Monday, August 9, 2010

Rant: Barefoot Millennials

The NV Barefoot Moscato retails for about $6.99. It recently took Best in Show, defeating over 700 other wines for that honor. When that achievement was initially announced, there was some embarassment over the choice, and since the announcement, little has been written about the competition and the reasons behind this choice.

The NextGen Wine Competition was held this past June, with the judges all being Millennial wine professionals. Lea Pierce, Founder and Managing Director of Wine Competition Management, LLC. stated, “The purpose of the NextGen Wine Competition for Millennial Wine Drinkers is to give young wine drinkers a very public forum for declaring their tastes.” The list of the winning wines contains 24 Gold, 177 Silver, 308 Bronze, 13 Double Gold, and 8 Best of Class Medals.

Do these winners reflect the tastes of the average Millennial? Or do they more reflect the taste of Millennials who are involved in the wine trade in one manner or another? Is there a difference between the tastes of the judges and the average Millennial? Similar questions would be applicable for wine professionals of any age category. Are the tastes of wine judges different from the average consumer?

Let us consider the top winners of the competition, the 8 Best in Class. Out of that group, 7 were California wines and 1 was from the Finger Lakes of New York. Does that mean Millennials generally prefer the style of California wines over Old World wines? Or was the competition somehow skewed in favor of California wines?

The Barefoot Cellars Moscato was the Best of Show, and the Barefoot Rose Cuvee was also one of the Best in Class. Why were these wines so special, defeating over 700 other wines? Many others consider them mass-produced, commercial plonk, maybe pleasant for a simple, inexpensive sparkling wine, but not "best of show" quality.

What is everyone missing? Or was it more a matter of the mechanics of the competition, such as too many wines to be tasted in too short a time? Did the Barefoot stand out because it was blatantly different, maybe sweeter, from the hundreds of other wines being tasted so close together? And why haven't the Millennial judges come forward to write about and explain their choice?

If we consider the next level below the Best in Class, the 13 Double Golds, we see a slight bit more diversity. There were only 7 wines from California, 5 from elsewhere in the U.S., and only 1 wine from outside the U.S., which was from Argentina. This seems to further support the belief that Millennials have a tendency toward American wines and not Old World ones. It is also interesting to note that one of the Double Golds was for a non-grape wine, the NV Maize Valley Red Raspberry Wine from Ohio.

Can we learn anything about Millennials from the results of this wine competition? Was it truly representative of the taste of the average Millennial? If not, then why not? And how could matters be changed to better reflect their tastes? Can we learn anything about wine competitions in general from this example? Was the competition run well, or were there problems that need to be corected for future contests?

Should we all be stocking up on Barefoot Moscato?

8 comments:

tyler said...

Hey Richard, an article actually did come out in a fairly major west coast publication, written by one of the judges addressing the competition. You can see it here: http://www.mercurynews.com/libations/ci_15580076

For what it's worth, it was a first time competition with limited entrees. Page through the full wine list and see for yourself. Lots of "up and coming wines," fishing for a medal. It is business after all and at $65 per wine to enter, everyone is looking for something.

As one of the judges at this competition, all I can say is that I tried 120 wines before we went to sweepstakes and tasted 30 more "finalists." It was a long day for even the most seasoned professional. What do you taste after sampling 150 wines in a day? Sweet. What do you not taste? Subtle.

Regarding the competition in general, you yourself even wrote in July of 2010, "There is some controversy over the value of these wine contests, as well as the fact there is a large number of these contests. The same wine might fare badly in a several competitions and then win a gold medal in another one. One could argue that these competitions provide a far greater benefit to the wineries than consumers."

Double blind tastings reveal a lot about the wines and the wine tasters. If we were to completely redo the Millennial event, it's possible very different wines would have "won." Then again, maybe not.

However, I urge you to restrain from picking on this particular event simply because it was judged exclusively by a bunch of young hooligans. Take it into the context of other wine competitions and you'll notice there isn't much of a difference besides the judges for this one were a bit younger than most.

tyler said...

Hey Richard, an article actually did come out in a fairly major west coast publication, written by one of the judges addressing the competition. You can see it here: http://www.mercurynews.com/libations/ci_15580076

For what it's worth, it was a first time competition with limited entrees. Page through the full wine list and see for yourself. Lots of "up and coming wines," fishing for a medal. It is business after all and at $65 per wine to enter, everyone is looking for something.

As one of the judges at this competition, all I can say is that I tried 120 wines before we went to sweepstakes and tasted 30 more "finalists." It was a long day for even the most seasoned professional. What do you taste after sampling 150 wines in a day? Sweet. What do you not taste? Subtle.

Regarding the competition in general, you yourself even wrote in July of 2010, "There is some controversy over the value of these wine contests, as well as the fact there is a large number of these contests. The same wine might fare badly in a several competitions and then win a gold medal in another one. One could argue that these competitions provide a far greater benefit to the wineries than consumers."

Double blind tastings reveal a lot about the wines and the wine tasters. If we were to completely redo the Millennial event, it's possible very different wines would have "won." Then again, maybe not.

However, I urge you to restrain from picking on this particular event simply because it was judged exclusively by a bunch of young hooligans. Take it into the context of other wine competitions and you'll notice there isn't much of a difference besides the judges for this one were a bit younger than most.

TheSecondGlass said...

Hey Richard, an article actually did come out in a fairly major west coast publication, written by one of the judges addressing the competition. You can see it here: http://www.mercurynews.com/libations/ci_15580076

For what it's worth, it was a first time competition with limited entrees. Page through the full wine list and see for yourself. Lots of "up and coming wines," fishing for a medal. It is business after all and at $65 per wine to enter, everyone is looking for something.

As one of the judges at this competition, all I can say is that I tried 120 wines before we went to sweepstakes and tasted 30 more "finalists." It was a long day for even the most seasoned professional. What do you taste after sampling 150 wines in a day? Sweet. What do you not taste? Subtle.

Regarding the competition in general, you yourself even wrote in July of 2010, "There is some controversy over the value of these wine contests, as well as the fact there is a large number of these contests. The same wine might fare badly in a several competitions and then win a gold medal in another one. One could argue that these competitions provide a far greater benefit to the wineries than consumers."

Double blind tastings reveal a lot about the wines and the wine tasters. If we were to completely redo the Millennial event, it's possible very different wines would have "won." Then again, maybe not.

However, I urge you to restrain from picking on this particular event simply because it was judged exclusively by a bunch of young hooligans. Take it into the context of other wine competitions and you'll notice there isn't much of a difference besides the judges for this one were a bit younger than most.

Richard Auffrey said...

Hi Tyler:

Thanks for your comments here, and it is very good to hear from one of the judges.

I did see the Mercury News article, but I didn’t think it fully addressed the issues, and would have expected far more coverage than just that one article.

I understand the issue of tasting so many wines in a short time period, and my sixth paragraph raised questions about whether that played a part or not. That is probably an issue with many other wine competitions as well, and hopefully changes will be instituted if there is a second Millennial wine competition. Judges are human, and few, if any, can taste so many wines in such a short time and really be completely discerning.

I do think wine competitions in general benefit wineries far more than consumers, and thus the Millennial contest could not properly live up to Lea Pierce’s quote about giving a forum to young wine drinkers to declare their tastes. That might work far better if the competition was designed in a different way, one that might avoid the usual pitfalls of such competitions.

I certainly agree with you that this competition is not much different from other wine competitions, though I have heard other Millennials claim, before the contest, it would be very different. Though the result in this competition was very sensational, the Barefoot Moscato taking Best of Show, it might still have occurred, if all things were the same except for different judges. If anything, it may present a cautionary tale for all wine competitions.

Take care,
Richard

TheSecondGlass said...

This competition WAS different. But the way they reported the results were not. There was a lot more collaboration and talking about the wine than in other competitions. There was more high-fiving and the general tone of the day was more fun, yet, stayed serious when it came to tasting.

We were using Twitter at the judging tables and, which seemed strange to me, we were actually nice to the volunteers who were serving us. We didn't get mad when people arranged the glasses in a way we weren't use to and no one, and I mean no one, came in with an ego.

The reason you're not reading a lot about it is because most of the judges were not press. There were a number of Sommeliers, there were wine makers and other industry professionals. There were only two bloggers and one journalist (this may be off but not by much).

It was also a first time event and I can't stress that enough. If I were doing this event, would I do it differently? Of course (and maybe I should). There were many things that didn't make sense logically or statistically but such is life.

While I'm not defending the specific competition I am defending the concept. Having a competition with a panel of judges from such an important demographic of wine drinkers is a good idea. It'll just take some more work to make it right.

After all, we drink and talk about wine in a way no generation has before. So it only makes sense we start judging it different too.

Richard Auffrey said...

Hi Tyler:
I am a bit confused as in the last paragraph of your original comment, you stated the Millenial competition was not much different from others, but now you are stating the opposite.

Your comments do raise other questions. Was the "collaboration and talking about the wine" actually a good thing or not? Does it open up the contest to the potential that judges would be influenced by the others, almost akin to a form of peer pressure?

Even if there were few judges from the press, I still would have expected more articles to have been written, especially if this was such a "different" event.

Which elements of the competition would you change? What did not make sense logically or statistically?

Though the concept is certainly interesting, I would slightly disagree with you that Millenials are an "important demographic." As I have said before, I view them as "potentially important" as the amount of their current wine consumption, as well as the amount of money they spend on wine, is still much less than other age categories. And it is not a given that will change significantly.

Thanks again.

TheSecondGlass said...

I always think it's funny when people say that Millennials aren't an important demographic. Who's going to be buying the bulk of the wine in 20 years? 75-80 year old Boomers? We're 70+ million strong and only half of us are 21 right now. There is tremendous room for growth. As a brand, if you get us now, you can keep us for life.

Honestly, I'm fine with people saying we're not important. The major market research and industry pros that stay ahead of the curve are now realizing the full potential of this generation and how much influence they have on their parents (the Boomers). Obviously, time will tell but the times they are a changing. The industry as a whole is starting to pick up on it but those that don't will quickly be left in the dust.

Richard Auffrey said...

What is amusing is that your own words reflect exactly what I said.

Your talk of "in 20 years," "room for growth," and the "full potential" all agree with what I said, that Millenials are "potentially important." They might become very important in the future, but the future is not set in stone.

There is always the possibility that Millennials could continue to embrace beer and spirits over wine. No one can accurately predict if that will or will not happen.

As for your statement: "As a brand, if you get us now, you can keep us for life." Does that mean the Millennials who have embraced wines such as Yellow Tail will continue to be drinking it 20 years from now? Or will the tastes of Millennials emulate the tastes of all prior generations, and change over time? And if they wont change, why not?