Our Australia country manager goes undercover at the Wine Riot in New York
New York, midtown Manhattan, night-time. Young girls in their early twenties totter up the steps in their high heels and mini dresses. The check-shirt brigade of young male New York professionals are out in force too. IDs are impatiently shown as music pounds from inside. Not quite Studio 54, circa 1979, but perhaps its legendary owner Steve Rubell would have approved: behind this velvet rope lay a new kind of wine tasting. This was my first Wine Riot.
Wine Riots run across the USA, targeting the coveted Millennial wine drinker, about whom so much is written, but perhaps not so much understood. One person who does appear to know what goes on in the brains of today’s aspiring twenty-something wine drinkers is Tyler Balliet, founder of the company behind the Wine Riots. His aim is to dispel the complexity and intimidating pretence around our category; to make learning about wine as accessible and fun as possible for younger wine drinkers. The result? A few hours to try a diverse selection of wines from around the world; ‘trendy’ snacks from gourmet burritos to truffle goats cheese; and social media friendly activities including photo booths and temporary tattoos; with pounding music setting the tone for a party.
In theory, this event idea is genius. Having spent the majority of my twenties working in the wine industry, I’ve been longing to see an environment where young people can explore their understanding of this amazing, complex and story-filled industry in an accessible, engaging way. On arrival, it was pleasing to see eager crowds sat listening to a 20 min ‘Crash Course’ in wine. I took my friend Candice with me, who declared, ‘I’ve learnt more about wine in an hour here, than in my whole life’.
As the evening wore on, it became apparent that not all attendees shared Candice’s noble intentions. I overhead words to the effect of “just pour me the wine, I want to get drunk” on more than one occasion. On the hosting side, there was great contrast between some table guardians who were offering long speeches about each wine, to those who seemed to have lost any hope of communicating anything about the wine and were simply bartending to inebriated youths.
I also couldn’t help thinking that perhaps the loud ‘party’ tone of the event, was encouraging some of this nightclub-style alcoholic consumption. Maybe I would have preferred a slightly quieter, ambient, but still uplifting, fun music soundtrack, and a more soulful feel. . . . but perhaps that wouldn’t make it a Riot anymore.
Wine Riot is different to any wine event I’ve ever attended. It certainly delivers on its mission to make wine more fun and accessible than we traditionally do in our category, attracting a large group of Millennials paying a reasonably substantial $60 USD per ticket. For value, it certainly beats a glass of wine in a midtown wine bar, which can easily set you back $15 – and that’s without any music, education or priceless people-watching.
Author: Natasha Rastegar