Thu 16 Feb 2017

Generation Wine: Shaking Up Our Tastings!


Having joined The Wine Society’s Tastings and Events Team as a relatively fresh faced 24-year-old just over two years ago, it’s become apparent that, at the majority of tastings that I host across the UK , I am more often than not the youngest person there.

Although certainly not the end of the world, it does raise an important question – and one that’s been bouncing around The Society for the last year or so: where is the next generation of Wine Society members going to come from?

There are a number of projects currently in motion at TWS HQ, from the Digital Team through to the Marketing and Buying Teams. All are trying to make sure we offer something for younger wine-drinkers (and female as well as male!).

Generation Wine is my way of trying to shake up The Society through our 150-event-strong calendar which I help put together with the rest of the Tastings Team.

Generation Wine

The idea is simple – we’ll be conducting a series of exciting tastings throughout the year that will appeal to younger members.

First up, we’ll be launching our new Generation Wine Walkaround Tastings. My intention for these events is to provide a complete night out as opposed to our more formal ‘standard’ walkaround tastings, which often focus purely on the wine and giving you the perfect environment to taste, smell, observe and discuss.

They’ll take place at a variety of lively venues (such as our May 4th event at Kachette Shoreditch – already sold out, unfortunately – where wood panelling and regal paintings are replaced by bare-brick railway arches and strip lights), and held a bit later in the evening to allow for a more relaxed, party-like atmosphere.

Kachette in Shoreditch

Kachette Shoreditch

It’s also important to me to showcase the whole range The Society has to offer; not just our fabulous wines but also craft beers and gins sourced by our two newest (and youngest) buyers, Freddy Bulmer and Sarah Knowles MW. Music will play, beer will flow, ties can be removed and we can see how much fun TWS can be. Just don’t be the ones to miss out!

We’ll also be running exciting dining experiences at our Generation Wine Dinners. These will be heldat less formal, quirkier restaurants, with wilder, more esoteric guest speakers, and even a bit of theatre to accompany the meal (we’ll be serving whole suckling pig at Camino and rocking on with Au Bon Climat’s ‘wild man of wine’ himself, Jim Clendenen at the Tramshed, for example).

As always, a selection of wines will be chosen to accompany the meals, but the focus will be on interest and experimentation. Discussion will be encouraged, curiosity demanded and a brilliant night out promised!

Matthew Horsley

Let us know what you think, and indeed any other ideas you have!

Matthew Horsley
Tastings & Events Team

Categories : Wine Tastings


  1. JerryW says:

    Well, I have made my son a member, so that’s one..
    I do think the WS has a bit of a retired-judge-or-doctor feel about it, though I am not sure what can be done about that. I don’t know if “Wine Society Raves” would go down all that well…!
    One thing that has hurt a lot of members is the rather curt way our connection with France was severed. Younger people are more European minded perhaps, and often have more need to manage their money than the more comfortable older members do; and making our wine available at French prices could be a real boost for them.. it is not necessary to have a boutique shop in the most expensive hotel in Montreuil, a depot in Calais would be fine.. Wineshare have a relationship with Franglais Wines that seems to work well.

    • Chris Kent says:

      I fully agree with JerryW about having a basic WS depot in Calais.
      If Majestic can have one (two actually) then surely the WS can, for “the benefit of members”.
      Montreuil is a nice place for a stopover, but Calais is far more convenient for daytrippers.
      I often use Calais Wine Warehouse when I go, and Carrefour of course.

  2. Michael Hawke says:

    My son, aged 39, is a keen wine drinker but has too many other activities with a young family to spend evenings such as you plan. He is not yet a member as I plan for him to take over my membership in due course. Consideration might be given for memberships to be passed on earlier than ‘the final date’ but allowing those giving up full membership to retain purchasing facilities; a form of Associate Membership.

    Just a thought. I have been a member now for 45 years.

  3. Phil G says:

    I gifted a membership to my son on his 21st (the same way I received mine 46 years ago) and to my son-in law on the occasion of his doctorate. Both young men value their membership but as Michael says they are too busy with the demands of young families. Indeed my son remarked the other day that his one year old has a more active social life than he does.
    I applaud Mathew’s initiative and hope it will encourage more younger members but I’m not sure that attendance at events is necessarily the best measure of engagement.

  4. John Leighton Davies says:

    I agree that we need to attract new members and therefore have to be creative in how we do so. This is a creative means of doing so, but be careful not to alienate the ‘backbone’ members of our Society. Different venues and tasting presentation formats will eventually point the toward the best direction for the future. We cannot allow ourselves to become a ‘dinosaur.”

  5. Nick Lenz says:

    Great to see some new initiatives for getting a younger crowd involved in the Wine Society! I have already signed up for the Kachette event. Keep it coming please!

  6. colin smith says:

    Always good to attract new blood but does it really matter what age your customers are as long as the total doesn’t actually fall?
    It’s when those expired are not replaced that you need to worry!
    Isn’t Wine Society membership just another sign of growing up, like listening to 6 Music or Radio 4 instead of Kiss and Radio 1, or moving to the right politically (controversial!).

  7. Robert Papier says:

    These tastings sound very exiting.

    I’m 62 so hopefully would be able to attend and still enjoy them.

  8. Peter Hicks says:

    Isn’t there a danger of stereotyping with this concept?

    I know some over-40’s who think the Wine Society is stuffy (goodness knows why!) and I know some under-40s who think it’s great. I joined when I was 30 after travelling to San Francisco and spending a few days in the Sonoma and Napa valleys. I didn’t join because the Wine Society was offering events that suited my age, but because I loved Californian Wines and wanted to learn more about them.

    The perception that all young people behave a certain way is as flawed as the perception that all older people behave a certain way; and trying to cater for a vaguely-defined demographic can also result in some of that demographic being inadvertently excluded. That isn’t to say that Generation Wine isn’t a very good idea, just that you run the risk of missing some of the market you are trying to attract if you apply random parameters.

    To steal an analogy from Colin Smith in this thread: many young people listen to 6 Music and many young people listen to Radio 3. Likewise the over-40s for both stations. It isn’t true to say that any one BBC Radio station appeals to just one age-group.

    If you were going to arrange a Wine Tasting evening to the sounds of Leftism 22 when it comes out in May, or a sportingly-themed tasting at Lord’s (for example) I’d be very keen and I only hope my advancing years wouldn’t preclude me from attending.

    People of all ages will respond to the Wine Society as an organisation if they know what the benefits are, and as long as the quality of the wine remains high.

  9. Matthew Horsley says:

    Thank you all for your much appreciated comments!

    The theme of Generation Wine is very much in the experimental stage currently. We’re planning approximately 8 tastings/events a year that fall under this banner whilst maintaining our regular Tastings catalogue of around 140 across the UK that will continue along the lines of our more ‘standard’ events. There is certainly no intention of alienating any of our membership – all are welcome at these events and if they do not appeal then there are hopefully many other events of varying styles to choose from.

    I’m delighted to say that initial signs are positive with a far greater demographic of female members especially signing up to these events (more than twice as many than for our London growers’ tastings, for example). Of course these tastings are yet to happen, but extensive research will be done afterwards to get an idea of what worked and what didn’t so that we can tailor them to what those attending want.

    I look forward to seeing you all at future tastings and I welcome further comments/input as always!


  10. Jeremy Watts says:

    I am sure you have already done so, but if not an analysis of members locations might help the Society organise its events in the most appropriate locations

  11. Ross says:

    Sounds great. Can you hyperlink the bold terms above e.g. Generation wine dinners, as I expect people would like to click through and sign up.

  12. Rishad Ahluwalia says:

    I am of the “younger generation” (just turned 40) and I don’t think the WS is stuffy at all, just that it is very rare that there is a tasting of serious wines. One of the best tastings I have ever been to was the Haut Brion tasting some years back. More of these top flight ones (subject to budget and other considerations) would go a long way to furthering the WS’s rep and longetivity with the ‘internet crowd’

  13. Ron De'Ath says:

    As one of TWS younger members (a mere 80+) what you are proposing fills me with horror. I think it unlikely that I shall be attending.
    However, since I’ve not attended any of the traditional tastings either for ten years or more, my thoughts on the matter won’t make much difference either way.
    I do agree that it’s important to woo the next generation so I applaud your initiative and wish it every success.
    To echo an earlier response – just don’t leave us old fogeys behind.
    Ron De’Ath

  14. Anthony Kaye says:

    There is of course a huge pool of people who are not members of WS. They are called women. Most would never dream of joining, either because they drink little, or because they have husbands who are members.
    Is there a way of tempting young singles-of both sexes- to join?. Hmm… You’d need a the world’s greatest marketing expert to pull it off. As with so many other members, I-and my two brothers- were inducted by my father. I doubt we would have done so otherwise. If he had had a daughter, would it have occurred to him even to ask her? Oh puleese!
    The problem with young blokes is that they tend to drink beer. Even after I joined it really took twenty years, and retirement, before I really got into the habit of regular ordering apart from Xmas.
    One could say that WS doesn’t really need marketing. It is its own best advert, but it still deserves to be much more widely known.
    I wonder what the male-female stats are for membership? 95% male I’ll bet!
    As for tastings, the problem is transport. You obviously can’t drive, so it means the Mrs. taking you, a taxi, or that Bristol joke, a bus.
    So many people have no real access to tastings because of this. Of necessity they have to be in a metropolis. Other than Bristol the nearest one is Bath. It would never occur to me to go there.

  15. Ian Soutar says:

    I feel that JerryW’s post deserves some follow-up. For a Society which over the years has made much of its commitment to transparency the lack of prior consultation over the closure of the Montreuil facility came as a shock to this member of getting on for forty years. As JerryW notes we do not need a boutique in Montreuil: a shed manned by competent staff in a ZAC on the outskirts of Calais would suffice.
    But I suspect that the way the decision to shut down the Montreuil facility was taken is symptomatic of a tendency which I have noticed in other clubs and societies to which I have belonged over the years: over time the group is taken over by a self-perpetuating clique who have lost sight of the interests of the original stakeholders. If I am right, I fear that Matthew’s worthy efforts will do little to enhance the attractiveness of the Society to new members. I hope that I am wrong – I intend to gift my own membership to my son, and I have already given a membership to my son in law.
    PS As a retired diplomat I hope that I may have the pleasure of meeting some retired judges or doctors at the Buyers’ Favourites event in Canterbury next month.

  16. James Millar says:

    About time to!o I raised this in the AGM over 5 years ago good to see this
    But reading about the first event to find out it’s sold out is less than ideal. Clearly for those in the know.

    That said a step in the right direction next step the AGM being hosted a time where people who have jobs can actually make it

  17. Luke Scarr says:

    Hi Matthew

    Are there any plans to hold one of these events in the Leeds/Harrogate/York area?


    • Matthew Horsley says:

      Hi Luke,

      Not in the immediate future – as mentioned this is very much in the experimental stage. Once we gauge interest we will think about rolling these events outside of London.

      Leeds will certainly be top of my list, though as I enjoyed many a night out there as a student!



  18. John I Smith says:

    That’s a great idea. Incorporating tasting with less formal dinners at interesting restaurants gets my full approval. And let’s hope it does attract members of all ages. BTW I am aged 76 and have been a member since 1965.

  19. Nigel P Brown says:

    Starchy wine-tasting events are far too serious for me. The ideas behind your remake look brilliant. Delicious wines need more than bland dried crackers and equally dry conversation – marrying wine and food is my idea of enjoyment. I’ll now start taking a look at the Events listings … and getting my hair dyed 😉


    I too gifted membership to my son (now 38) some years ago, as my father had done for me, giving me a wonderful experience in the world of wine. I think most WS members are in it for the long game, not to make it a social focus, although there will be younger Members who may find it attractive to go on after work to an event that fills their evening. There’s room for all of us.
    Another factor is cost. WS wines are well priced for us but rarely the cheapest, so you need to distinguish between marketing your whole range of wines and providing education to Members who have a genuine interest in a particular region or grape. For this reason I would always favour tutored tastings and not the “walkaround” variety that appears to now be in the ascendency. There is room for both, but don’t forget the importance of helping us to learn more about the product we are enjoying and subsequently buying.

  21. Wendy Vinson says:

    I applaud your initiative, Matthew, and hope it is successful for the society. Having read the comments on the membership demographics, I’m now intrigued as to whether I am indeed in a tiny minority as a female member – could some statistics be shared with us? I continually read in the media that older women are drinking more and more wine these days (borne out by my own social experience, I have to say), so perhaps this is also a group the society should try to attract?

    • Matthew Horsley says:

      Hi Wendy,

      Thank you for your support! It is true that our membership is overall more male than female, but by no means the 95% figure suggested in this thread! You’re completely right about the possibilities in attracting more female wine lovers of any age to The Society, and we are working on a number of initiatives (including these GW events) to do just that.

      Of course ideas are always welcome if anything comes to mind!


  22. Helen Scott says:

    I think this sounds a fantastic idea. I’m Leeds based and one of our local indy wine merchants runs quarterly wine tasting dinners – they’re sold out and its a young crowd, so there is demand. If I were in London more and knew about upcoming generation wine dinners, I’d be there.
    BTW I see I’m the only woman to contribute to this – I joined a few years ago on the strength of the quality of wines and information on offer. I’ve just completed WSET 1 and 2, and will do level 3, so I do have an interest in learning as much as I can. I have been to several lively WS tastings and didn’t find them stuffy.
    Matthew, if you want any help in organising an event in Yorkshire, I’d be delighted to help!

  23. Alan Prior says:

    Mr Horsley disparages “more formal ‘standard’ walkaround tastings, which often focus purely on the wine and giving you the perfect environment to taste, smell, observe and discuss”
    – what else is the point of a Wine TASTING ?
    – why should we need “a complete night out” ?
    – we are a WINE Society not a social club !

    Alan Prior

    • Matthew Horsley says:

      Thank you for your comments, Mr Prior. It was certainly not my intention to disparage our more formal ‘standard’ tastings – as mentioned in my previous comment, we will still host in excess of 130 of these in one year, all of which we’re extremely proud of.

      We are merely trying to offer something different over and above this programme: there has been demand recently for more ‘events’ (as opposed to tastings) that feature more than a selection of wine from particular regions. For many (myself included), to travel into London, spend money on a ticket for a tasting and then dinner somewhere afterwards can be expensive, and we know that this puts some members, and potential members, off. The event at Kachette in particular offers the chance sample several of wines and have a couple of beers / gin & tonics (sourced by The Society) whilst learning more about them, have some food and socialise with friends and other members, for under £35. You are absolutely right that we are not a social club, but we are a co-operative, so a sense of community and mutuality is important to us – much of which members find at our tastings and events. I hope that this addresses your concerns.

  24. Peter Skelton says:

    As a long time member buying and enjoying the expertise and reliability of the society ,I do not know the about the new approach….at 83 too old to enjoy with other commitments,, but enjoyed the exchanges of view and as an ex consultant miss the de-briefing meetings….are any publishable held,…such a rich unexplored field of wine tasting experience…or do most participants feel its all too individual?
    Great idea though.

  25. David House says:

    As a 28 year-old member in London, this seems like a really exciting direction. The Society is a wonderful establishment but it’s vital to stay relevant. My girlfriend and I have had the same “youngest person in the room” experience at Society tastings before.

    A related idea: if the point of the events is to curate new members, particularly younger ones, will they be open to non-members to some extent? It would be good to portray an accessible image rather than one of a private club for people who are already wine pros (not saying I agree with the latter description – just that it’s a dangerous stereotype!). This does seem like a great opportunity to show off what the Society is all about, bringing to life what can otherwise seem like a daunting catalogue.

    Good luck Matthew, and I’ll have my eye on the newsletter for upcoming events!

    • Matthew Horsley says:

      Hi David,

      Thanks a lot for your comments – look out for our next Tastings Leaflet coming out in a few weeks for more GW events including one at the Truman Brewery. Sadly, as a co-operative where you must have a share in order to purchase through us, we aren’t allowed to offer tickets to non-members. One of the many unchangeable rules that we’re founded on.

      I agree that sometimes The Society can be seen as a private club that is only available/relevant to those already in the ‘know’. It’s very much up to us to change this image as there is really nothing ‘private’ about it! Look forward to seeing you at future events.


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