. Uh, should I mention iphones or ipads? These are things they can afford because their parents are still slipping them cash. Wait ‘till they gets their own cash.

    They don’t buy expensive wine: they buy expensive vodkas or craft beers… or expensive energy drinks. Better value, they think. They can’t afford good wine yet, and they haven’t spent enough time in Europe when they have money. They do like Trader Joe’s. So, my advice is don’t worry about trying to market something to them they don’t want and can’t afford. And don’t worry about communicating to them about wine. They’ll listen when they are good and ready. And when they are ready they will choose to listen to someone who they sense knows what he or she is talking about.

    The only things that really have changed is we use less paper and there are fewer wires.

  4. In answer to your title’s question (Marketing to Millennials: will wine writers still matter?), the answer is “Yes.”

    Just watch today’s bloggers grow into our shoes…

    I saw it yesterday, I as watched Joe Roberts (1winedude) showed filling his wine cellar on Video. I thought, this is classic… He’s showing what he’s doing, and I then actually reflected on you thinking how you (and everyone else about 10-20 years ago) just did it without the advantage of video. You did his acts, you thought his thoughts, you were just doing it without the world watching your stream of consciousness, because it wasn’t newsworthy at the time.

    I see that this is the only difference between then and now…

    When you began, you were stepping into Alexis Lichine’s shoes (among others). This new generation is stepping into ours. You were less vocal about it (because you didn’t have the internet), and you were more kind (because you didn’t have the internet to tell Alexis that you were on his heels).

    Nothing really changes, except the players and a bit more intellectual consciousness and emotional intelligence (for some), with each new generation.

  5. AMEN, Steve. To address the question, no I don’t think the act of wine writing will necessarily become irrelevant.

    Speaking as both a millennial AND as one of the marketing-types, I think that the situation of the “Fourth Estate” is very similar to where the wineries are finding themselves.

    We as millennials (or gen Y) consume information differently. Period. So I agree when you say you feel writers will need to transition media to a more online focus. But wine writers are getting some of the same pushback as wineries because of the classic US wine culture. I run a big wine tasting events group here in LA (WTFLA aka Wine Tasting For Los Angeles) and I can say from experience that we as a generation love wine, but want wine to be a part of OUR lives. We don’t want to feel that we have to change our lives to be a part of wine culture.

    I strongly believe that the base of the matter is truly that simple. We want to feel that wine is a part of our lives, not vice-versa. Wine writing is a part of that classic US wine culture that we are generally not interested in or worse, intimidated by. So, just like wineries, if writers or publications can find a way to authentically be a part of our lives, it will work.

    The real question is (just like wineries) how do writers and publications do this 1) without alienating its current consumers and 2) while staying authentic and passionate?

  6. Leah, I would add question #3: How do writers and publications do it while making money? Cuz after all, if they’re not making money, they’re probably not going to be doing it for long.

  7. Jo, love that “Nothing ever changes.” Except we don’t know that until we hit a certain age, eh?

  8. Steve–

    Your question–How do writers do it while making money–is going to take care of itself in one way or another.

    Virtually every significant print publication has an online presence and those online presences generally make money.

    Dan Berger and Steve Tanzer, to name two guys making money, do nothing in print save for occasional columns. But their publications exist only online. Sure, they did start as print publications so that gave them an audience.

    But, I would suggest that those kinds of voices and WE, WS, WA, CGCW will either continue for years to come or get replaced by their equivalents. And I would further suggest that Morton has it right. Some portion of the young crowd is going to become wine geeky and they will seek out expert opinion and be willing to pay for it.

    Of course, if I am wrong, I will go out of business one of these days. At my age, I might not mind, but I am not planning on it.

  9. Personally, I just see the Internet as another media outlet. If you have a career in providing content, be it music, visual arts or text; a media outlet is just another conduit for that content. Millennials’ cellphones and social websites are the prior’s radio and newspaper. The need for expertise and quality content never changes, it just takes different forms.

  10. Sherman says:

    Participation in the wine life is a tribal activity and is a matter of choice. I saw many of the same issues and behaviors discussed here about wine in another field where I spent a good many years of my professional life — the gun business.

    A number of parallels show themselves but the main point re: today’s topic is that when new members of the tribe seek admittance, they will seek out those established members of the tribe who possess the specialized knowledge that will satisfy their growing desire to experience more of that which they crave.

    Wine writers as shamans? Possibly a good analogy but all tribe members have the potential to contribute to the induction and upbringing of new members. The old guard gives way to the new wave only when the new wave shows that they are ready to take over — they’ve learned how to operate a 1911 .45 ACP properly, they can field dress a deer, they can talk competently and knowledgeably about ballistics, etc.

    The new members of the wine tribe will gain their knowledge at their own pace and from existing members of the wine tribe with whom they feel comfortable. If we’re lucky, the new folks will find particular shamans with whom they connect and trust to give them the right information at the right time.

    The Wine Shaman (guess I should copyright that, eh? Sounds like a good start for my own wine blog!;) acts as the gatekeeper of knowledge and makes sure that the next generation learns their way (and earns their way) as members in good standing of the tribe.

  11. Will wine writers still matter? They MIGHT. And that’s a big MIGHT. I write for two reasons 1) To give a voice to and put a face to the farming and viticulture aspects of the wine industry – all to often forgotten variables in BOTH the production and business sides of the industry; and 2) To drive my SEO higher, so that wineries find me faster when they Google “Napa Carneros Chardonnay Grapes For Sale”

    I read other wine blogs to interact with bloggers who have the capability to support the development and growth of Thomson Vineyards grape sales through relationships, networking and name recognition.

    Let’s get back to MIGHT…Wine writers will have to transition to online in order remain relevant, IF they successfully do that, they MUST have the technology to support the future or reading: MOBILE WEBSITES/BLOGS.

    If I can’t read your writing on my two inch by two inch BlackBerry screen, you may as well pack your bags and move to the Caribbean because you won’t survive as a wine writer any longer.

    I read every morning on my two inch by two inch screen and haven’t found one single wine writers website which is BlackBerry friendly, nice to look at, or easy to read. More often than not, I give up. Visit my blog and I can guarantee the ease and accessibility of reading from any mobile device at any time.

    Bloggers, writers, if you haven’t spoken to your IT guru, or Googled “How Mobile Devices are Changing the World as we Know It” by the time USA beats England at the World Cup tomorrow – maybe I’ll catch you in the Caribbean someday with a beach, BlackBerry, and a beverage in hand.

    Millennial Daughter @ThomsonVnyrds

  12. Jim Caudill says:

    Ipads are rolling out the door because lots of folks don’t want to live only on their phone. There’s always another idea, a line extension, an unforseen bit of technology to come. It will never be do this or die. It’s stay flexible, current and let the content find a variety of homes. Different strokes for different folks is a bumper sticker that will never go out of style.

  13. Yes, it will Jim, but it will a long time before a 1500 word column or a 50,000 word periodical will be easy to read on Jennifer’s blackberry.

    On the other hand, many wine pubs have made their data bases friendly for access on hand held devices.

  14. Lisa Mattson says:

    Great topic as always, Steve. Looking forward to your keynote at WBC. While reading Jo’s comment about 1WineDude’s video, did you have deja vu, i.e. when are we going to do that behind-the-scenes video I proposed when we spoke at TOTT?

    I’m actually meeting with Leah Hennessy next week to discuss a very cool event concept. Jordan Vineyard & Winery was founded in 1972. We’ve made the transitional shift from founding parents to two-generation running the business. John Jordan (son) sells out of his wine every year. That trend remained throughout the Recession. His parents (and others) thought he was crazy to start investing in in-house sales managers and a communications team when the wine was allocated. He’s making a long-term investment for the future. Has any winery in our industry had to transcend generations yet? Maybe Gallo. Our business is too young, especially for fine wines. John recognizes who is existing customers are and wants to continue that strong bond they have to Jordan, but foster relationships with new generations so they understand what Jordan is all about — and will be inclined to purchase it when that occasion arrives, which could be a few times a year or 1-2-3-4-5+ years down the road.

    It takes a great deal of commitment to evolve your storytelling as a winery in this new era of communication. I believe we’re the first family wine estate to have an in-house videography department to capture everyday life at Jordan: Wine writing (or as Paul said “commentators”) aren’t going away. They do need to figure out the revenue stream as mentioned, but traditional media is still relevant and important. It’s just that consumers have more sources of information they consume now (Facebook news feeds, Twitter feeds, RSS feeds, YouTube, Google Search, iPhone apps, magazines, websites, etc., etc.) –and smart companies have to figure out a way to make sure they are IN all the right media spaces so the consumers FIND them. That’s the big challenge for tiny wineries with limited resources and a history of relying on critics to do ALL their marketing work for them. 🙂

    I agree with Jim that technology will continue to evolve. As long as there are leaders and innovators and unmet consumer needs, another product or social media platform will come along and replace what’s hot today. Google is superman and no one has the kryptonite. Facebook, on the other hand, has some customer need issues to overcome. They could be replaced but the innovator to take them on would have to be the Google of social media sharing sites. I don’t have any data to back it up, but is what Jim said true about people buying iPads because they don’t want to live on their iPhones? If I ever bought an iPad, it would be to replace my laptop. I love my iPhone, and I use it all day long. I agree with Jennifer that mobile is the future. I’ll have to ask some Millennials about their iPhone vs. iPad usage, I guess.

  15. Has any family run winery had to “transcend” generations?

    Lisa, full credit to the Jordans, but I think we should not forget, Schramsberg, Dry Creek, A. Rafanelli. I believe the Mirassous might have managed it a few decades ago.

  16. Yes, it takes a bit of living to be able to look back and realize, it’s all the same, except it’s new players. ;^)

  17. David Lincoln Ross says:

    Dear Steve,

    Greetings from a former, and admiring, wine and spirits writing colleague here in NYC…..

    I enjoyed your column, well done, well written as always; but I have a small bone to pick.

    The quote — whether attributed correctly or not to Burke, see link info below– that you cite from Carlyle is actually from 1837, not 1787. Carlyle lived from 1795-1881.


    David Lincoln Ross

    See link:

  18. Bob Henry says:


    Excerpts from Wall Street Journal “Opinion” Section
    (June 26 2013, Page A15):

    “The Young and the Bookless;
    Many of my college students hadn’t read for fun since ‘Harry Potter.'”


    By Danny Heitman

    [a columnist for the Baton Rouge Advocate, is the author of “A Summer of Birds: John James Audubon at Oakley House” ( Louisiana State University Press, 2008).]

    . . .

    This spring, in addition to my primary job as a journalist, I taught my first college writing course. It was a class of 16, most of them freshmen. They were sharp, engaging and curious students, but I quickly noticed that much of their writing didn’t display the kind of familiarity with English that comes from reading a lot.

    For my first quiz, I included a bonus question asking my students to name the last book they had read for fun. More than half of the students listed one of the Harry Potter books by J.K. Rowling, titles most popular with middle-school youngsters. The answers suggested that most of my students hadn’t read a book for pleasure in nearly a decade.

    I was saddened to learn this, although I shouldn’t have been surprised. A landmark 2007 study by the National Endowment for the Arts noted a sharp decline in reading for pleasure among young people. The number of 17-year-olds who never read for pleasure increased to 19% in 2004 from 9% in 1984. According to the report, almost half of Americans between ages 18 and 24 never read books for fun.

    When the NEA study appeared six years ago, I convinced myself that the young nonreaders identified in the report were probably mediocre students with little aptitude for language arts. But meeting my own students — smart young people who were trying to write English without reading much of it — made me realize that the grim numbers about America’s reading habits have real faces among some of the best and brightest members of the next generation.

    . . .

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