I had the opportunity a couple weeks ago to attend a very unique wine event, thanks to the folks at the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance.

This is what it looked like:

CRAVE crowd

photo credit Ballesteros Photography

and this:

CRAVE group 1

photo credit Ballesteros Photography

And it was awesome.

CRAVE is a wine event specifically designed by the non-profit Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance to reach out to millennials and introduce them – glass in hand – to Paso Robles producers. At its core, it is a marketing event – the proceeds from each $45 dollar ticket go towards the event itself, which was built to generate exposure among this important demographic, not turn a profit. “Our producers understand that this event is an investment,” Says Meagan Callahan, 26, of Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance. “These are their future customers. They know that its important to reach out to them now.” And that future may not be too far off. According to some participating producers this year, the event yielded tasting room visits and sales the very next day.

So what makes CRAVE different from any other event, aside from a desire to reach 20-somethings? Located in San Luis Obispo, CRAVE chooses a venue convenient to the local university. The design inside is sleek and the lighting is sexy. During their first 2 years they had a DJ spinning, while this year they opted for a unique downtempo band complete with vocoder, violin, and laptops. The 40 or so participating Paso Robles wineries are grouped into areas called “wine bars” according to what they will be pouring with a food pairing featured at each bar.

Oh. And then there’s the sold-out crowd of mostly 20-somethings in their finest club attire. According to this year’s numbers, 81% of the 500 guests in attendance were between the ages of 21-29, with over half of these in the 21-25 age range.

According to Meagan Callahan, the priority among the CRAVE organizers is to create an atmosphere where millennials are comfortable. “We wanted wine tasting to come across as something fun to do with friends, not something intimidating or stuffy.” In my opinion, they completely succeeded. Though many of the attendees were shy and rather quiet when approaching wineries with their glasses, they were no less than ebullient when they returned to their friends. Groups of 3-7 people would gather after getting wine, and each of them would taste and compare favorites and flops in the same way they discussed what their other friends were wearing and who came with whom. Sometimes in the same breath.

CRAVE group 2

photo credit Ballesteros Photography

Young wine drinkers talking about wine with such ease and confidence is an incredibly rare occurrence at a wine-specific event. I saw this countless times. All night long.

After completing its third sold-out year, CRAVE is going stronger than ever. Will this event approach and in-person millennial focus this prove to be a trend in 2011? I hope so. I think it’s time that other organizations & wineries take notice.

And then invite me, because that s— was fun.

Follow Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance on Twitter: @PasoRoblesWine
Follow Millennier on Twitter: @Millennier