(Press Democrat, The (Santa Rosa, CA) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Aug. 03--When Peter Eastlake was tasked with selecting wineries in 2008 for the first Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival, he had to beg and cajole them to participate.
After all, he said, wine had long been an afterthought for rock festivals, with space allotted to large concessionaires and the hotdog-and-beer crowd they would attract. The conventional wisdom was Tom Petty and Budweiser, yes; Radiohead and merlot, no.
But over the last seven years as the annual festival at Golden Gate Park has grown, the attitude among the wine industry has dramatically changed. Eastlake now receives numerous emails throughout the year from wineries pleading their case to be a vendor at its Wine Lands tent. Next weekend, Outside Lands will host 36 of them during the festival, which features musical acts such as The Killers, Kayne West and The Flaming Lips.
"I saw it as an amazing opportunity to invite wine into a space it had not been a part of," said Eastlake, who serves as wine director for Vintage Berkeley. "Wine was never inserted into the mix. ... It had never been invited to the party."
The trend that Outside Lands identified has blossomed throughout the North Bay, not only proving that rock music and wine can be paired together, but that they also are on the same pitch when it comes to business. In the events area, the growth has been significant providing a major economic benefit to North Coast hotels, restaurants, gas stations and other tourism-related businesses.
For example, BottleRock Napa Valley for the last two years has brought up to 30,000 fans a day to listen to music acts. More than 20 wineries and vendors set up booths in the concert grounds to target those fans.
And those concertgoers spend. Scott Lyall Clothes for Men in Napa increased its sales by 30 percent during the BottleRock festival this year compared to a regular weekend, in part by staying open until midnight on Friday and Saturday night, said owner Scott Lyall.
"You're starting to draw tourists into town that don't mind to spend money," said Lyall.
In April, City Winery opened its third club at the historic Napa Valley Opera House, providing a concert venue that has featured such independent music artists as Bruce Cockburn, 10,000 Maniacs and The Milk Carton Kids, while also offering a selection of local wines by the Miner Family Winery, Trefethen Vineyards and Ackerman Family Vineyards.
The concert venues offer significant promotional exposure for the wineries, especially smaller ones that don't have the large marketing budget of an E&J Gallo Winery or Kendall-Jackson. It also helps them reach a crucial millennial demographic who attend such events in large numbers.
"I'm hoping it will open the door," said Kathleen Inman, owner and winemaker of Santa Rosa-based Inman Family Wines, which will have a booth at Outside Lands. "There is a commercial reason to go and meet a lot of new customers."
Inman said her natural winemaking style, such as starting fermentations with native yeasts and banning enzymes or tannin preparations, along with her environmental commitment, using recycled material for labels and mounting rooftop solar panels at the winery, could help win converts among the socially conscientious millennials and Generation Xers at the festival.
"You're telling people as they are buying the wine a little bit about the brand and encouraging them to come up to Sonoma County," Inman said.
The festivals and events represent an opportunity to target the 70 million young adults who, unlike their predecessors, face a wide array of choices among alcoholic drinks from craft beers, specialty spirits and ciders. They tend to favor unique tasting experiences over brand loyalty, winemakers said.
A recent Gallup survey found that beer remains the beverage of choice for Americans who drink alcohol, with 41 percent of respondents picking beer as their favorite drink compared to 31 percent for wine and 23 percent for liquor.
In the 18- to 34-year-old demographic, beer held a more substantial lead from a period between 2011 to 2014, according to Gallup.
The survey found 42 percent preferred beer, though down from recent years, to 25 percent who favored wine and 28 percent who sided with liquor. In older age groups, wine increased its share in the survey, and led among those 55 years and older, with 46 percent of the market.
While the craft beer industry continues to grow -- it was up 18 percent in sales for the first six months of the year -- it has not come at the expense of the wine market, according to John Gillespie, founding partner of the consulting firm Wine Colleagues. Instead, the mainstream domestic beer market has flattened.
"Craft beer drinkers are by and large wine drinkers," Gillespie said.
Still, winemakers are cognizant that they must be receptive to consumer trends, and rock and popular music can serve as an entry point. Ménage ... Trois, which has generated consumer buzz through its red blend wines, launched a vodka line in June, a new dark red wine blend in July and will soon have its prosecco available by Labor Day. The Oakville-based winery also will have a booth at the Outside Lands wine tent, which is about the size of an aircraft hangar and attracts thousands of customers.
"We always look at the millennial consumer and we want to do it in an authentic manner. We don't buy ads in magazines," said Mark Dunlea, marketing director for Ménage ... Trois. "We want to bring the wine to them ... get out there and talk to them."
Some are more blatant. Alcohol by Volume, a Monterey-based distributor of fine wines that participated at this year's BottleRock, notes in its tagline: "If it's too loud, you're too old."
In some respects the concept of blending rock and wine has been around for years, though not in such a commercialized way. Starting in the late 1980s, Bruce Cohn staged charity benefit concerts on his Glen Ellen vineyard, B.R. Cohn Winery. It grew so much he built a 3,000-seat amphitheater on his property as he attracted acts such as Graham Nash and Journey, using his connections as manager of The Doobie Brothers. This year's event, held Sept. 19-22, will feature Melissa Etheridge and Peter Frampton. About 40 percent of the concertgoers will travel to the winery from outside California, he said.
"In Sonoma, the hotel people love me. The restaurants are all packed. It's good for everybody," Cohn said. He noted such winery concert venues have grown along the West Coast, such as Chateau Ste. Michelle in Woodinville, Wash. Locally, Gundlach Bundschu Winery in Sonoma hosts the Huichica Music Festival in June.
Inman said she has had a few private events in her winery's cellar featuring bands, and wished she could do more. A major music fan, she can rattle off the names of her favorite independent bands that could rival any hip millennial, thanks in large part to her two daughters in their 20s. Inman has a playlist of bands such as The Clash, The Black Keys and Yeah Yeah Yeahs when she does chores around her vineyard.
She has already mapped out times when she will leave the booth at Outside Lands to watch a few acts, the Arctic Monkeys being a particular highlight, helped by a group of girlfriends who will cover for her.
"It really is a good pairing," she said. "I think of wine complementing food and conversations and social experiences, and music is one of the most fundamental group experiences."
You can reach Staff Writer Bill Swindell at 521-5223 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @BillSwindell.
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