A Synergy of Wine, Travel, and Friends

It’s five o’clock on a Friday and you’ve had one hell of a week.

You step out of your office, pull up your coat lapels to obscure your face, and then dart into a nearby alley. As you move farther from the main thoroughfare, sounds of the busy city deaden; the brick buildings on either side of you tighten, and the shadows deepen.

You reach a plain black door barely discernible amidst soot and snow, unmarked save for a child’s shoe hanging from the fire escape above it.

You slap your open palm five times against its peeling surface and it swings open, revealing a long empty hallway that you scurry across. At the other end is yet another door. You mumble a password and it too opens.

You let out a heavy sigh as you saunter up to a grimy countertop. The quiet laughter from a few strangers already seated rises up around you along with an acrid, musty smell.

You collapse onto your usual stool and the bartender smiles and pours you a whiskey. At long last you relax, drink in hand.

That not-at-all dramatized rendition of a night on the town during the Prohibition Era likely sent chills down your spine. Having to sneak your way to a paper-bagged beer?! Oh, the horror!

It’s been nearly a century since Prohibition ended, but our rapidly changing weather patterns could be pushing us back towards the days of bathtub booze quicker than you realize. This is especially true of wine, many varietals of which depend entirely on the climate stability of certain geographic regions.

The recently widely publicized drought in California, for example, threatens to upend the state’s $22 billion-dollar wine industry, while a recent study predicts an 85 percent decline in production from three of the most prolific growing regions in Europe: Bordeaux, Rhone, and Tuscany.

But while consumers are preoccupied with whether or not they’ll be able to toast the New Year with champagne in 20 years or take a ride on the Napa Valley drunk train, wine growers are facing the ramifications of climate change now.

To maintain their expected production levels and remain market viable, vineyards have begun implementing new means of irrigation and round-the-clock horticultural care, as well as buying up surrounding land wherever possible. To meet these substantial added expenses, they are increasingly turning to tourism, attempting to make a profit on tastings or by opening on-site restaurants and hotels.

The bad news is that research shows the traditional elegant vineyard experience is largely lost on the “fireball generation” (millennials), who make up a huge portion of travelers. Seventy percent of millennials took at least one leisure trip in 2013, and 66 percent of them consider travel “a very important” part of their life.

The good news is that recent market queries into what will make millennials visit vineyards finally hit upon a buzzword that the industry is now re-designing itself to cater to: festivals.

The motivation for millennials to attend wine festivals is apparently rooted in their value of excitement that is shared with friends. They focus more on the collective experience that festivals facilitate, rather than the lavish comforts of five-star resorts that are enjoyed solitarily.

Thus, it’s a synergy of events, friends, booze, and travel that draws in the highly coveted crowd, who are not just one-time customers. A survey form EventBrite found that 97 percent of 2014 festival-goers plan to attend another one in 2015, and 61 percent report feeling as though they’ve missed out if their friends attended a nearby festival which they did not.

In millennial-speak, we call that “fomo.”

That same survey showed that, while millennials turn up their noses to pricey hotel suites, they’re willing to spend a few months’ worth of paychecks on a festival. One reporter on Hotel News Now went so far as to say they are “redefining luxury” by privileging experience over material possessions.

In millennial-speak, we call that “yolo.”

Bottom line? Even if you’re not a millennial, do your part to keep the future champagne flowing and go drink your face off at a wine festival ASAP.

Photo courtesy of South African Tourism.