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How wineries are getting in cash-rich youngsters

Wineries are finding fresh, novel approaches to reel-in a range of younger, big-spending guests. Kathleen Willcox investigates. 

Tourism is the engine propelling wine sales and future growth in many regions. But not every experience will attract the same caliber of visitor (read: the ones ready to $pend today, and tomorrow).

As the number of wine brands proliferate (there are now 11,691 in the U.S. alone, about 400 more than 2021, a steady increase of 4% year over year since 2010, according to the Wines Vines Analytics Winery Database), and the number of distributors whither (there are around 1,126 distributors today, down from around 3,000 in 1995 in the U.S. alone, a decrease of -62.47% according to Wines Vines Analytics), luring wine lovers to tasting rooms is the best—and sometimes the only—way to ensure financial success and growth.

Peering at birds-eye-view numbers of a handful of wine regions also shows how valuable visits are: wine country regions in the U.S. generate an estimated $16.69 billion in annual tourism expenditures according to Wine America; wine tourism generates $3 billion in visitor expenditures in South Australia alone according to Tourism Research Australia; tourists in the E.U. generate almost €15 billion in revenue, according to Comité Européen des Entreprises Vins.

But today’s big-spending tourist wants very different things than their parents or grandparents did.

Younger generations aren’t thinking about retirement yet—59% of Millennials and 63% of Gen Z are more focused on spending money on “life experiences” than saving for retirement. Millennials and Gen Z are also willing to shell out the big bucks for luxury experiences. According to Bain & Co., they are set to outspend their Gen X and Baby Boomer counterparts, accounting for a whopping 70% of luxury spend by 2025.

There are several ways wineries who are willing to forgo the formal, stilted tastings of yore for more impactful, unique experiences that will not only bring in younger generations, but been-there, done-that Gen X and Boomers who are ready for something new.

Unique non-wine angles

Wineries typically want to draw wine lovers, but some brands are finding that by appealing to other types of consumers, they broaden their appeal, while engendering intense loyalty.

At Doffo Winery in Temecula, Damian Doff joined the business when his father Marcelo had a massive heart attack in 2003, he explains.

“He started collecting motorcycles in 1994, and he ran out of space,” Doffo says. “He was working in the vineyard as therapy, but motorcycles were therapeutic for him too, so we had the idea to put them in the tasting room.”

Their vision the role of motorcycles in their business grew organically when they noted the incredible enthusiasm gear-heads and casual wine lovers expressed for the collection.

“People started coming out just to see the bikes, so we leaned into it,” Doffo says, noting that motorcycles are now sprinkled throughout the property, and motorcycle manufacturers regularly contact them to hold launch events, photo shoots and meetings at Doffo.

“In 2012, we created an entire building for the bikes, and in 2014, we came out with our first wine dedicated to bikes, the MotoDoffo,” Doffo says. “We do bike tours and we have an entire apparel line dedicated to bikes.

At this point, about 20% of their wine sales are in the motorcycle-themed line, and 6% of their gross sales are from motorcycle-wine apparel.

“The motorcycle community has embraced us because we’re the only winery with a motorcycle label, and it’s clear that our enthusiasm is completely authentic,” Doffo says.

“We’ve even converted a few riders to wine along the way.”

Ironstone Vineyards’ sales and marketing manager Joan Kautz says that she has seen the Murphys, CA winery also drawn unexpected acclaim and a new fan base due to, of all things, a 44 pound piece of gold found 15 miles from the winery.

Dubbed the Kautz specimen, after the family acquired it, Kautz says they saw “a substantial increase in visitors. Many visitors came in through school programs, and they went home and told their parents about it, and they came in to visit us and see it.”

Ironstone has turned non-wine events into an entire cottage industry. In 1998, the winery opened a five-tear horseshoe-shaped outdoor amphitheater to concerts, and every year, the winery brings in dozens of acts. This year’s summer schedule includes cross-generational draws like Cake, Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, and the Steve Miller Band. Every concert brings in 7,000 people.

“Many people come in for the concert and then stay for the weekend, which allows them to enjoy the wines and the winery itself,” Kautz says.

And guess which wines are served to thirsty concert-goers?

Immersive nature experiences

When it comes down to it, wine is a natural product. Walk-around vineyard tours have been a staple of wine country visits for generations, but there are only so many vines of Cabernet Sauvignon a non-wine-obsessed visitor can look out with going into snooze mode.

Vergenoegd Löw in Stellenbosch, South Africa, has found a way to maintain interest among even the most cynical visitors.

After acquiring the winery in 2015, German entrepreneur Dr. Peter Löw replanted the almost 400-acre estate and reinvigorated the tourism program, repurposing 19th century heritage buildings for a luxury hotel and spa, with private suites that face landscaped gardens, the Heldderberg Mountains, or vineyards. While the 21 suites are consistently booked with North American and European visitors, the winery draws in day visitors who want to take in the … duck program.

“We have Indian Runner ducks as part of our integrated pest management program,” director of marketing Carlen Wahl explains. “They also come to spend time in our WWF Conservation Champion indigenous gardens and to see our outdoor sculptures created by Dylan Lewis.”

The winery also offers hiking and biking trails, and a restaurant featuring Cape heirloom dishes. Currently, they bring in 50,000 visitors annually, and in recent years with the return of post-COVID travel, they have seen 25% increase in spending from visitors on-site, Wahl notes.

Transporting guests in unexpected ways

Why have your guests walk, when they can helicopter or train about? (Almost) everyone is a sucker for a fancy ride, and vintners with a penchant for the same are finding that giving the people what they want pays.

While making the best wine they can in Australia’s Yarra Valley will always be the priority at Levantine Hill, Samantha Jreissati, the managing director explains that offering novel, super premium experiences has created long-term loyalty from people who may never have found them otherwise.

“When our brand was born in 2009, we knew we wanted to make luxury experiences a signature offering” Jreissati says. “Our helicopter experiences are also logistically efficient, and can deliver visitors in less than 20 minutes from Melbourne City, as opposed to drives of more than an hour.”

The winery can land up to 28 helicopters at once, and according to Jreissati, they’ve almost reached that limit multiple times

“It has become quite the attraction, and they’re consistent throughout the year,” she says.

“At this point, it’s unusual to not see at least one land a day.”

Guests can book the helicopter experiences, full-stop or add bells and whistles, including an exclusive wine pairing of their ultra-rare $880 Optume wines (just 803 bottles of the Cabernet Sauvignon were made this year) with Beluga caviar.

“The ultra-premium Chairman’s Helicopter Experience is popular for occasions like proposals and significant birthdays, and connoisseurs of luxury,” Jreissatti says.

In busy Paso Robles, Halter Ranch uses its unique transportation options to stand out.

“We find that our airstrip and estate train-line definitely differentiate us, and that’s important because we’re competing with more than 400 wineries in the area for attention,” says winemaker Kevin Sass.

Halter Ranch is the only fly-in winery in the world, offering its own landing strip for jet- setters with their own plane (even just for the day). The winery team, Sass says, offers special tours and tastings to visitors who fly in, including the Grand Vineyard Train Tour.

Halter Ranch’s owner, Swiss entrepreneur Hansjörg Wyss grew up riding the Rhaeitan Railway through the Alps, and dreaming of building his own railroad one day.

In Paso, Wyss realized his dream by building a railroad through the winery’s 2,700-acre property, offering visitors views of its vineyards, olive trees, sheep-herd, outdoor sculptures and historic landmarks.

The train is a work of art in itself, a 45% scale model of Balson AG trains. The tours are offered twice a day from May through early November, and has not only helped get people around the vast estate in a novel way, but has attracted attention from the small but extraordinarily dedicated train-fan community. (One recent video attracted more than 100,000 views).

Millennials already have an estimated $1.4 trillion in spending power according to a 2020 report from 5WPR, and their younger cohorts are nipping at their heels with $140 billion in spending power. If you’re not already leveraging a unique-to-you niche, immersing visitors in the natural world, or offering an ultra-luxe experiential tasting, get to it.

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