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Millennial Wine Buying Behavior Mirrors High End Consumer

Data from Wine Market Council

Today is a very special day for a wine marketing nerd like me, and it comes but once a year. I eagerly anticipate it for months and it shapes what I do for the year to come. It’s the day the Wine Market Council and Nielsen yearly report comes out. And today’s the day for me. Hooray!

I should say, before I jump into my favorite bits (like I said: nerd), that there are some very interesting data in general and I highly recommend anyone interested check out the presentation once it is publicly available on the WMC site. Because I focus on millennials and wine, that’s what I’m covering here.


Let’s get to the fun stuff.

This year, I’m guessing due to the sheer numbers and varying life-stages of the group, they have split the millennial demographic into two parts: Younger Millennials – ages 21 – 25 in the year 2011, and Older Millennials – current ages 26 – 34 in the year 2011 (of which I am a member). This makes it more difficult to compare the demo as a group to other generations in terms of numbers or buying power. However, most of the data is in terms of percentages – I suppose we can be thankful for bringing to light the different consumer behaviors of millennials at different times of their lives. It also makes things a bit less dramatic (and anyone who has seen me speak knows that I love the dramatic). Sigh.

But I did find some drama, so let’s start with that:

Data from Wine Market Council

Millennials, and particularly the older millennials, are most likely to experiment with a brand they’ve never heard of. Many wineries like to complain about this – these complaints can be summed up by the following quote from John Gillespie of the Wine Market Council in Wine Enthusiast Magazine’s blog: “So much for brand loyalty.” I will say, however, that these numbers are specifically referencing trying MORE wines. Being brand loyal and trying new wines aren’t mutually exclusive, are they?

This information should give hope to every winery out there thinking about putting a new product on the market. It’s exciting information and it’s the reason why I spend most of my time now on brand development and launches. It should also give hope to smaller wineries without the multi-million dollar budgets of the big guns: if you can capture our interest, we’re likely to give you a shot. And whether we like it or we hate it, we’re likely to tell our 900 closest friends on Facebook about it. If you want millennials to drink your wine, put a little effort into it and it may well pay off.

Here’s another fun fact that shouldn’t surprise anyone:

Importance of wine labels by demographic

Wine labels matter. Period. Now, attempting to define “fun and contemporary” is nigh on impossible, but I think it would be safe to assume that this could mean “non-traditional.” Let’s face it. Design matters to millennial consumers. Apple, Ace Hotels, Dwell Magazine – these brands are not ONLY for millennials by any means (well, maybe Ace), but design is top priority for these brands, and these brands have top priority for millennials.  Feel free to do the math. If we spend money on something, we expect it to be beautiful and often times we expect social purchases like wine to act as a public reflection of our tastes and personality. This latter expectation is no different than any other generation (if arguably more intense due to our intrinsic personal branding tendencies); however, our personalities and what we are reflecting out to our peers IS different.

Here’s an interesting piece of information that may surprise you:

Importance of wine reviews for millennials

Well, looky here. Wine reviews are important to millennials. I’d be VERY interested to see what the definition of “wine review” was – whether it meant a traditional review from a published expert, a peer review, or a user generated review. In any case, let’s assume this means published expert reviews. Isn’t it interesting that the wine-specific publications that print these reviews seem to have no interest whatsoever in making their media more appealing to the millennial demographic? I mean, I’m sure they’re interested in taking millennials’ money, but the publications with the “most respected” reviewers are also some of the worst offenders in the stodgy-old-boys-blazer-and-ascot-wine-is-for-fancy-people category I can think of. Seems like based on this info and millennials’ ever-growing disposable income, they could be making bank with a few simple changes.

I wonder who these millennials see as industry experts, anyway. Is it Gary V.? Saveur Mag? Real Simple? Robert Parker? Steve Heimoff?  I don’t think people will ever stop looking to experts for recommendations on wine; however, it’s my personal prediction that if magazines like Spectator, Advocate, and Enthusiast don’t attempt to reach this demo, that we’ll see new “experts” pop up to take their place in publications that millennials consider more “relevant” to their lives. You can keep the two cents.

Here’s another juicy tidbit:

Wine consumed by millennials per sitting

Oh, you’re not surprised that people in their 20s and early 30s consume more wine per sitting than other demos? Yeah, me neither. And this is a good thing. They purchase more wine per occasion.

I swear, the next winemaker/owner/marketer, etc. that complains to me about how they don’t like millennials in their winery because we drink too much gets an honorary title of Asshat from me. THEY ARE BUYING MORE OF YOUR WINE PER SITTING. Oh, that’s good, but you would prefer them to buy more of your wine per sitting in a restaurant or in your tasting room and NOT get drunk? Well, I suppose they’ll just buy 3 glasses and NOT drink them. YOU SELL WINE. WINE HAS ALCOHOL. ALCOHOL MAKES PEOPLE DRUNK. It’s true. Google it.

Anyway, now that that’s off my chest (phew), this is obviously good news for purveyors of wine.

So I’d like you to take a minute and look at 3 out of the last 4 slides. The ones with the bottom category that says “High End.” Go ahead, take a look.

Notice anything interesting about the overall numbers? Look again.

According to this data, the consumer behaviors of millennials, specifically older millennials, correspond to the consumer behaviors of the “High End” group. (“High End” being people that purchase $20+ wines monthly or more often.) Here’s some more data to illustrate this correlation:

Wine drinkers' Facebook membership


Wine drinkers' Twitter membership


Going to wine bars


Visiting wine websites

They all correlate. So does this mean that it’s the millennials that are the high end buyers? Not necessarily.

HOWEVER, it DOES tell us that millennials and high end buyers have many of the same consumer traits.  High end buyers seem to behave much the way millennials do as consumers.


By targeting these traits in millennials through your outreach and marketing, you are also targeting these traits in high end buyers.

Well isn’t that interesting?


WHY SO SERIOUS? Brands Today Need To Grow A Sense Of Humor

Why So Serious Joker

Why So Serious Joker

Stop taking yourself so seriously. It’s some advice that almost any brand could (and should) use. That being said, I don’t know if I can think of an entire industry that is in such dire need of a playful shot in the arm as wine is right now.

For decades, it has been an industry built on luxury, discerning tastes, and taking everything – even the scent of cat pee – seriously. And for decades that’s what consumers wanted and expected of the wine industry. That has changed.

Let me repeat myself. That HAS changed. Already. Past tense. This is because there’s already a valuable group of consumers out there – millennials – that have little interest in this serious attitude. Other industries have already recognized this, from car batteries to anti-virus software, but wine is playing catch-up.

Smart, creative humor is one of the quickest paths to millennial consumer’s hearts (and facebook news feeds). Don’t believe me? Then take it from MTV’s head of research, Nick Shore, whose mantra of late has been “smart and funny is the new rock ‘n’ roll.” Amen.

Fortunately, humor and wine make a fantastic pairing. We celebrate with wine. We share it with friends. We enjoy it. How can humor NOT factor in? Wine brands that are looking to reach millennials today must rethink their traditional approach and attitude and start having some fun.

If you want to reach millennials and you don’t have a funny bone, I suggest you find someone that does. Fast.

CRAVE: Is This The New Wine Event Trend For 2011?

CRAVE crowd

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

The One Thing You Need To Know About Millennial Brand Ambassadors

I discuss the concept of millennial “brand ambassadors” and “brand evangelists” with businesses all the time. All. The. Time. It’s an important conversation to have – brand ambassadors/evangelists (in this conversation) are regular consumers that “preach” the good word of a particular brand to their friends and family through everyday life. Millennial brand ambassadors are particularly important because so much of our daily lives are spend on sites like facebook where our thoughts can reach thousands of people instantly. Especially for businesses looking to reach out to millennials, getting us talking about your product in a positive way in front of a thousand of our closest friends is key.

Here is my most frequently asked question: “Which brands are doing it right?” Or within the wine industry, “Which wineries are doing it right?”

It’s not that it’s a bad question. It’s incredibly relevant. And those of you who have asked me this lately, don’t think that I’m hating on you, because I’m not. You’ve just inspired me to figure out a better way to answer your question. But first…


Make your brand a valuable accessory.

The one thing you need to know about millennial brand ambassadors is: YOUR BRAND IS OUR SOCIAL ACCESSORY.

I don’t talk about your product on facebook because you deserve it, or because you worked really hard, or because you have a mortgage to pay or because you want a promotion. I talk about your product because it communicates something about me to people I want to impress/entertain/etc.

The brands that are “doing it right” are the best social accessories. The brands that say something about their millennial consumers. EXAMPLE: Tom’s Shoes – altruistic, socially conscious, environmentally friendly, and incredibly hip shoe company. When I talk about Tom’s Shoes (on facebook, on twitter, etc.) it says all of that ABOUT ME.

This is a very simple concept, but one that (at least) 90% of businesses reaching out to millennials today do not grasp. If you can keep this in mind while formulating your brilliant plan, it might just work. This is why we as millennials talk about businesses. If you want us to talk about your business, it better say something about us. It’s just how it works.

What does your brand say about your consumers? Think long and hard – and don’t just repeat what you say to your boss in meetings. What does it REALLY say? Because in order to have brand ambassadors, you must have a BRAND.

Get Serious About Mother’s Day, Wineries

Well, wineries, it’s that time of year again and the countdown is on. So what are you doing for Mother’s Day? ANOTHER wine and cheese event in the ol’ tasting room? How innovative. And for direct sales? Nothing yet, eh? Planning on slapping the words “Mother’s Day” on a regular bottle special and sending something out to your mailing list about a week before the big day? Hm. How’d that work out last year?

Mama Fratelli for Mother's Day

Mama Fratelli loves Mother's Day.

All of this snark is coming from a place of love, wineries. It’s time to get creative if you want to start making money off of these mini-holidays. Take some time to look at what you have planned and incorporate your own genius – or just use some of the ideas below.


If you’ve got a tasting room, I’m praying that you’re doing SOMETHING for the holiday. Instead of the wine and cheese event that everybody whips out when they don’t know what else to do, think a bit outside the box. What is going to make a family get in the car and head out to your tasting room? And how can you execute it on a budget? Some ideas to get you thinking:

  • Pamper ’em. Try hiring a masseuse for a few hours – have them set up a table and offer 15 minute mommy massages as a part of your event. You can also go nuts and offer manicures, but be sure to do so far enough away from the tasting room so that library Cab of yours doesn’t smell like Opi & nail polish remover.
  • Set up playtime for kids. Make it easy for families to attend by incorporating a supervised project for children as a part of the event. Mom and Dad can enjoy the tasting while Junior and Little Missy can create pictures, cork necklaces or the illustrious paper-plate bean-shakers that they can give to mom as a present when the tasting is over. Feel free to be creative and incorporate your branding into the project.
  • Take a hike. If your event is grown-ups only, and if you have the land, make it an adventurous escape. Set up a tasting in a romantic spot in the vineyard and give a guided tour to and from the tasting location. Make it special using your winery’s best features – do you have an amazing spot to view the sunset? On-site crush facilities? A little clearing in the woods or picnic tables in the vineyard? Use it. Feel free to make it a family event with extra supervision and an outside activity for the kids during the tasting.
  • Have a mom at the winery? Let the matriarch lead the tasting. Feel free to put family first – this can be your own celebration that you are inviting your valued customers to attend. If marketed right, there’s an element of “celebrity” that will appeal to some of your mailing list – just don’t let your heads get too big.
  • Look to the future. By the time you have your Mother’s Day event, know what you are doing for Father’s Day – or at least have an idea. If you can provide a wonderful and unique experience for Mom, odds are that Dad would be interested in coming back if you have something to offer him for his special day.  Depending on his or her situation, almost every guest at your event is a potential repeat for Father’s Day, so you best put it in their heads early.


Throwing your white wines in a three-pack and calling it a Mother’s Day special a week before the big day is not the way to take advantage of this holiday for your direct sales. Odds are that the consumers of your direct sale items for Mother’s Day may not be the same people that would attend your event (if you have one), so take advantage of this by creating a DIY Mother’s Day kit for home. All you need to do is to pick some themes and price ranges. Whatever you do, do it now. Get it up on your website immediately.

  • Understand your direct sales consumer. I’m going to assume that any Mother’s Day special/gift item will be up on your website (because it should be if you want to make money). Yes, you’ll be blasting this out to your mailing list and wine club, but understand that if you want to get new customers out of this, it will be people searching online for Mother’s Day wine gifts. Be sure that you use appropriate key words (for SEO) when you are creating the product pages and publish it asap. Also, the people doing online searches for mother’s day gifts may skew younger – hello millennials. Yes, there are plenty of us with kids, but there are TONS of us with mothers – we all need to buy them gifts and will most likely look to the web at some point, if not first. Keep this in mind when you are putting together your kits.
  • Know your competition. No, I’m not talking about neighboring wineries, people. The big competition on Mother’s Day is flowers. Think about this when you are choosing your pricing and marketing strategies. People won’t even blink at spending $100 and up on a beautiful bouquet of flowers for mom – it’s the ultimate go-to long-distance Mother’s Day gift. This is your competition. You can put together a fabulous package for this price (and lower) no matter what the price points of your wines are. Make sure people know this. Make sure that long distance sons and daughters realize that they have a choice between flowers and wine for Mom this year – and make sure they know why your wine package is the right choice.
  • Talk to the moms. If you’ve got moms on board in your staff, reach out to them to see what their ideal DIY Mother’s Day Kit would include.
  • Go outside your own merchandise. Yes, you could put together the same tired gift basket of wine, glasses and corkscrews, but that doesn’t give a whole lot of reasons to buy your particular package, does it? You’ve got a resale license, so USE IT! Grab a wholesale lot of manicure kits, spa slippers, DVDs, gift cards, decor items, etc. and incorporate these into your theme. If your budget is tight, shop first and create your theme around the items that fit your budget.
  • Don’t be afraid to go novelty. Remember these orders will be gifts, which means that people want to say something with them. Making people laugh is a big part of gift-giving, particularly in my family. Don’t be afraid to embrace a novelty approach. If I were a winery, the first Mother’s Day Gift item I would put together would be the Mama Fratelli Gift Basket. (If you don’t know who Mama Fratelli is, go watch Goonies immediately.) I would include a black beret and some fake pearls, as well as perhaps a CD single from the band, The Fratellis. If I had Italian varietals in my wines, I would include those in the basket (remember Zin = Primitivo), or if not, I would find the best wines that fit with her thematically. Find something unique, have fun, be creative.
  • Get the word out. If you do have some creative product packages for your direct sales, find a few ways to tell the world. Contact the local paper, radio shows, the local news – if it’s touching/unique/funny/creative enough, you may get some much needed coverage.

There are many more ways to get the most out of your event and direct sales this Mother’s Day, so grab your team, get thinking, and get put ingenious plans into motion soon to get the best return.

For those wineries that DO put the work in, I invite you to email me at with your new, improved, unique and creative plans/press releases/invites/product links, etc. and I will post as many of your Mother’s Day marketing ideas as I can (most likely the week before Mother’s Day, depending on the response). Be sure to include the links to purchase/attend so I can post them.  If your winery is putting in the work on this, I would love to support you.

Now get to work and go be a genius!

Fearless First, Then Leaders: Lesson for the Wine Industry

A little over a month ago, AdAge published an article* on 10 marketing ideas that changed the world – at least in their opinion.  From the 1984 Apple commercial to a certain iconic hosiery packaging, it’s fascinating to see these 10 ideas juxtaposed. For you marketing types, it’s incredibly inspiring. And for the rest of us, there’s an important common theme to notice among all of the companies mentioned. Each idea highlighted in the article resulted in catapulting its company to industry leader status, at times when these companies were only just fighting for their market share.

Apple's 1984 ad

Old meets new: an update to Apple's original 1984 ad.

As nonsensical as it sounds, it seems like that’s the state of wine companies today: everyone’s just competing. There’s no definitive leader. Sure there are the big guys. Sure there are the big brands. But do you see the wine equivalent to the iPhone anywhere? WHY NOT? The brass ring is just hanging there, people.

I highly recommend taking the 5 minutes to read the article. More than one of these campaigns has shaped a generation. While you read, take notice of the one thing (two things?) each of these companies had in common when they made these marketing choices: Balls.

I don’t mean to be crude, but it’s absolutely true. Some of these companies had everything to lose and they STILL made risky choices. AND THEY WORKED. It’s important to note that these Fearless Leaders were fearless BEFORE they were leaders.

There WILL be more underdog upsets in the coming years. There WILL be companies that chang their consumers’ worlds as well as their own industry landscape.

The real question is will wine be a part of it this time? A girl can only hope.

*UPDATE: It has been brought to my attention that AdAge has archived this story in the last few days and it is now available only to AdAge subscribers. This is very disappointing. I am in no way supporting or recommending that readers should subscribe to their services through the original link used in this post. The updated link that I have provided will take you to a blog that has reposted the article in its entirety. Apologies for the inconvenience.

Dear Wine Industry no. 3

Dear Wine Industry #3


Dear Wine Industry,

It shouldn’t be this hard to get people excited to buy wine. You’re not marketing a blanket with arms, here. IT’S WINE! One of the most celebrated “products” the world has ever seen. C’mon – wine is fun and delicous and exciting and sexy. Loosen up. Have some fun. See what happens.



Dear Wine Industry no. 1

Get in the Garage: Innovate by Embracing Limitations

Back in November of 2008 Wired magazine had a short but incredibly sweet article/essay on something they dubbed the “Garage Economy.” (Back to the Garage: How Economic Turmoil Breeds Innovation written by senior writer Daniel Roth – I highly recommend taking a look at it.)

In the article, Roth brings up an incredibly simple but overlooked point – tough economic times are the perfect breeding ground for fearless genius, but most industry leaders focus on cutting back rather than taking chances and moving forward.

In periods of economic turmoil, people are hungry and work cheap, and entrenched companies often concentrate on in-house cost-cutting instead of exploring new markets, which can explode with the next turn of the business cycle.

-Daniel Roth, “Back to the Garage…” Wired issue 16.12

For those that know me, my love affair with this concept is not surprising – it echoes one of my most firm beliefs: OUT OF STRUCTURE COMES GENIUS. Meaning that the more limitations one is given, the more creative that person must be to succeed. Structure forces us to take a look at what we want to accomplish, distill it down, take stock of all our resources, and find a more effective way to reach our goals. This “structure” can be anything from the number of hours in a day, budget limitations, non-traditional resources, or in this case, an international recession.

Welcome to Your New Office

Social media is a widespread example of this, both within the wine industry and beyond. Even as large companies cut back their advertising costs (sorry print & tv), they need brand awareness and sales more than ever. What’s the solution? Free social networks. Resources are re-directed to educate employees about social media (ideally, otherwise see this post), and instead of spending millions of dollars a year purchasing magazine ads, companies spend a fraction of that actually interacting directly with their target consumers. (One of the most incredible side effects of this is that the tiny 1200 case winery has the same chance of succeeding in this medium as the behemoth.) The question is, if all these companies weren’t being forced to cut back due to the economy, would they have made the same decisions to invest their energies in social media? Or would they have continued down the familiar path of traditional advertising?

Because of a seemingly perfect storm of economic restriction, there is a petri dish atmosphere for growing new ideas. For wineries, maybe it’s finding a way to boost direct sales when the Three-Tier System is failing them. Maybe it’s going out into the community and giving back and building a cult following. Maybe it’s forgoing glass bottles in favor of reusable metal containers/kegs for On-Site accounts. No matter what solutions companies come up with, it’s important to remember that these ideas are born out of structure and limitations. Companies that put their heads in the sand and ignore these conditions, or companies that are boarding up the windows to weather the storm, will never put themselves in the position of innovating.

Let’s admit it, the outlook is bleak when you maintain the status quo. Embrace all the limitations facing you – decrease in wine club membership, loss of a distributor, drooping sales, old-fashioned branding – gather them all up, find the smartest people you know, and GET IN THE GARAGE.

Y is the New Black: Why Millennials Matter to Wine in 2010

the Kids are Alright

And it’s true. At last. The millennial generation is arguably the hottest topic in the US wine industry this year. IMHO, millennials will be to wine in 2010 what social media was to wine in 2009 – a game changer. And just like social media, companies within the wine industry can either adapt and thrive, or stick their heads in the sand and be left behind.

Quite frankly, NO ONE should be left behind. So for those interested in educating themselves, their co-workers, or (yikes) even their bosses, I’ve compiled a short list of resources that is designed to catch ANYONE up on the current state of the wine/millennial connection. Look at it as a bibliography for future conversations in 2010.

Obviously, if you’re looking for more detailed information on millennials and wine, you’re sitting right in the middle of a blog entirely dedicated to the GenY/wine connection. Check out the Millennier archives, if you feel like learning more.