Last week I risked life and limb to make the drive across the Snoqualmie pass in the snow, although Mrs. Vinotology and I chickened out and took a longer route with less snow coming back, and thereby avoided the kind of mess that this video captures (courtesy of a tweet from my friend Claire McCool). Anyway, my trip was due to my desperate attempts to recapture my misspent youth by attending the 20something: The New Vintage event being held in Seattle. Fortunately for me, nobody told the Washington Wine Commission that I am no longer in my twenties, so I was able to sneak in.

Now in its fifth year, 20something is an event focused on grabbing that coveted Millennial market that everyone is so anxious to attract. The event features food and wine from some of the top chefs and wineries in Washington state, with 75 different wineries and 15 local chefs participating. In addition to the food and wine, the event also offered attendees the opportunity to engage in some educational activities, including a sensory analysis booth, and one demonstrating TCA affected wines. The event was also a very social media centered event, with two huge screens displaying the Twitter chatter that used the event’s #20wine hashtag. Of course, what event for the young folk would be complete without a DJ? Spinning tunes at this year’s event was Darek Mazzone.

PB200143 Even in the Twitter chatter leading up to the event, it was clear that this was an event with an educational mission. The goal of helping to push Washington Millennials into the next stage of wino evolution was even present in the core branding on the website, with sections titled “hip2spit” and “hip2taste” highlighting some of the less commonly observed elements of the Millennial wine experience. Here are a couple of the tweets that I saw leading up to the event -

@seattlewinegal: Quick tip for young wine tasters: Don’t wear perfume wine tasting. It’s a distraction!

@20somethingwine: Our theme 2nite is that it’s Hip2Spit. Make sure that you taste these wines responsibly.

Despite the best efforts of the event’s organizers, I am relatively confident that there was very little spitting that took place, hip or otherwise, and I saw the dump buckets being used as trash receptacles at many tables. Still, this kind of event seems like the perfect way to start the education process and to encourage younger wine drinkers to get more serious about wine in the future. The “hip” atmosphere at the event seemed like a perfect way to appeal to a market who might view wine as stodgy or pretentious. Giving Millennials a venue that puts wine into a more comfortable frame of reference seems like a great approach, especially when done in a way that it doesn’t feel like the event was organized by a bunch of us old 30something farts who are trying to make a hip, young event.

In the long run, I think the key to capturing this market will be education. Moving Millennial wine drinkers into the wine enthusiasts category will be what will have the most long term effects, especially for the wineries who are producing wines that exceed $20 a bottle. This is where I think the organizers are really excelling. I heard several really great conversations taking place at the educational tables in the “Geek Lounge”, proof that the efforts were having some effect. The participants seemed to be genuinely interested in learning about how to taste wine, or to find a fault in a wine. I also overheard discussions about wine and food pairing, as well as someone questioning a winemaker about malolactic fermentation. These are all good signs that the message is hitting its mark with at least some in this group.

PB200135 But the goal of this event for organizers in the Washington Wine Commission is not simply to create more educated wine drinkers, but specifically to create more dedicated Washington wine drinkers. Although it is difficult to measure how effective the event was in this respect, I think that it is certainly a good thing to get more Washington wines in front of this younger audience, and hopefully the 20something attendees will follow up with future purchases and tasting room visits. I think that there are definite benefits to the individual wineries that poured at the event. Rather than have wineries stand behind a table and pour to people who walked by, the winery representatives walked around the event, giving them the opportunity for more focused one-on-one interaction. Some wineries made better use of this opportunity than others. I think that there was a significant portion of the people attending the event who were just looking for something to fill their glass, but there were many who were paying attention to what they were drinking, asked questions, and who will remember the wines that stood out.

In the final wash, I think that the event was a big success. Everyone is trying to court this emerging consumer group, but the tactics taken in many cases demonstrate a lack of understanding of the target group. 20something managed to be educational, without being condescending. The food and wine was great, and was presented in a way that maximized the opportunity to personally connect with the wineries and restaurants involved. Every comment that I heard from the crowd was very positive, aside from some people complaining about having to stand in line outside in the cold while entering the event. The use of social media to promote and discuss the event was also well executed, driving the event to be sold out beforehand and to become a trending topic in Seattle during the event. In an industry that often seems to be scrambling to figure out how to reach out to this age group, 20something provides a good model for how to do it right. Now I’ll just have to wait to see if I am able to sneak my ever more 30something self into the event again next year to see how they improve on that model.