Two months ago, Ashley V. Routson (Drink with the Wench) and I departed on a journey so brilliant I am amazed no one had done it before.


Before I go into detail about Project Y-ine, first a quick rewind:

A few years back I was in my mid-twenties and working at a marketing agency in charge of a large wine brand’s marketing plan. The target audience for their wine was women 25-29, putting them in what has been called Generation Y, or Gen Y, or Millenials. A generation whose defining influences include Cable TV, the Internet and 9-11. Gen Y’s parents are the Baby Boomer— a generation that grew up with the inventions of microwaves and TV and were deeply affected by the Vietnam war and the civil rights movement.

I noticed that much of the research I found on Generation Y and their wine habits contradicted how my own Gen Y friends felt about wine.  Two and a half years later, not too much has changed.  Yes, research shows that Millenials like the finer things in life, and are willing to spend more on them, including a good wine or a craft beer, but many brands still have no idea how to talk to us.  They just look at us as ‘kids’ who disrupt tasting rooms and that don’t buy as much wine as older drinkers.  While the latter may be true, we are purchasing wine at younger ages than any other generation, and more importantly, we are falling in love with craft beers and wine—all different varietals and price points of wine.

Back to our trip:

Back to the journey.  Ashley was planning to move from Florida to Northern California. We decided to drive together and turn it into Project Y-ine, centered on getting into the minds of the younger consumer, by conducting interviews with people, ages 21- 34, in their own backyards. It’s basic market research—but in a more relaxed atmosphere, where people are more likely to say what they really think vs. in a controlled environment like an online survey or scripted field interviews (I did actually work at the one in Santa Rosa plaza when I was 19, asking people if they would “like to take a survey” so I know people are not always honest in this situation).

In addition to being members of Generation Y, both Ashley and I have backgrounds in market research, behavioral analysis and social media marketing.  (Check out my blog also).  We both are active in the social media realm (yes, we first connected on Twitter).  We turned the cross-country trip into an opportunity to talk to regular people about what goes through their minds when they purchase wine or beer.

And so we drove. From Tampa to New Orleans to Houston to Austin to Phoenix to Los Angeles and interviewed over fifty twenty-something’s about wine/beer preferences.  We asked questions like where they get their information on which products to purchase, which is the most important: price vs. word of mouth vs. label vs. advertising, etc.

For lots of details on the trip, check out Project Y-ine. Her are the top 10 things we learned along the way:

The top 10 things we learned:


1. The most important factors affecting Generation Y’s decision to purchase wine and beer are price and word of mouth (i.e. recommendations from friends).  Social Media tools are just an online version of traditional WOM.

2. Most interviewees never visited a wine/beer blog, or read a wine/beer magazine or used Twitter or Facebook to get the latest news from brands.

3. While social media doesn’t directly affect Generation Y, it does play a role in their drinking habits.

4. Everyone has those one or two key friends that influenced them the most: a “go to” source for both beer and wine recommendations.

nola (1)5. Bloggers and writers are important part of the social media landscape because they purchase a lot of beer/wine, they write about it and they tell others about their preferences (both online & off). Most people we talked to had at least one friend who has a blog.

6. Tweetups (as in meeting people you first knew from Twitter) work.  Twitter is an amazing tool at getting people together! I mean, this is how I met Ashley in the first place.

7.  Twentysomethings in the South drink more beer than wine, and despite the hot weather, they still prefer red wine over white.

8. Austin is one of the coolest cities ever.  They have an amazing food/beer/wine culture that mirrors the feel of San Francisco.  The problem: it is too damn hot in August for me!

9. Whole Foods is an amazing resource for beer/wine and food.  Every store we went to had a friendly staff who knew their stuff!

10. Ashley and I both love singing at the top of our lungs to cheesy pop music, which comes in handy when you are driving cross-country with one other person.

Next time, I think we’ll head North….


– Shana Ray is based in Healdsburg, California, where she works as a Social Media Director, helping wine-country businesses promote themselves online.  In addition to her business website she blogs at Funny by Accident.  She will always have some version of red hair, loves Pinot Noir and can usually be heard before seen.

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11 Responses

  1. Greg Rollett

    This was a great project and I really love the analysis. Nothing too shocking as far as young habits, but good to see real field research on a really cool subject. As for the beer, did tv commercials play a role in WOM? That would be an interesting focus point. Wine isn’t as heavy in major media.

    Thanks for the insights on Austin as well, great to hear it has fun culture outside of SXSW. From what I hear it’s a great place for Gen-Y.

    As for the Whole Foods comment, does Gen-Y really want to know wine knowledge? Either coming from a restaurant to order over dinner or at a store like Whole Foods? Or do they just grab the cheapest one with a cool bottle?

  2. Shana Ray

    Greg – Thanks for your question. Part of the reason for our study was to see if your last question is the case. Almost everyone said that while price matters, that they would never go for the cheapest bottle on the shelf (with the amount of questions, we didn’t go into great detail about restaurants)because usually when they are purchasing wine it is for a dinner party at a friend’s or to share with someone else. Purchasing whatever is the cheapest on the shelf made them feel, well, cheap.

    The Gen Y members we talked to all said they would like to know more about wine, we are a very curious bunch who like to have more knowledge on almost any subject. Whether it be where our food comes from, what the difference is between a craft ale and a mass market ale, or anything about wine, we want to learn more.

  3. Shana Ray

    Galen – Next, we are DEFINITELY thinking North (if I can survive the south in August, Minnesota in Jan is nothing). Then after maybe a book or a screenplay on the trip as a whole.

    This trip was just our first chapter. 🙂

  4. David Honig

    Shana’s point about her generation’s thirst for knowledge is interesting. It is also part of the concept behind Palate Press. They grew up in the information age, a time when information was not just free, but easy. The result is a generation that seeks greater depths of knowledge about anything that interests them. If it’s wine, they don’t just want to know what to buy to drink or impress (the old 100-point score crowd), but also how it’s made, who made it, where it comes from, the history of the community, and anything else that would come up from the initial Google search through the hopscotch game of following links. Really, it is an entirely different way of processing information, one that, for the quick and curious among them (and I think it’s a fair bet that the more sophisticated, wine drinking, group of Millenials, makes up the right side of the bell curve) leads to both broader and deeper quests for knowledge.

    I look at my 7 year old, who just says “Google it,” and compare what he learns from an initial search and follow through to what I learned going to the family’s collection of World Book Encyclopedias and reading a paragraph or two, and am in awe.

  5. Greg Rollett

    Thanks for the responses! I for one would love to know what to do when buying something for my wife or bringing to a party. Just not sure where the best knowledge is (and no GaryVee doesn’t count).

    Maybe it’s a series of WineUps (Tweetups with Wine). I know there are wine tastings, but something more for Gen-Y to experience the culture while living in their culture. Anyway, great work and you got a new subscriber!

  6. Tim

    Great investigative reporting! 🙂 Sounds like you guys had a good time, and I agree with your findings. Specifically the mention of craft beer. I’m 26 and for some reason my friends and I drink only local (Michigan) micro-brews, with an occasional PBR. When out shopping for wine, I’m even more apt to pick up a wine from a local vineyard regardless of price. Do you think supporting local has a role (other than the typical Gen Y “cares” more aspect) in any of your findings?

    Come to Ann Arbor, Michigan if you head north!

    PS. Greg, thanks for tweeting this!

  7. Joe Power

    I’m glad that we were one of the stops for these charming young women. They really know their stuff.

    I would second the nomination of Ann Arbor for the northern swing. Other than ‘that school,’ it is a fantastic city. Ashley might get a scarlet and gray rash as she enters the city, but a few hours at the Arbor Brewing Co. would cure that.