Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The New Generation of Wine Lovers - I love them!

Last week I was reading recent articles about other wine regions; such as Napa, Sonoma and the Fingerlakes, having problems with drunken wine tourists in limousines. Some compare the behavior to "frat boy" and some readers of these articles left comments assuming it's the college students who behave this way and not the "Cabernet and Brie" crowd (their reference name).

I'll tell ya, after spending a few years behind the tasting room bar, I have to defend the college students, especially the locals. I wish some of the "Cabernet and Brie" crowd would behave the way most college students behave when visiting area wineries. From my experience the college crowd are some of the more thoughtful and insightful visitors to pour for and visit with, and of course that is after we get the checking of ID (21 years+) formality out of the way. And interesting enough the Walla Walla Valley is the home to three colleges, Whitman College, Walla Walla University (both private colleges) and Walla Walla Community College.

Walla Walla University is a Seventh-Day Adventist college. Religion courses are an integral part of the general studies curriculum, as well as health and well-being are another important aspect. Their campus serves only vegetarian food and students are asked not to drink alcohol. Overall, the very strict no alcohol rules seems to be respected by their students - - at least when it comes to visiting tasting rooms.

Whitman College is also a private university. I have met with groups of Whitman students and often with their parents. For many students growing up, wine has been part of their culture and it isn't necessarily about the alcohol. It's about the history and the art of wine. The students and parents of Whitman College have been some of my favorite visitors. Many Whitman students have traveled around the world sharing their own wine experiences and knowledge, especially the dark red Cot (Malbec) of Cahors, France or the Malbecs of Argentina.

Of course, Walla Walla Community College is the home to College Cellars, a teaching winery at the Center of Enology and Viticulture on campus. Natually, students from the Center are visiting wineries for more than just the wine. The craftmanship of winemaking, wine chemistry, wine marketing, networking and tours make up a large part of their visits.

We also see parents and students from Washington State University traveling through Walla Walla stopping by wineries on their way home to the other side of the state.

Now, it's not to say that the college students haven't done their share of partying. Sure we see the frat pranks and some rowdiness at the local hang-out taverns, but then again it's college students and for many, it is their first time away from the parents and exercising their independence. No excuse for bad behavior, but if we were to go back in time and remember our own youth...

This is a great time to be going to school in Walla Walla, especially if you are a lover of good wine. For the serious eonophile college student on a budget, in spite of the world class wine prices, we still have many quality wines that are affordable. Most wineries have their own red table blends for under $20.00. There are also Walla Walla wineries whose mission is to produce quality wines at a great value, such as Balboa Winery, DaMa Wines, K-Vintner's Magnificent Wine Co., and new winery, Wines of Substance. These four are terrific examples of good wines not breaking the college budget or any collector's budget as far as that goes.

So anyways - - I felt I had to defend our new generation of wine lovers out there, especially the ones in the valley. Latest research states that over 25 percent of those buying wine fall between the ages of 21 and 34. New homes are being built for gracious entertainment and to include wine storage. Hosts and guests often make an evening about the wine, it's flavors and aromas, food pairing, the origin of grapes, the soil, the climate - - the terroir. I like the direction our new generation of wine lovers are headed and me as an old Boomer, I plan to follow them.

PS (2/21/08) - Many thanks to Evelyn Resnick, author of book and blog, Wine Brands, for adding her insight to the new generation of wine lovers. Please check out her blog.


Steve Bjerklie said...

The wine industry must do a much, much better job marketing to college-age kids, since -- duh -- they are the wine consumers of tomorrow. Yes, there's an age issue -- most kids in college are juniors before they turn 21 -- but that can be deftly handled, I think.

However, the big distributors will want to simply sell more wine to these kids, and the way to do that is to emphasize the party aspect of drinking wine. In my opinion, this is exactly the wrong approach to take.

The guy who does it right is Gary Vaynerchuk at Wine Library TV. He addresses college kids (he calls them "CKCs", for "college kid crews") frequently on his daily podcast, always speaking in the nomenclature they love ("ridunculous," "ginormous," "big-ass glass," and so forth), yet what he emphasizes with these words is pairing wine with food, broadening the palate, using wine as a means to share love and togetherness with friends and family. He never, ever says something like, "Bro! Drink a whole lot of this wine and par-tayyyy!"

I'm sure that, on occasion, a gang of college-age kids hires a limo and carouses the wine country for nothing more than good times and kicks -- but I'll bet it happens much more rarely than it does among people who are older, as Catie points out. So let's not blame the CKCs, let's invite them in. They will be buying, after all, almost the very next bottles of wine the industry sells.

Tor Hershman said...

And.....a lill' something from real old wine lovers, really.

It's moi's lill' YouTube version of an ooooooooooold drinkin' song, you'll know the tune.


Stay on groovin' safari,

Mark V Marino said...

I have been doing wine tours for years via limos. I get occasionally people who drink too much. It is hard to predict who will do it, but there is one thing that people need to know. Just because you have a driver does not make it ok to get drunk. Most tasting rooms have the right to refuse service to anyone and are not suppose to serve someone visually drunk as it is a liability for them.

It is not fun for me as a driver because I have many friends in the tasting rooms and I see them over and over the last thing I want is to cause them distress. We do have a clause on our contract which allows us to cancel the tour if the clients become too drunk. The problem is most drivers are working for a tip.

I do wine tours because I love the stories and the people in our industry, the wine makers the wines!

Catie said...

Hi Mark,
Thanks for writing and I really appreciate your input on this. It's good to hear all sides and especially the driver's side. I bet you have your share of stories.

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