Ready or not, the next wave of wine events has hit the beach, and it’s kicking up quite a spray. Called Wine Riot, this high-energy tasting event is focused squarely on the millennial generation. Created by Second Glass founders, Morgan First and Tyler Balliet, this cross-nation series has already invaded Boston, Washington DC, Chicago and San Francisco: Los Angeles and New York are next. Be forewarned.
This part wine tasting, part tattoo-parlor, part county fair, part popularity contest and part cocktail party, blends with upbeat tunes and some very current app technology from Second Glass to create what is basically the latest version of a rave. This is not your father’s wine tasting, although there might be some wines your Dad might enjoy. And, oddly enough, there are probably more that your grandmother might like. And that just goes to show how everything in life is circular. What goes around comes around, and where we started with Sutter Home in the 1970s, with sweet white Zin, is where, apparently, we’re going again.
If there’s one theme here, it’s can be summarized as sweet. In fact, you have to give the Moscato Nation, a consortium of Moscato producers (including Bronco Wine Company, Delicato Family Wines, Trinchero Family Estates and Quady, organized by Harvey Posert and Patricia Schneider Associates) that was pouring at the recent San Francisco Wine Riot, credit for summing up the clarion call of this generation’s preferences: Life is Sweet.
Indeed. Many wineries offered Moscato: they knew their target audience, and that crowd was here in spades, eager to drink whatever was being offered, and the sweeter the better.
The booths with the most traffic around them when I — far, far from the target demographic — attended the Saturday afternoon “riot” last week at the Concourse in San Francisco, were those offering sweet wines and those staffed by young, energetic staff providing a fun interactive experience. Booths mixing up wine cocktails were also in high demand. Quady even handed out recipe books. Clever.
The European Union is firmly behind this series of events, and the most visually engaging booths had backdrops all done by the same graphics firm, with fresh, vibrant maps of different European wine regions, meant to simultaneously educate and entertain: probably the core competency of this event’s approach. The Bordeaux wines display and lineup was very well done, and the wines equally impressive, and all were available at K&L. The Loire Valley table was among the best, with its clear-cut message on the wines of the region, giving you not only a sense of place with a visual context, but also offering pictorial food pairing guidance. You really felt like you’d just taken a tour from Muscadet to Cahors. Kudos to the EUC for getting behind this effort: if nothing else, America’s millennials will finally have the chance to taste some decent French wines that are well-priced and accessible.
Education is allegedly an important part of Wine Riot, and a series of seminars are offered throughout each event. More importantly, each attendee is encouraged to download the Second Glass app so they could track the wines they were trying, making note of those they “Liked” vs. those they “Loved.” The “voting” results were displayed in real-time on large monitors throughout the event space, lending the affair a fun, almost election party feel.
About 1/3 of attendees were actually using the app, which will serve as a permanent record of the wines they liked, along with information on where and how to purchase them. Some of the attendees mentioned they would rather be able to buy bottles right then and there – always the best option. But not here.
TOP FIVE THUMBS UP
Tattoos – Almost every gal was sporting some body art from the great fun selection and kudos to the engaging people applying them
Wine cocktails – Quady was making some great cocktails, especially the Essencia spritzer, and Mionetta had a gorgeous blood orange wine spritzer called Spriz. Wine cocktails might be the gateway millennial experience to serious wine drinking.
Moscato Nation– Clearly, Moscato is the standard bearer of the newest generation of wine drinkers, and one they can claim as their own. Moscato Nation offered the complete gamut of Moscato experiences, from dry to medium to totally sweet, and the bubbly versions were very fun.
Volere wine purses– Every woman (and a few guys) did an about face at the sight of these truly adorable purse shaped wine containers from Mionetto. According to spokesperson, Kirsten York, they should be in BevMo soon, at a pricepoint of $9.99, in white, pink and red. Beyond cute!
International wine selection – Europe had fantastic representation with brilliant displays from Bordeaux, Loire Valley, Italy and Austria. Spain also had a hand in the game, as did Australia.
TOP FIVE THUMBS DOWN
No spit cups — Come on! At least they had spit buckets.
Dismal domestic wines — With a few exceptions, the International wines trumped anything from the domestic producers. Hahn’s GSM was a worthy contender.
Zero food options — For $50 to $60 a person, there should be food, but the Friday night Riot had none, until the organizers ordered pizza, which they then sold for $4 per slice! The Saturday riot I attended had one food truck outside the doors, but nothing inside. Nada. Apparently, this is the event to experiment with the “drunk on an empty stomach” diet.
No bread or crackers — Really? There was no food of any kind being offered by anyone, and the event organizers really need to rethink this.
Pricey event — $50 plus for a wine event is a lot, especially when you advertise 111 wineries on the website, and there were at most 50 pouring. I suppose the plastic stemless “glass” with the thumb notch is perceived as “cool,” but it’s certainly not worthy of a $50 tasting.
Top Fave Wines
These were the top choices in the Second Glass app voting at the San Francisco riots:
Las Rocas Garnacha, Calatayud, Spain - $10
Madria Sangria, California - $6
2010 Ghost Pines Red Blend, California - $18
Jam Jar Sweet Shiraz, South Africa - $9
2010 Mollydooker "The Boxer” – South Australia - $25
2010 Dr Loosen “Dr L” Riesling (bubbly) – Germany - $9
2011 La Wine Agency La Bubbly, Casablanca, Chile - $18
2011 Huge Bear Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, California - $45
It’s interesting to note that the Boston fave list contains mostly French, Spanish and Italian wines at the top of the chart.
Wineries interviewed for this article almost universally felt that the event was a good value. Second Glass charged $2500 for a winery table at all 5 cities. All wineries asked stated that the demographic the organizers were targeting had certainly been effectively tapped, and everyone expressed optimism that the Second Glass app would encourage purchasing after the event. The actual outcome is yet to be determined. The evening “Riots” might be more successful than the day ones, especially Friday evenings when it can be an after work splurge.
It’s too soon to pass judgement on the effectiveness of Wine Riot, but one thing is certain: you’d better pack in a good meal before you go. Unless you’re on that foodless riot diet.
(Laura Ness is a long-time resident of the Santa Cruz Mountains. She enjoys writing about the wine industry, and frequently serves as a wine judge).