Whose Wine Is It Anyway?

Winery Music Awards embodies rising trend toward younger, more fashionable and Internet-savvy wine drinkers.



The world of wine is changing. Wineries are shaking off their stuffy traditions. Wine drinkers are more Internet-savvy, younger than ever before, and looking for new outlets to express their love of wine.

And now The Winery Music Awards (WMAs)an American Idol-style competition open to unsigned artists and judged by music industry veteranscan be added to the list of exciting developments driving the reinvention of wine across the United States.

 

"There's a 21-34 age group that's more sophisticated than the wine industry thinks," says Kathy Kelly, veteran television producer, who spawned the idea for a winery music competition in April 2005, after leaving Los Angeles to settle in California's Central Coast.

 

Those aged between 13-30, known as the 'Millennial Generation,' make up about 70 million—26% of the population—in the U.S. According to the Wine Market Council of St. Helena, the Millennial Generation consumed 17% of wine in 2006, they're second only to the Baby Boomers, who comprise 77 million and consumed about 39% of wine last year.

 

"There's a mystique around wine, but kids know more about wine than ever before, and they don't want to be snobby," says Kelly, who says that wineries are actively trying to hit new markets and attract a younger audience.

 

To succeed, wineries need to focus their efforts on understanding the lifestyle choices of the audience they are trying to attract, says Kelly, who wanted to shake up the comfortable world of classical quartets and jazz improvisation bands that have traditionally dominated winery music performance.

 

"The cool thing about holding this event at wineries is that it's not a crowded smoky bar. There's a fun audience and everyone, from 21 to 70, had good time together," adds Kelly. 

 

Heats were held in wineries throughout the California region between June and September, and the final was held in Paso Robles in October. Presented by Andrew Firestone from TV's "The Bachelor" and model Janie Terrazas, the final brought six unsigned artists from the U.S. and Canada together to compete for a record contract with RNB Entertainment.

 

 Shannon Curtis

Shannon Curtis took first place at the competition.

The 2007 winner was Los Angeles-based, singer-songwriter Shannon Curtis, once described by The Los Angeles Times as sounding like "the love child of Fiona Apple and Norah Jones." Second place went to Amber Norgaard, of Tucson, Arizona, while Portland, Oregon's Debra Arlyn earned third place.

 

Technology is a major driving force behind the growth of wine consumption amongst young people, says Kelly. The WMAs broadcast the final live on their website and have made a wide range of downloads related to the event available from their official Web site. "Technology is a great way for wineries to get their name out there through a medium and lifestyle a younger audience is attracted to," says Kelly. 

 

Alan Baker (a k a "The Cellar Rat") is one of the leading figures behind the marriage of technology and wine that's fuelling the continued growth of wine amongst younger drinkers.

 

Baker's podcasts, online videos and work with San Francisco-based custom winery, Crushpad, has brought a tech-savvy dimension to the wine world that matches the lifestyle of younger customers.

 

Baker sees technology as a natural way to attract younger wine drinkers, but did not set out to use it that way.

 

"It's not like we reached out to younger clients, to lure them into something they might not have been interested in

 Amber Norgaard

Amber Norgaard, of Tucson, Arizona, took second place.

. Younger clients are interested in wine, and they expect wine to be a digital part of their persona just like their myspace page," says Baker. 

 

"The digital native generation are coming to us and expect technology to be a part of what they do in the digital realm," says Baker, adding that younger proprietor's are very innovative and "have an understanding of how to use media in a different way to reach their audience."

 

Crushpad gives users the opportunity to blog their experiences, create user groups to share messages, and even provides videos of the winemaking process that can be distributed between group members.

 

Wine packaging is also undergoing a transformation in an attempt to reach out to the younger wine-consuming market, says Thomas Reiss, owner of Kraftwerk Design in San Louis Obispo.

 

"The younger—24-34-year-old—crowd is the fastest growing segment of the wine market right now and a lot of younger generations go for branding. Wineries are trying to get a piece of that and are trying to create something young, cool, and edgy," says Reiss.

 

This has seen many wineries create more light-hearted labels that make wine seem less threatening to younger drinkers.

 

Reiss is seeing a change within the industry on "the creative level," with more young people entering the industry as proprietors and wine makers.

 

 Debra Arlyn

Debra Arlyn of Portland, Oregon, came in third.

"A lot of today's young, fresh labels reflect the philosophy of the owners. Young owners want their label to reflect that," says Reiss.

 

However, "cool, hip labels" may not be the best fit for all wineries—and are not necessarily always the best way to reach a younger audience, says Reiss.

 

"Some young wine drinkers want to look more sophisticated than they are. They want something that looks established, conservative and impressive," says Reiss.

 

While the percentage of Millennials consuming wine has increased from 10% in 2004 to 17% in 2006, consumption amongst baby boomers has decreased from 48% in 2004, to 39% in 2006.

However, the same Wine Market Council survey showed that consumption amongst the 61-year-old-and-up age group increased from 17 to 21% in the same three-year span.

"On one hand there's a whole new generation that's coming to wine, and it has a different culture now. But trying to call it a revolution or trying to overstate the shift in psyche of people involved is a disservice," says Alan Baker. 

 

Technology like blogs fill a void for the amateur that is deeply and passionately involved in what they're doing, says Baker, adding that the passion for wine extends across the generations. 

 

For more information on the Winery Music Awards, www.winerymusicawards.com.

To hear Shannon Curtis' music, www.shannoncurtis.net.

 

 

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