NEWS / FEATURES

Generation Wine

Story by Bret Bernhoft 

Facing the realities of advances in technology, major elements of the process for an individual to review and ultimately purchase wine unalterably have been changed. These changes have led to new expectations by wine drinkers across the world: Oregon is no different. Again, like the rest of the world, Oregon is also home to an emerging generation of new wine enthusiasts: Generation Y, or “Generation Wine” for this story’s purpose.

Generation Wine is comprised of individuals between the ages of 21 and 35, typically urban and technologically savvy. This group of young adults, having been raised on the Internet, values the experience of an easily and affordably accessible lifestyle. Unlike previous generations, after having found wine, this group has decided to foster new ways of celebrating it. From tastings to labels, the traditions of wine are changing.

These unique qualifiers make Generation Wine a challenge for many Oregon wineries. Several Oregon wine brands are stepping up to the plate in this market to begin developing loyalty from these future wine connoisseurs. However, many of the innovations coming to market are literally being imported from both national and international producers. But with a number of key intrinsic advantages, Oregon wineries are poised to ultimately hold the majority of this market.

While there are a number of simultaneous revolutions occurring throughout the Oregon wine industry, there are two major areas of change: cost and stories. Both these arenas have a unique influence on the way wine is produced and consumed, especially when considering the growing expectations of young wine drinkers. For Generation Wine, the most important change occurring in wine is the amazing degree to which wine is becoming affordable.

The Right Price

For many Oregon wineries, the retail price of a bottle of wine, regardless of type or year, exceeds $20. The “perfect price point” (PPP) for Generation Wine is $8.50, 62 percent less than the average price for a bottle of Oregon Pinot. While this may seem to be an unbridgeable gap between the realities of producing fine Oregon wine and the expectations of new enthusiasts, there is a surprisingly simple innovation beginning to be introduced into the Oregon wine market.

In Oregon, with hundreds of independent wineries and distributors, the channels for bringing wine to market from grape to shelf are particularly cumbersome and outmoded. To become more competitive in their own marketplace, Oregon wineries will be forced to either unite as an industry or produce a select few front-runners. Either way, Oregon wine will consolidate and become more centrally operated to compete with imported brands.

As an advantage, the prices of Oregon wines are considered a values statement by Generation Wine. Relating to the importance of supporting locally and sustainably produced products, Oregon wine can afford to keep prices higher than out-of-state imports. But, the extent to which Oregon wines are regarded as affordable to Generation Wine still needs improvement. With greater cooperation and a renewed sense of industry-wide urgency, Oregon wine will begin producing cheaper, higher quality wines for Oregon markets.

A Good Story

The importance of being able to tell a story about the experience of drinking wine for many new Oregon wine drinkers is taking center stage in this unfolding drama. Generation Wine, being socially driven and affluent, demands that for a brand (winery) or a product (wine) to become a part of their regular lives, it must be compelling.

To accomplish this, many global wineries are turning to social media and label design to help spread their story. However, here in Oregon things are a little more slower-paced and stories are still passed by word of mouth. Considering this, it should be no surprise that the most effective way for introducing a wine brand to Generation Wine in Oregon is personally.

Through tasting events, interviews and simple friendly conversations, Oregon wine is staying on the cutting edge of this trend. With heavy focus on the populations of Portland, Eugene and Salem, Oregon wine is keeping the dialogue lively between the urban and the rural worlds, with both feeding each other. It is Oregon’s heritage to respect the traditions of both ways of life while creating firm connections between the two.

An example of the success of storytelling here locally is that of Naked Winery based out of the Columbia Gorge AVA. The name itself is provocative and grabs attention even with the slightest mention. But the real story being told about Naked Winery is that of their tasting events. Escaping what has been called the “stodgy” and “buttoned-up” nature of traditional wine tasting events, Naked Winery does something far different.

To break down the implied barriers between 21 to 35 year olds and traditional wine, this group of young enthusiasts pair wine with lively banter and the celebration of youth. This stark contrast to the typical experience of tasting and enjoying wine allows for a very compelling story to be told, all in the name of Naked Winery. However, there are numerous examples of good wine storytelling here in Oregon, all unique. With each story’s thread in the larger fabric of Oregon wine, there also exists a most special time of year when these messages of experiences are put to the test.

The Holidays

With the holidays near, our attention to giving gifts as well as experiences to those we care about takes the lead in many of our minds. With online shopping increasing, it is imperative that winemakers begin altering their sales efforts from near exclusivity at storefronts retailers to online merchants. With this digital transition the issues of cost and storytelling are only magnified, with one becoming easier and the other demanding greater creativity.

Concerning the sale price of a bottle over the Internet, prices on a variety of vintages are typically reduced by well over 15 percent. This means that the wines sold through the Web become increasingly accessible to Generation Wine, falling more in line with their expected price tags. But with the anonymous nature of the virtual market and the perceived value of the wine potentially being put into question, the ability to tell a compelling story becomes increasingly important.

To relate a story about a brand in cyberspace, wineries and resellers are being forced to integrate a larger number of interactive features to retail websites. These features would include the use of customer reviews from a number of websites, social media websites such as Facebook and Twitter, and other online elements. The objective for wineries when trying to tell a story over the Internet is to allow customers and clients—similar to the physical world—to create and spread the information about the wine and brand.   

If you are in Generation Wine and plan to buy wine over the holidays, please let the rest of us know what you are buying and what you think of it; tell us your wine-buying story. But you might refrain from sharing the name of the lucky recipient, as news does spread quickly in cyberspace.

Bret Bernhoft is a Partner at InsYght, a Gen-Y Marketing Consultancy out of Portland Oregon.

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