CHICAGO Jessica Altieri, 25, is a typical millennial: aggressive, adventurous, skeptical and a wine drinker. And as the founder of Wine Channel TV, she is trying to make the snooty world of wine tasting more appealing to her generation.
"My main goal was to create an unpretentious way to inform wine lovers and new people about wine, to teach and entertain at the same time - especially millennials," said Altieri, whose grassroots reviews and talks with producers, restaurateurs and industry aficionados have earned her gigs reporting at wine trade shows and other venues.
As her wine-sampling alter ego, "JustJess," Altieri produces short videos that run on her website (winechanneltv.tv/). She also blogs and promotes her brand on Facebook and Twitter, channels frequented by the millennial set.
"Wine is so social and social media is hot," said Altieri, a sommelier who aspires to a wider media audience. "It allows people who are passionate about wine to connect."
Altieri has tapped a hot trend that other entrepreneurs are tuning into: 21 to 34-year-olds are increasingly interested in wine, drawn in part by a wider variety of products, much at lower price points. The group is reshaping the way information about wine is being delivered.
According to data released last year by the St. Helena, California-based Wine Market Council, a trade group, millennials are pursuing wine for a variety of reasons. They equate it with sophistication, it allows them a means to connect with friends, and they see it as a more healthful alternative to other alcoholic beverages.
"It isn't just cheap Australian wine that has gotten their attention," said the group's president John Gillespie, noting millennials tend to purchase more imported wines than baby boomers. "They're interested in wines from Spain, wines from Chile and Argentina, they're interested in New Zealand sauvignon blanc."
He added it's important for wine producers not to dumb down their message when marketing to younger consumers, noting the Internet generation is thirsty for information and more skeptical of advertising.
"Probably a lot of people try to fake the punt," said wine expert Gary Vaynerchuk, among the first to recognize the need to make the wine world more accessible to the masses. His Springfield, New Jersey-based Wine Library TV (tv.winelibrary.com) - a daily video blog he began in 2006 - has resonated with an increasingly viral Internet crowd and vaunted him to celebrity status.
"Anything not authentic has a real hurdle jumping or breaking through in any way," said Vaynerchuk, who frequently speaks about branding and recently authored a book about it, "The Thank You Economy". "If you really want to capture this audience, you've (got) to listen to them and you've got to execute on what they care about."
That's why the creators of mobile applications such as Hello Vino (www.hellovino.com), which offers information about wine pairings that includes reviews from other users, may be poised for growth.
"When we're out and about in a wine store we see a label we're interested in, we have the ability to research that right away and make our own decision," said Rick Breslin, co-founder of the California-based startup, which began in early 2009 and now delivers nearly a million wine recommendations every month. "It's going to give you information from the producer, from several publications and other consumers."
Some entrepreneurs credit millennials with redefining how consumers of all ages experience wine.
"Millennials, in particular, love to try before they buy," said Doug Tomlinson, CEO of San Francisco-based Taste Inc., the parent company of Vino Volo (www.vinovolo.com) - a growing chain of wine bars in 14 airports across the country. Vino Volo is known for affordably priced tastings that include information about the wines at the foot of each glass.
"In many ways I think millennials are sort of first movers, leaders in this shift in attitude and philosophy," he said. "And then a lot of other age groups catch on."