"The VCR changed everything, because it's the first time in history that kids knew how to do something their parents didn't," declared Tyler Balliet, the founder of Wine Riot. VCRs explain Millennial wine habits, he contended as we talked over beers (there would be time for wine later, at the Riot), because the generation between 21 and 34 doesn't need to take purchasing cues from the tastes of elders or "authorities." No one online lacks for information coming at them on every platform, from Twitter to ads in their own inboxes. "All other generations are information seekers; we're information sorters."
Balliet's company Second Glass began Wine Riot in Boston in 2008 when he was 28; by the end of this year, the traveling circus of a walkaround tasting will have stopped at six cities: Boston, D.C., Chicago, San Francisco, New York and L.A. He now reaches 15,000 drinkers annually through the Riot—virtually all under the age of 40. Among the habits of Millennial drinkers nationwide, one is the thirst for education. Another is the draw of wine at a younger age than earlier generations felt it. The third is a greater open-mindedness to wines from all places, all grape varieties.
So you have a huge, growing segment of drinkers who supposedly don't trust ads, don't care about reviews, don't know much but are eager to learn, and would rather do so by hopping around the world of wine than picking a favorite Cali Cab and sticking with it. How do you market to these crazy people?
In the past year, I've noticed an odd thing bubble up in pop music: artists talking about drinking wine they know nothing about. It happens in Frank Ocean's "Super Rich Kids" ("too many bottles of this wine we can't pronounce") and in André 3000's guest verse on Rick Ross's "Sixteen" ("we eat until our belly aches and then go and grab the finest wine and drink it like we know which grape and region it came from.")
Maybe two isn't quite an official phenomenon, but it does make a strange blip in an otherwise strong current of wine name-dropping fashionability in pop music (see: Cristal, Santa Margherita, Ace of Spades). The songs involve too many layers of role playing to know how Ocean or André 3000 personally feel about wine, but Ocean—or Ocean's character—got one thing right: Wine names can be maddeningly tricky to pronounce.
Tailgating is religion in Baton Rouge, La., and when it comes to a huge game between national championship contenders, the Tiger faithful pull out all the stops. Some of them even pull a few corks.
On Saturday night, the defending South Eastern Conference Champion Louisiana State Tigers hosted the undefeated South Carolina Game Cocks at Tiger Stadium, or as I've always known it, Death Valley. As the saying goes here, "You don't just walk into Death Valley." Sometimes, though, you drive up in a fine wine–laden white Hummer.
When I heard the news that Amazon executives were meeting with wineries, hoping to launch Amazon.com Wine Marketplace before year's end, I was reminded of the play Waiting For Godot. In Samuel Beckett's work, two characters spend two acts waiting in vain for Godot, whom we never meet. There's a sense that everything will change once Godot shows up. For a dozen years now, the wine industry has been waiting for Bezos—Jeff Bezos, the founder and CEO of Amazon, who has made unsuccessful stabs at selling wine twice before.
Amazon loves efficiency, and the wine business, where each state is like a separate country with different laws, is not efficient. But either Bezos is a wine lover or he sees great potential in it, because Amazon is back. If it succeeds in launching Wine Marketplace, the question is: Will this truly be a game changer for the wine business or just an absurdist drama?
When I took up running after years of playing team sports, I gave myself permission to not be competitive: no races, no time trials, no slippery slope to marathons. If I could do an around-the-park loop of 3.5 miles a couple times a week without collapsing like Scarlett O’Hara after a fight with Rhett, I was totally all right with myself.
This experience got me thinking: I didn’t necessarily want to get better at running, but what about a field where I did, such as wine? Had I reached a comfortable plateau with wine drinking as I had with running around the park and, if so, could some sort of equipment tweak raise my level of “fitness”?
Before becoming a vintner, Rajeev Samant struggled for more than three years to get a license to put down vines. Finally, he persuaded alcohol-suspicious authorities that the ability to grow vinifera in the region was "a gift from the gods." A novice grower, he had no idea what to plant and where, and once he decided on Sauvignon Blanc, he had no idea if his grapes would ripen—no idea if they would even bear fruit.
15 years later, India is poised to become one of the world's most important wine markets.
When "normal" people think of wine experts, occasionally a few unsavory words come to mind: Geek. Snob. Bibulous fusspot. Coincidentally, those same words are commonly associated with another profession: Copy editor.
Imagine, then, the frustrations of the copy-editing wine pro. As someone who has copy edited professionally for more than a dozen years and has been a member of the Wine Spectator editorial staff for nearly 10, it's my pleasure to present here a few of the myriad misused terms in the wine industry. Hopefully we can all learn a little, laugh a little and lift each other's wine language skills.