Attracting a more diverse and younger cohort of repeat customers
requires creative thinking.
By Kathleen Willcox
Bad news first (and this is hardly breaking news): the only growing demographic of wine consumers is those aged 60 and above, according to Rob McMillan’s 2023 State of the Wine Industry Report. As he starkly puts it, “For many consumers, the data shows that wine is their parents’ alcoholic beverage but not their own. If this preference continues for too many more years, it will only increase the number of non-adopters of wine.”
But the battle is far from lost. There are those unicorn brands that consumers in the ultra-desirable 21 to 35 age bracket flock to. What’s their secret? First, let’s look at what younger people are most interested in.
Generation Z and millennials are generally on the same page when it comes to social and political issues. Gen Z (and millennials, to a lesser extent) is the most ethnically diverse generation in U.S. history — according to Pew Research, a bare majority (52%) of Gen Z is non-Hispanic white.
Digital natives, members of these generations (Generation Z is generally defined as those born between 1997 and 2012, while millennials are defined as those born between 1981 and 1996) can’t remember life before ubiquitous screens. Perhaps understandably, given their demographics and the manner in which they’re accustomed to receiving information, these folks value diversity, lean Democratic, support LGBTQ+ rights — and primarily turn to social media to shop and for entertainment purposes, according to Pew.
So how are some brands speaking to these values and finding traction? Here are a few ways.
Strategy 1: Appealing to Aspirational Curiosity
Wine Access lives by its name.
“Millennials and Generation Z are curious about wine,” says CEO Joe Fisch, who explains that it’s often a matter of providing the right opportunities for entry. “They’re more likely to join our wine clubs and buy wine sets. They also actually spend more per bottle than baby boomers and Generation X,” he says, explaining that younger consumers prioritize knowledge building and experience.
After introducing its first wine club package in 2019, Wine Access sales of sets have experienced consistent 94%+ growth, every year. About 72% of the buyers of these sets — priced $120 to $250 — are millennials and Gen Z.
Strategy 2: Innovative Food Pairings
Pairing wine with food in tasting rooms in one of the most tried-and-true ways to bring more people to the table. But wineries are getting even better results by modernizing the model.
“We offer quarterly Grazing Board Workshops where guests can build cheese and charcuterie boards with tips from influencer @BrieGrazingBoards and sipping our wines in our newly renovated St. Helena tasting room,” explains Nick Woodhams, hospitality and events manager at Markham Vineyards.
Markham partners with local powerhouses Rustic Bakery and Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese, and in the process have found a much younger crowd—with participants in their 30s and 40s (as opposed the baby boomers and Gen Xers typically seen in its tasting room).
Strategy 3: Savvy Social Media Branding & Partnerships
Finding an authentic groove — and partnering with carefully chosen influencers — is setting other wineries apart.
At Argentina’s Bodega Catena Zapata, vintner and Managing Director Dr. Laura Catena has teamed up with influencer Brianne Cohen on giveaways and IG lives. “I did three separate reels, including a giveaway and live with Laura, which brought in more than 5,000 views,” Cohen says of her live with Dr. Catena. (Catena Zapata did not collect engagement rates on the partnership). “Those reels also had an average 7% engagement rate, whereas my usual engagement rate is 3%.”
Copper Cane in St. Helena, Calif., has also found that investment in paid and earned social media “is driving trial and awareness with millennials and Gen Z,” says winemaker Joe Wagner. “We focus heavily on the major social channels and have found massive success on TikTok by talking to consumers and relating to a younger generation in ways that they find entertaining and informative. Engaging this consumer cohort will be critical to the category and Copper Cane’s long-term success.”
Paid promotions generally yield a 3X return on ad spend across all Copper Cane Brands, he says. And Wagner does indeed have a robust presence on TikTok, where 71.3% of all users are aged 18 to 34: 378,400+ followers and counting. While it’s notoriously difficult to parse direct sales from social media, these platforms do appear to be the billboards of the 21st century (another advertising medium with tough-to-measure sales).
Strategy 4: Alternative Packaging That Feels Luxe
Boxed and canned wine indubitably appeals to anyone looking to lower a wine’s carbon footprint, but they rarely exude the aspirational lifestyle vibe that a nice bottle of Barolo does.
“We aimed to reinvent boxed wine,” says Allison Luvera, co-founder of Drink Juliet. “We have created a product unlike anything else, that offers high-quality wine in a beautifully designed package.”
Its mission, Luvera says, is rooted in sustainability. Boxed wine has the lowest environmental impact of any wine packaging format, “but negative perceptions have generally restricted the offerings to cheap, mass-produced wine,” she says.
By designing a patent-pending Eco-Magnum, Juliet bridges the gap between efficiency and luxury. And unlike other classic wine brands, Juliet almost exclusively resonates with millennial and Gen Z women.
“Our analytics show that about 80% of our e-commerce and social media audience is women aged 21 to 44,” Luvera says.
Strategy 5: Offering a Taste of Adventure
Wineries like Sauvage Spectrum in Ouray, Colo., are attracting a whole new crew of potential enthusiasts through adrenaline-laced adventures.
“We offer a guided tour of the Gold Mountain Via Ferrata with our partner guiding service Basecamp Ouray,” says Patric Matysiewski, co-founder and winemaker. “We finish with an apres-climbing custom flight at our wine lounge in Ouray, with dramatic mountain views.”
The $154 experience includes a shuttle to and from the mountain and historic mine, a viewing of the mining portal and century-old blacksmith shop, exclusive access to the course which entails traversing a series of rungs, steps, cables and an iconic suspension bridge set against rugged mountain scenery, and a wine flight.
About one-third of Sauvage Spectrum’s tasting room and wine club customers are now ages 25 to 34 years old. While it hasn’t precisely tracked the arc of customers’ ages, Matysiewski says that the focus on adventure has noticeably driven down the average age of its customers.
Strategy 6: Targeting Niche Markets
Making everyone feel welcome is a basic foundation of hospitality — and something that more wineries are emphasizing.
“From the names of our wine brands, which are inspired by Vietnamese fables, to the names of our wine bundles and our pan-Asian tasting menu, to our events — such as the annual Summer Moon Festival, a Vietnamese tradition meant to bring luck to the crops and prosperity to all — we aim to make people feel seen and feel welcome,” says Mailynh Phan, CEO of RD Winery, Napa’s first Asian-owned and woman-run winery. “We are also more affordable and we are not stuffy, so we tend to naturally attract a younger crowd.”
While Phan says RD doesn’t consciously target particular communities, the woman-led and BIPOC-owned winery, along with an emphasis on a diverse tasting room team, has created a naturally more inclusive atmosphere and has drawn in a younger and more diverse crowd.
Strategy 7: Celebrity and Cultural Collaborations
JaM Cellars‘ Butter Chardonnay, the No. 2 selling Chardonnay priced above $13 in the United States, according to Nielsen data, has met Generation Z and millennials where they are—and where they want to be.
“For us, that means music,” says Sarah Montague, chief marketing officer at John Anthony Family of Wines, of which JaM is a part. “We sponsor festivals and events, like BottleRock, which all told drive more than 800 million impressions annually. Our events get around 250,000 attendees, combined.”
JaM’s downtown Napa tasting room features music-inspired décor, live music and DJ sets, and offers up wine + music pairings. In addition to boasting strong sales, the brand has been named an Impact Hot Brand five years in a row, and most recently was named an Impact Blue Chip brand — both growth-driven accolades.
Provence’s La Mascarrone, owned by basketball MVP Tony Parker and Michel Reybier, meanwhile, has targeted the increasingly exciting intersection between wine and hip hop, sponsoring the Wine & Hip Hop Festival, and pushing Parker to the forefront of the brand as ambassador.
“When Tony and I joined forces on Château La Mascaronne, it was very much inspired by our common passion for wine and the industry, but more than that, by our common interest in sharing wine — and all the pleasures that accompany it — with a wider audience,” Reybier says. “It’s been a thrill to watch how easily Tony, a millennial himself, uses his hybrid background, as an American and a Frenchman, and equally as an NBA legend and a wine enthusiast, to connect with new and younger audiences. His collaborations with Wine & Hip Hop, being such an important meeting place for popular culture and the wine industry, have been instrumental.”
Held across two days in Brooklyn, the festival brought together wine and hip hop fans through music, masterclasses, large scale walkaround tastings and multi-course meals.
Strategy 8: Immersive, Unique Event Offerings
Wineries like Oregon’s Stoller Family Estate Vineyard and Winery are finding that simply throwing fun parties — such as a Super Bowl party during the winery’s annual Rosé release — brings a younger, more free-spending crowd to the tasting room.
“We want to do things that speak to a variety of people, and we definitely wanted to do something beyond the usual Valentine’s Rosé release,” says Michelle Kaufmann, VP of communications for the Stoller Wine Group. “With Rihanna, one of the most prominent pop artists in the world, headlining the Super Bowl halftime show and attracting a wider audience, we were inspired to throw a party featuring Rosé sticky wings, buckets of beer and lots of pink, without alienating our core audience.”
This May, Stoller is testing Movie Madness, with screenings of The Princess Bride, The Sandlot and Close Encounters of the Third Kind at its tasting room, along with flower arranging classes and a Kentucky Derby Day viewing party.
Washington’s Barnard Griffin, meanwhile — a family-run winery, co-owned by Rob Griffin and Deborah Barnard, with their daughter Megan Hughes on board now as a second-generation winemaker — is all about multi-generational outreach.
They appeal to boomers with wine cruises up the Rhone, and court millennials and Gen Z with cheese-making classes and offbeat “fancy deviled eggs” and reserve wine pairings.
“We really like to bring all generations to the table through experiences,” Hughes says, adding that the family loves putting together overtly multi-generational activities. “On Mother’s Day, we do ‘An Afternoon with Mom,’ where you bring your mom to the winery and create a birth flower-themed glass tile. After [that experience], my mom and I led the group through a unique tour and tasting experience that included some of our favorite wines.”
Strategy 9: Nouveau Tech Education
Remember when reading a menu via a QR code felt weird and cumbersome? Digital technology has since become ingrained in the way consumers interact with brands, and some wineries are taking advantage of the new reality with innovative storytelling and virtual experiences that can be accessed by anyone, from anywhere.
In Italy, Brunello’s Biondi-Santi marked the occasion of the release of its newest vintages — the Brunello di Montalcino Riserva DOCG 2016 and the Brunello di Montalcino DOCG 2017 — in February with a new listening experience, La Voce di Biondi-Santi. Every bottle features a QR code through which the listening experience can be accessed.
The listening experience entails a reading of an audiobook called “A Vintage Enigma,” written by Italian novelist Gianni Farinetti and narrated by American actor Tomas Arana. That reading is accompanied by a four-part series of podcasts, with director of viticulture and winemaking Federico Radi discussing the wine, and CEO Giampiero Bertolini discussing wine, art and literature with guests Eike Schmidt, director of Uffizi Galleries in Florence, and novelist Gianni Farinnetti.
“This project has helped us cross the lines between wine, literature and art to create new experiences and forge new connections,” says Lene Bucelli, head of marketing and communications for Biondi-Santi. “We believe that this kind of dialogue with brands lets younger generations interact with the brand in a way that goes beyond the product itself.”
Strategy 10: Peer-to-Peer
No one knows millennials and Gen Z like … millennials and Gen Z. Willamette Valley’s Hazelfern Cellars was founded by Laura, 40, and Bryan Laing, 42, and Laura says they see it as “their dream, their passion and their love language.”
Their secret, the Laings say, is in living and working their values: all of their growing partners are organic, biodynamic or LIVE certified, they use native yeasts and low-intervention winemaking, they actively contribute to inclusivity campaigns (such as the One Barrel Challenge) and they experiment with lesser-known varieties like Gamay and Trousseau.
“We aim to offer diversity at a more approachable price point,” without sacrificing quality, Bryan says.
More than half (65%) of their consumers are women, and 70.4% are in the 21 to 44 age bracket.
Strategy 11: Highlighting Eco-Creds
As the reality of climate change becomes increasingly apparent in everyone’s day-to-day lives, consumers are increasingly interested in supporting environmentally responsible producers.
Gérard Bertrand, based in France’s Languedoc region, has become increasingly committed to environmental stewardship in recent years, focusing on organic and biodynamic farming in the vineyard. The winery is currently in the process of developing a large-scale biodynamic vegetable farm, with 150 varieties of heirloom tomatoes planted, and rare and forgotten species of legumes. An onsite mill is also being constructed, specifically designed to process ancient grains.
The events team is eager to demonstrate the promise and bounty of their efforts to younger consumers looking for something beyond a typical tasting experience.
Bertrand recently launched astral wine-pairing dinners at L’Art de Vivre, the fine-dining restaurant at the winery’s eco-wine resort in Narbonne. (The restaurant sources as much as they can from the winery’s gardens and free-range sheep, cows and poultry onsite).
“Chef Laurent Chabert and sommelier Pierre-Alexis Mengual are aiming for the experience to be multi-sensory and transcendental,” says Véronique Braun, director of communications for the Gérard Bertrand Group. “Guests will get to discover how each planet of the solar system influences the natural world, a fundamental principle in biodynamics. Lunch and evening service will unfold to the cyclical rhythm of the stars and nature; each dish, along with its wine pairing, will vibrate according to a corresponding energy—in harmony with its flavors, colors and textures, and using music, in tune with the frequency of the cosmos.”
Use Creative Thinking
Attracting a more diverse and younger cohort of repeat customers doesn’t require — as some may have you believe — a drastic rethinking or dumbing down of wine culture. But it does require imagination, an open mind and a willingness to color outside the lines.
Kathleen Willcox writes about wine, food and culture from her home in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. She is keenly interested in sustainability issues, and the business of making ethical drinks and food. Her work appears regularly in Wine Searcher, Wine Enthusiast, Liquor.com and many other publications. Kathleen also co-authored a book called Hudson Valley Wine: A History of Taste & Terroir, which was published in 2017. Follow her wine explorations on Instagram at @kathleenwillcox