When Peter Eastlake was tasked with selecting wineries in 2008 for the first Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival, he had to beg and cajole them to participate.
After all, he said, wine had long been an afterthought for rock festivals, with space allotted to large concessionaires and the hotdog-and-beer crowd they would attract. The conventional wisdom was Tom Petty and Budweiser, yes; Radiohead and merlot, no.
But over the last seven years as the annual festival at Golden Gate Park has grown, the attitude among the wine industry has dramatically changed. Eastlake now receives numerous emails throughout the year from wineries pleading their case to be a vendor at its Wine Lands tent. Next weekend, Outside Lands will host 36 of them during the festival, which features musical acts such as The Killers, Kayne West and The Flaming Lips.
“I saw it as an amazing opportunity to invite wine into a space it had not been a part of,” said Eastlake, who serves as wine director for Vintage Berkeley. “Wine was never inserted into the mix. … It had never been invited to the party.”
The trend that Outside Lands identified has blossomed throughout the North Bay, not only proving that rock music and wine can be paired together, but that they also are on the same pitch when it comes to business. In the events area, the growth has been significant providing a major economic benefit to North Coast hotels, restaurants, gas stations and other tourism-related businesses.
For example, BottleRock Napa Valley for the last two years has brought up to 30,000 fans a day to listen to music acts. More than 20 wineries and vendors set up booths in the concert grounds to target those fans.
And those concertgoers spend. Scott Lyall Clothes for Men in Napa increased its sales by 30 percent during the BottleRock festival this year compared to a regular weekend, in part by staying open until midnight on Friday and Saturday night, said owner Scott Lyall.
“You’re starting to draw tourists into town that don’t mind to spend money,” said Lyall.
In April, City Winery opened its third club at the historic Napa Valley Opera House, providing a concert venue that has featured such independent music artists as Bruce Cockburn, 10,000 Maniacs and The Milk Carton Kids, while also offering a selection of local wines by the Miner Family Winery, Trefethen Vineyards and Ackerman Family Vineyards.
The concert venues offer significant promotional exposure for the wineries, especially smaller ones that don’t have the large marketing budget of an E&J Gallo Winery or Kendall-Jackson. It also helps them reach a crucial millennial demographic who attend such events in large numbers.
“I’m hoping it will open the door,” said Kathleen Inman, owner and winemaker of Santa Rosa-based Inman Family Wines, which will have a booth at Outside Lands. “There is a commercial reason to go and meet a lot of new customers.”
Inman said her natural winemaking style, such as starting fermentations with native yeasts and banning enzymes or tannin preparations, along with her environmental commitment, using recycled material for labels and mounting rooftop solar panels at the winery, could help win converts among the socially conscientious millennials and Generation Xers at the festival.
“You’re telling people as they are buying the wine a little bit about the brand and encouraging them to come up to Sonoma County,” Inman said.