Vintners demystify the grape

By Published on .

The scions of California's prominent vintners known as "wine brats" are growing into a formidable marketing force, influencing marketing tactics for the overall industry.

Their push comes as wine vies for a share of the alcoholic beverage intake among echo boomers, the 70 million-strong progeny of the baby boomers now coming of age. "What they choose to use in terms of beverage alcohol will determine the future of all of the beverage industry," said John Gillespie, president of the Wine Market Council.

Founded four years ago by young family members of winemaking families tired of watching their Gen X contemporaries down beer Purple Hooters, margaritas and martinis, Wine Brats -- an acronym for Wine to Benefit Responsible Adults of Tomorrow's Society -- has blossomed into a grassroots non-profit organization with 40 chapters and 16,000 members nationwide. Its purpose is to encourage the younger generation to embrace wine.

The group targets 24-to-36-year-olds with educational wine events far afield from the traditional wine tasting. One of the earliest was the WineRaves tour at nightclubs where wine was poured before a backdrop of acid jazz and trip-hop, short films, fashion shows and performance art.

But the Wine Brats' reach has now gone beyond individual events to reshape advertising and marketing among winemakers in the category. "We have had a philosophical impact on the industry," said Joel Quigley, Wine Brats executive director.

A LESS STUFFY APPROACH

He said several major wineries have begun to advertise with an eye toward younger audiences, employing less formal, less serious presentations of wine. Among those is a campaign for Trinchero Family Estates' Sutter Home Winery from Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco, showing a vintner "way too focused on the wine," who fails to notice federal agents rounding up a space alien and a leprechaun from his vineyards.

Other wineries are presenting wine the traditional way, with food, but showcased in a less stuffy manner.

Niebaum-Coppola Estate Winery, Rutherford, Calif., in a campaign running this fall in food and lifestyle magazines, as well as Wired, shows off its Rosso blend with a basket of french fries and a hamburger. A second ad features its Bianco with Chinese food. Both ads were created in house by filmmaker and winery co-owner Francis Ford Coppola, along with his son Roman. Ads are tagged "Wine for everyday life."

Robert Mondavi Winery also is breaking the usual wine marketing mold with a new exhibit scheduled to open early next year at Disneyland's California Adventure theme park in Anaheim, Calif. The winery exhibit will offer tours through the winemaking process for all and wine tastings for adults.

Another Wine Brat push centers on the traditional way of marketing wine, by "hand" as they call it in the industry, where wine is poured for individual servings at tastings. To make wine more accessible to the masses, a group of wine brats led by Billy Getty, son of oil magnate Gordon Getty, opened a wine shop and restaurants under the PlumpJack name, which began serving fine wines with lower markups.

Generally, Mr. Quigley said, restaurants' by-the-glass wine programs had charged $6 a glass for a house wine of less than stellar quality, with restaurant owners saying they needed the high markup to cover cellar costs. The organization fought for more affordable, better by-the-glass programs, with the result that many restaurants now offer dozens of choices of "a good varietal or a good cabernet for that price," he said.

The Wine Council's Mr. Gillespie said, "a real palatable change is taking place" in wine marketing. But he said his group's study this year of wine drinkers found Wine Brats and others in the industry still have a long way to go to make an impact on wine consumption among the 21 to 39 set.

Today's youth are more drink-savy than generations before them, in part because they have become accustomed to drinking more sophisticated coffees offered by Starbucks Coffee Co. and other popular coffee houses, said Brian Carr, brand portfolio manager at Niebaum-Coppola. "Wine is similar to that," he said.

Overall, U.S. spending per capita on California wine increased 83%, from $35 to $64 per adult, from 1994 to 1999, according to Motto Kryla Fisher, a wine industry consultancy. The study also found California wine consumption was up 22%, to 8.4 bottles per adult over the five year period. Most of that consumption was attributable to baby boomers.

"There is nothing to show any momentum in increasing consumption in the age groups under 40," Mr. Gillespie said. However, he said, the survey presented one "interesting and surprising" finding: that drinkers ages 21 to 29 indicated they were drinking red wine, considered a more sophisticated choice than white or blush wines. "People who came to wine in their 20s in past surveys drank white or blush," he said.

`WHAT ARE YOU SAVING IT FOR?'

The Wine Market Council also has been trying to encourage wine consumption by dispelling the myth that wine should be saved for special occasions. It's been testing a generic wine marketing campaign tagged, "Wine. What are you saving it for," from Bozell, Chicago, that is likely to be turned into a full-blown national campaign next year, he said. The Wine Market Council also is launching a new Web site, wineanswers.com, developed by Bozell Kamstra, Pittsburgh.

Wine Brats is now armed with a budget nearing $1 million through eight sustaining sponsors, including SouthCorp. Wines, Gallo of Sonoma Winery, Korbel Champagne Cellars and Trinchero Family Estates. "We've got virtually all the heavy hitters," Mr. Quigley said. There are other non-wine partners as well, including Citysearch.com and Nextmonet.com, that cross-promote their brands at Wine Brat events in an effort to reach a sophisticated young audience.

PARTNERS PROMOS

Citysearch's partnership with Wine Brats includes promotions, contests and e-mail communications on a region by region basis on its site. In return, the Web site was the title sponsor of WineRave Atlanta 2000, as well as smaller, multicity tours focusing on food and wine developed by Wine Brats as turnkey events for regional chapters. With NextMonet.com, Wine Brats will sponsor after-work mixers at the Web site's gallery partners across the U.S. starting this fall.

Other Wine Brats events also have non-wine-related sponsors, including Elle, RCA Records and Universal Music Group. The music companies provide deejays or bands at some events to showcase new musical acts.

Current Wine Brat events include a Spaghetti Western dinner, and, this year, an Olympics kickoff party that showcased Australian wines. The events are hyped locally via chapters and through joint promotions with local sponsors and radio stations. Ticket prices for most events range from $15 to $40.

Partygoers "come for a good time and recognize wine is not an intimidating, obnoxious beverage," said Wine Brats' John Sebastiani, president of Viansa Winery, Sonoma.

RADIO, TV SHOWS

In addition to utilizing its extensive e-mail list, Wine Brats has aspirations to develop a radio and syndicated TV program, Mr. Sebastiani added, although no plans are currently on the horizon.

One sponsor, Gallo of Sonoma Winery, said the Wine Brats' formula works and that Wine Brats has provided "a tremendous opportunity to sample wines to a very well targeted group of young adults," said Pat Dodd, director of marketing and education at the winery.

However, Mr. Dodd said, the wine brats themselves are getting married and taking more serious jobs, and Gen X isn't getting any younger.

Michael Sangiacomo, a grape grower at Sangiacomo Vineyards and himself a Wine Brat founder, believes his group is up to the task. "We are looking outside" for new leadership, he added.

In this article:
Most Popular