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Generation Wine
Published:  07 December, 2017

Kathy Chin Leong heads to Napa to discover how millennials are interacting with wine and how wineries are capitalising on their behaviour

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ON A WARM FRIDAY afternoon, Stephen Petty and wife Jackie arrive in Napa Valley, California, to celebrate their ninth anniversary at Davis Estates. Thirty- something Stephen found the high-end winery by tracking the recommendations of the hip, tattooed sommelier Patrick Cappiello via his Twitter feed.

“I find things on social media, videos, and follow different people online,” says the Florida resident. That’s how the millennial couple gather tips on where to tickle their palates. “We go to wine regions all the time for vacation.”

Radio and print ads alone fail to cut it for visibility in the 21st century. It’s a photo on Instagram, a tweet on Twitter or a posting on Yelp! and Facebook that attracts millennials like bees to honey. The new wine drinkers are imbibing as much as their parents, but their approach is vastly different, say market experts.

Baby boomers buy a bottle, take it home and share the liquid experience with their friends. Not this generation. They share Napa travels immediately on social media, posting selfies in front of breathtaking artwork, architecture and, yes, vineyards.

Baby boomer Kathryn Hall, founder of Hall Wines, says: “Everyone loves personal experiences, but particularly millennials. If you want to excel in this industry, you have to do everything right. The wine has to be good, the experience has to be great, the photographs have to be absolutely beautiful.”

Whereas baby boomers band together in a wine limo to zip from one pre-determined destination to another, millennials call ride-sharing services such as Lyft to hit well-researched wineries of their choice.

Thirty-five-year-old Ryan Hill, a fourth-generation farmer in the Hill Family Estate winery, observes: “Millennial wine drinkers are less loyal to wine brands, enjoy more variety and trust what their peers suggest on social media channels versus wine-related magazines such as Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate or Wine Spectator.”

When it was time to brainstorm what would be off the charts for marketing purposes, he suggested dying the surfboard of pro surfer Kyle Knox in red wine and using that as decor. Today, the Barrel Blend, which has a photo of Knox surfing on the label, is especially popular among those immersed in surf culture.

For a dose of pop culture, Hill ordered a replica of one of the judges’ chairs from the hit TV show The Voice. Guests pose with it daily in the tasting room, which makes for free advertising on Facebook and Instagram.

As a millennial himself, he admits that his generation is “all over the place, all over the map, but more open to esoteric wines”. He adds: “Winemakers are using different techniques, and you find more hip packaging. It’s not just a label with a photo of a painting any more.”

And, while baby boomers prefer their standard Napa Valley Cabernet or Chardonnay, Hill says millennials want a new style of wine and will try whatever is exciting and cutting edge. “We want to be the first to discover it,” he adds.