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04.2007

Massachusetts Beverage Business

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Article By: David Singer

With the recent demise of Wine X magazine coming as little surprise to most people in the industry, it raises a question or two about the market they were supposedly catering to. The twenty-one to mid-twenties age group is an often-ignored segment of our market. The scarborough wine market report's findings revealed some interesting correlations between consumers' age and the average price paid for a bottle of wine. The study shows that the 21- to 24-year-old age segment is twice as likely to pay more than $2O for a bottle of wine than other age segments. Yet in terms of marketing, they tend to be targeted by the "critter wines" I referred to in last month's article; smooth-talking Englishmen peddling liquor; and beers that come with a cheerleader fantasy. Wine X was an attempt to give this segment a bit more credit for taste - or at least for curiosity that might lead to good taste. It was a good idea in theory, because they buy wine just like the rest of us.

Then again, in one very meaningful way they aren't quite like the rest of us: many of them have a lot of disposable income. Starting salaries are high for newly anointed MBAs, lawyers and soon-to-be doctors. Many in this particular bracket are still single and without a mortgage, and thus have more income to spend on . . . whatever. And though they may have a large amount of money at their fingertips, they're unsure of how to spend it. It does make you wonder doesn't it? A segment of the market that can have that much of a disposal income and it's mostly ignored. We Bostonians in the industry should be especially attuned to this portion of the market. Why? Because you can't walk more than two feet in this town without tripping over an institute of higher learning. I can sympathize with why so few businesses cater to this crowd. As I'm no longer in the restaurant side of things, I can mention this without insulting anyone in particular. There was a certain small portion of my clientele who rubbed me the wrong way. I would, not so fondly, call them peasants. Not to insult any true peasants reading this article, but the people I am referring to certainly earned this title. More often than not, they were in the twenty-something bracket, working for a Fortune 5OO company. They were rude, inconsiderate and didn't have a clue on what or how to conduct themselves in a five star restaurant environment. I swear to Bacchus, one actually snapped his fingers and called me "Garcon". It was as if they just fell off the turnip truck, yet had an air of entitlement I never understood.

Over time however, I realized that they were like this because no one showed them how they ought to behave. There really isn't a forum to which our youngest patrons can relate when it comes to purchasing wine. Not to pick on the "critter wines" yet again, but they heavily influence novice wine drinkers who don't have the experience to know what else they might purchase. We can and should reach out to this segment and educate them. But we also have to recognize that they're different from older patrons. You find them in different places. For example, they're often in colleges, many of which have some form of "wine and cuisine appreciation" club that will bring together a large roomful of eager listeners if you'll just bring the wine and give an educational pitch. Or you find them in the same places but at a different time. Twenty-somethings making big bucks don't go to afternoon wine tastings, or even early-evening tastings. They're still at work, being young masters of the universe. They're out on the streets later, so we need tasting events later in the evening to capture them. And they typically have shorter attention spans than those of us who could drive when MTV came of age. So any event needs to be snappy, delivering something of interest to them in a short, focused package.

Probably the most important thing we can do is to stop ignoring them. My wife was one of these young six-figure globetrotters herself, but didn't even know what a sommelier was until she met me. She'd never encountered one in a restaurant, and not because she never went to establishments that had them. She'd simply been to restaurants where the staff saw a potential 'peasant' when she entered, rather than her potential as the wine-lover she is today, and as any 2O-something could be if we give them the opportunity.

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