Unpretentious Millennials Are Changing the Way We Drink Wine, Barefoot’s CMO Says

From merlot cocktails to screw-tops

When it comes to successful family businesses, it's hard to find a more American example than E&J Gallo. Now in its 81st year, the winery is the largest on earth (16,000 acres in California) whose 60 brands have a lock on nearly a quarter of the U.S. wine market—and it's still being run by the family. But you won't find Stephanie Gallo with her feet up at her desk. As one of the third generation of Gallos in the business (she's vp of marketing, the equivalent of the CMO), she instead thinks about all the Americans who aren't drinking wine—like the millennials who prefer to order cold beers and fizzy cocktails instead of a glass of Barefoot Riesling. Getting Gallo's finer offerings into the consciousness of young drinkers is no easy thing, but it's one of the main tasks to which Gallo (who is the granddaughter of winery co-founder Ernest Gallo) has committed herself. We gave her a buzz (during happy hour, no less) to see how she plans to pull that off. 

Gallo is known as a value-priced brand, so how do your up-and-coming brands like Barefoot fit into that?
Wine consumers overall skew upscale, but our wines, at about $6 a bottle, appeal to average Americans. Barefoot is big with new wine drinkers who like the idea of a wine that is refreshing and sweet, but less sweet than other beverages.

Despite years of wine marketing, seven out of 10 Americans don't drink wine regularly. Is that likely to change?
There's been a big shift in attitude in the last five years. Millennials often see wine as a casual, social beverage, similar to beer, cider and fruity cocktails. They're willing to do things previously unexpected with wine, such as use screw-top bottles, serve premium wine from a box and make cocktails with wine. They don't have an elitist feeling about it, or that wine is only supposed to be at the table with gourmet food. We are finally seeing wine go from a celebratory beverage to an everyday drink. Sparkling wine, for instance, is selling like crazy.

What's wrong with typical wine marketing?
It has a long way to go. We have to embrace the use and attitudes of casual drinkers, and we have to break traditions of how wine is marketed and merchandised.

For example…?
Barefoot sponsors the World Series of Beach Volleyball. Barefoot, get it? And buying wine has to become less intimidating. Like, why is wine at the market organized by varietal and not by brand?

It's a good question. So, do you think the wine industry can learn anything from other beverages?
We can take a close look at Starbucks, which brought a premium product— gourmet coffee—into the mass market. And there is Red Bull, which is a beverage that has grown into a lifestyle brand.

We know that you certainly like drinking wine. When you're just hanging out, what's your favorite wine and snack? Be honest.
I confess I love to put Tabasco hot sauce on popcorn, which goes nicely with a red Zinfandel or a Malbec. And instead of a cocktail, my go-to drink these days is sparkling wine whenever it's available.

Any advice about pairing wine with everyday meals?
I tell people, drink whatever you like and experiment with different combinations. Make it fun. That said, a lot of people don't know that spicy ethnic food is great with a rosé or a Riesling.