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Winemakers Go After Beer Drinkers

Winemakers have long argued their business is recession-proof.

But this downturn has tested that – people are going out less, and that has cut, deeply, into wine sales in restaurants.

If current wine buyers are slowing down, winemakers say they’ll need to find new customers.  And that includes one market the business had previously written off.

Central Oregon correspondent Ethan Lindsey reports.

Matt Maloney is a 34-year-old landscaper in Bend. On a warm summer evening, he’s sipping a beer on a patio bar wearing shorts and flip-flops.

Matt Maloney: “I do like wine, but I drink beer.  Wine, I think, has this may be not stigma, but something attached to it that makes it more formal, instead of social.”

At the bar, men outnumber women 5-to-1.

And men, on average, say they prefer beer to wine, according to a Gallup poll last year.

Other statistics show 70-percent of wine buyers are women.

So, while the atmosphere at the brewery is pretty relaxed, there’s actually a spirited battle for customers going on here.

Ted Farthing: “We’re all fighting for share of stomach.”

Ted Farthing is the executive director of the Oregon Wine Board.

He says wine and beer and liquor are all competing against each other, for our limited beverage budgets.

Now, winemakers across Oregon, and the country, say one way they have decided to fight is to target the men, especially young men, in bars and breweries.

Chris Justema is the co-owner of Cascade Lakes Brewing.

Chris Justema: “It’s cool for guys to sit around and drink a bottle of wine. Let’s not get away from it, but most guys I know at least start with a few beers, and then move to a glass of wine at dinner.”

Just 30 minutes north of the Bend brewery, Maragas Winery hosts a tasting and jazz show.

Doug Maragas: “I think that you always have to think about marketing, because you have to make an income at this or you’re not going to be doing it very long.”

Doug Maragas owns this vineyard and wine operation.

In order to market to men, Napa Valley winemaker Bennett Lane bought a NASCAR racing team – and just sponsored a minor-league NASCAR race.

Other winemakers have crafted labels meant to appeal to men — like Kung Fu Girl, Red Truck, or Maximus.

Winemaker Doug Maragas says sports and cars aren’t the only ways to get men's attention.

He says specific wines and tastes can draw men in too.

Doug Maragas: “Most men are going to like a red wine, or a slightly sweet white wine. That’s just what I’ve seen. I’m not saying I make it thinking ‘how can I attract men?’”

But will it work? Will men at a sports bar start asking for Riesling instead of Pilsner?

Back at the Bend bar, beer drinker Matt Maloney has his doubts.

Matt Maloney: “I don’t think NASCAR is the place to start for selling wine. Personally, I would start at a volleyball tournament or something like that.”

Even wine aficionados say that in a down economy, they should be playing defense – not offense.

For instance, Ted Farthing with the Oregon Wine Board says Oregon’s wines are on average more expensive and more refined than other states.

Ted Farthing: “Given the shifting landscape, the Oregon Wine Board has actually narrowed our target to make sure we are still speaking to the people who are purchasing wines over $15 or $20 at least once a month, and this is only about 3 percent of the U.S. population.”

That’s not to say that Farthing isn’t looking at new markets. In addition to men, he says winemakers in the state need to target millennial.

One way to do that is to embrace the digital age – the Oregon Wine Board has already launched several Facebook groups to convince 21-to-30 year-olds that wine can be cool.

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