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Millennials – Things They Actually Say II: Jennifer Thomson

May 25, 2011 The Press 3 Comments

Today, we continue with our mini-series of conversations with Millennials. With so much chatter surrounding what young wine drinkers do and do not want, it is important to take a moment and actually listen to what they are saying.

Part I is here and the kick off article is here.

I came across Jennifer Thomson by way of Peter Hunken at Black Sheep Finds. Peter produces a wonderful Pinot Noir from the Thomson’s Carneros vineyard and he spoke highly of them. He told me in part… “the people we work with, the Thomsons, they’re super nice and even though they are 350 miles away I probably have more communication with them, because they are owners and growers. So it’s just a really nice fit, a nice feel.”

So when I found their Twitter account (@ThomsonVyrds) I was happy to follow. A few weeks later my friends and I were at Hollywood Forever, a cemetery in L.A. watching Explosions in the Sky while drinking Black Sheep Finds Pinot. After mentioning this on Twitter, I received a wonderfully nice email from Jennifer Thomson aka “The Millennial Daughter of The Farmer” thanking me for the comments.

We stayed in touch over the following weeks which led me to the following conclusions:

1. Jennifer gets the concept (not just the point) of social media and its power.

2. I now have a new Carneros connection and intend to exploit this for all it’s worth

3. I hope I never have to fight Jennifer for some reason, because Jennifer is tough!

- – -

Name: Jennifer R. Thomson

Location: Carneros, CA

What she does: “The Millennial Daughter” at Thomson Vineyards, Growers of Pinot Noir & Chardonnay (she does it all)

Site: www.thomsonvineyards.com

Age: Twenty-something

ALP: What is your relationship with wine, how did you get into it?

JRT: “My relationship with wine stems from drinking “kid wine” – fresh juice from the Hess Collection press in the early 1990s, spiked with club soda. Thomson Vineyards used to sell fruit to Hess, and The Farmer would bring Pinot Noir juice home in gallon milk jugs for us during harvest. Other than that, my relationship with wine was non-existent until my mid twenties. Post grad school I began wine tasting on the central coast, throughout the Sonoma and Napa valleys and now it’s a fairly substantial part of my life professionally and socially.”

“I think older wine consumer’s – predominantly wineries – attitudes towards younger drinkers are over complicated. As I stated on the Thomson Vineyards blog, the only reason why “Millennials” are different from any other generation coming of age and the industry tapping into their disposable income is because A. It is now more culturally acceptable than ever before to try new things, therefore to not necessarily be all that brand loyal; B. Our relationship with technology allows us to share more information, make faster – potentially either impulsive or crowd sourced – decisions, and command service and recognition in a  more immediate/real time fashion – something previous generations could not. If the technology available in the market now, had been available when Gen X’ers were turning 21, they would have been the “hot topic.” It seems they got screwed by technology;)”

“Being the hot topic though – I believe wineries overly concentrating their efforts on a very narrow sub sector of the market and refining their sales and marketing strategies to target Millennials, is a waste of precious time and energy that could be redirected to solve problems like the distribution system, implementation of true and real organic and sustainability practices in the industry that translate to value or importance among consumers, collective unification of industry associations, and groups to formulate a California Wine marketing strategy.”

“As far as other growers, on the production side, they think we’re a bunch of kids. Classic old school/new school divide. Throw in the fact that I’m a woman and they’re nearly besides themselves when they ask, “so Jennifer what do you do for the vineyard?” and I answer, ‘everything.’”

ALP: What catches your attention when looking for a new wine to try?

JRT: “New varietals and blends in the market peak my interest. Obscure producers with an interesting background or story and packaging. Being a marketer, I find sustainable packaging interesting – strong label design – and creative back label information. Also, knowing the cost of packaging, often weighted more heavily in winery budgets than grapes – “over packaging” is a complete turnoff. Custom corks, foil labels, etc.”

“Varietal though is the number one driver in my trying something new, followed by rumors. I recently bought La Vieille Ferme because Mancuso Brokerage told me it’s the same juice being pumped into $5 bottles and $30 bottles of wine. I found it at the Marina Safeway in San Francisco, bottom shelf – it was great!”

“My third priority when selecting something new is, can I put it in a line up among other more expensive/well known bottles and in a blind lineup stump the panel or get them to say it’s great and then reveal how inexpensive it is or “frowned upon” the label is.”

ALP: How would you classify the average wine consumer of your age group in your area?

JRT: “The average 20-something is open to trying new things, learning, and talking directly to the producer.  A one on one experience where they can share time with a producer either talking about the process, talking about things they like about wine, or why they picked the wine or the winery is the number one reason most 20-somethings I know seek out a particular wine brand. According to your scale, I’d consider them in-between.”

“I personally feel there are two kinds of wineries – corporate and private. The corporate winery’s strategy, I can’t really speak too, except to point out that [focus on] varietals, something new, something obscure that 20-somethings can take to a dinner party at a reasonable price, which isn’t an overly simplified wine (i.e. has structure and tannins, not supped-up sugar water) would be the way I would approach the situation. The private, small to mid sized wineries should be doing what they call in J School – good old-fashioned leg work. Put your winemaker on the road, in front of the consumer, send your grower along with your TR manager to local events, host gatherings at your on premise production site which aren’t status quo and be available to younger drinkers through the various technology channels.”

“Being available doesn’t just mean having a Facebook or Twitter page, it means using it and having a dialogue. And if you don’t have time for those, at the very least have a decent mobile website that is consistent, accurate, and has a shopping cart functionality. You get just one chance in the online environment in my opinion. If I can buy your wine from my mobile or purchase an event ticket directly through your site (not another two or three step process to get to a third party site to buy my ticket) then more often than not, you’ll make the sale. If I’m at dinner and want to show my friends this cool event I want to go to and I can’t navigate on my phone within 1-2 minutes, game over.”

ALP: Do you pay much attention to wine scores, and if yes whose?

JRT: “Send me your mailing address and I’ll send you a poster of what I think of scores. Wine falls into two categories for me: I like it, or I don’t. Scores, the people who invented the system, the wineries who feed the beast, the Gen-Xers who brush their shoulder off at others about the most recent Cabernet they drank with a 98 score are ridiculous. Price and Palate are King. Not Parker.”

Follow Jennifer in the vineyard here or @ThomsonVyrds

Tomorrow, part III.

Currently there are "3 comments" on this Article:

  1. [...] the third installment of our mini-series talking to fellow young wine consumers, see also here and here. Today, we have a West Coast and East Coast [...]

  2. Cal says:

    Not bad for a twenty something year old! She has a long way to go still!

  3. [...] conversations with young wine consumers with Elliot. If you missed the others, check out Parts I, II, and [...]

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