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Thursday, September 15, 2016

Winesong Contrasts Beer and Wine Crowds

Last week was a blur. It included a drive to Mendocino and weekend adventures at a wine festival. There's plenty of beer to be had in California, and I did manage to visit North Coast Brewing in Fort Bragg. But the trip was all about wine. And eating too much.

The festival is Winesong, which has been in existence since 1984. It's a benefit for the Mendocino Coast Hospital Foundation, engaged in fundraising and community activities that help support vital equipment acquisition and services at Mendocino Coast District Hospital.

What was I doing at Winesong? Good question. I'm not normally a wine snob. But my wife prefers wine and her late father attended Winesong regularly for many years. She had been to the event once, 25 years ago, and wanted to try it on again. I was mostly along for the ride, although I do enjoy wine when not being a beer snot.

Winesong is essentially three separate events: a Pinot Noir tasting; a Grand Tasting and a Charity Auction. We attended the Pinot Noir tasting Friday afternoon and the Grand Tasting on Saturday. The Charity Auction, which happens right after the Grand Tasting, wasn't on our radar screen.

These wine people know their stuff. The Pinot event, attended by a few hundred fans of the style, featured some fantastic wines, as well as food. The Grand Tasting, attended by (in my estimation) several thousand fans of wine and food, featured a variety of wines and expansive food options. as well as music in an incredible botanical garden setting.

I didn't expect these wine events to mimic the style and form of the beer festivals I've come to know. And they didn't. Winesong tickets are far more expensive than what most of us pay for a typical beer event. Of course, they include all the wine you can drink (they will cut off the sloshed) and, in the case of the Grand Tasting, all the food you can stomach.

Beyond the differences in cost and offerings, there was more. I assumed the crowds would be different than a beer crowd, and they were. But there were differences I hadn't expected.

The folks attending the Pinot tasting arrived mostly in expensive European automobiles. It was a decidedly older crowd, way older than what you find at your average beer festival. A lot of these folks have been coming to this slice of Winesong for a while. They knew the ropes.

The Grand Tasting crowd was much more diverse and not as gentrified. Many of the folks from the Pinot tasting were there, but the crowd had a youthful twist. It was good to see young faces similar to the ones I see in beer indulging in wine. Gave me comfort.

As I was thinking about the crowd, comparing it to a beer festival, I realized the biggest difference was the demographic mix. There was a good mix of men and women of all ages at Winesong. Specifically, there were middle-aged women, a demographic that's virtually nonexistent at beer events. These women like their wine and food. Beer is not their thing.

As for styles, the wines being poured were straightforward. There was Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, sparkling wines, etc. Wine simply hasn't been taken over by the wildly imaginative approaches seen in brewing, as brewers driven by the eclectic tastes of young drinkers do all kinds of crazy stuff to create unique beers that routinely pummel style guidelines.

When I was interviewing Dick and Nancy Ponzi for my book, one of the significant questions I asked them was, given the phenomenal success of Bridgeport Brewing, why they decided to sell to Gambrinus in 1995. Of course, they're smart folks and didn't want to give a blunt answer. So they developed an explanation with supple edges.

Essentially, the Ponzi's sold Bridgeport because they tired of the beer business, where people were always asking for hats, shirts and other schwag. They realized they would have to invest substantially in marketing and education if they wanted to build the brand further. The decided they preferred the wine business, where they didn't have to do so much handholding.

After attending Winesong, I may finally have a more complete understanding of where the Ponzi's were coming from.


  1. Handholding? Ha, now that's not gonna win many votes.

    Seems to me what you describe about differences has more to do with money, than about wine or beer.

  2. I'm not after votes. My view is that the beer crowd is typically young, driven by fads and more susceptible to manipulation by the newest, coolest things. The wine crowd is generally older, less interested in hot trends and, yeah, probably on a higher socioeconomic tier, although that's debatable given what we're seeing with high end beer prices.


Keep it civil, please.