YouTube Is the Way to Attract Younger Audiences to Wine

Brendan Carter can’t understand why so many wine professionals are ignoring YouTube. He tells Felicity Carter how he built his own Wine for the People channel.

Reading time: 7m

Brendan and Laura Carter, founders of Wine for the People
Brendan and Laura Carter, founders of Wine for the People

Brendan Carter thinks the word ‘ethereal’ is one of the dumbest words in wine.

While studying, he “grabbed every single tasting note,” from a year’s worth of a top wine publication, “wrote them out one by one, put them in an Excel spreadsheet and fed it into Chat-GPT to find out what the most common terms were.”

The top three terms were ‘ethereal’, ‘juicy’ and ‘expressive’, none of which Carter thinks are helpful. Worse, he thinks wine writing is irrelevant to a younger audience. Not because of the vocabulary —  be warned: this next bit will horrify wine writers everywhere — but because younger people are sceptical about the written word.

The wine industry is ignoring video, which is where the next generation is congregating.

“People can hide behind words,” he says, while individual personalities who can be seen and heard are seen as inherently more trustworthy.

Carter is speaking from his purple-lit YouTube studio in the Adelaide Hills. He’s baffled that the wine industry is ignoring video, which is where the next generation is congregating.

From Champagne to the Adelaide Hills

When Carter was a law student, he got a holiday job giving English-speaking tours at Veuve Clicquot in Champagne. Winemaker Francois Chirumberro suggested he study winemaking.

“It was news to me that you could do a whole university degree in booze,” says Carter.

He enrolled at Adelaide University, right when the strong Australian dollar was causing wine exports to plummet.

At the same time, the world of wine had never been more exciting, as a new generation of hands-off winemakers was rising: Anton von Klopper, James Erskine, Tom Shobbrook, and the late Sam Hughes.

“They were allowed to take us for a class for one of our organoleptic sessions,” says Carter, so “we all started to “questioned everything we were taught.”

In a country renowned for international varieties like Shiraz, Carter began to consider the grapes of the Mediterranean. While they are grown across Australia, they are particularly found in the Riverland — the warm, irrigated inland region — because cheap land and abundant water makes it the ideal place to trial new varieties. In Carter’s opinion, these grapes are the future for Australia.

Bootstrapping a winery

While still a student, Carter and wife Laura founded a low-intervention wine brand, Unico Zelo. “We had nothing to lose and didn’t own much, so we started the winery.”

He did it by opening his laptop and trawling auction sites while sitting in lectures, which he’d record on his phone and listen to later. “My first pump came from a detergent manufacturing facility that had used it for six years and I got it for A$30.”

Starting a winery
Starting a winery

They also opened a distillery. Carter says his business is based on permaculture principles, where every plant in an ecosystem supports the other plants. The idea was that if the wine didn’t sell, it could be distilled and sold as a different product.

Another idea was to create a grape growers’ cooperative. Carter says that when grape growers are paid directly for grapes, the value of the grapes is locked in and “someone has to apply margin. What if there was no transaction?”

Instead, the Carters decided to recognise the value of the grapes by giving 50% of the wine’s profit back to the growers. “We’re selling wine at A$20 (€12.30) a bottle, which is not that expensive, and then delivering 50% of the money back to the growers.”

The growers ended up with “about 400% more” money than normal. “We didn’t realise that growers get paid horrendously in this country.”

Today, growers in the crisis-hit Riverland where the Carters source much of their fruit can earn as little as A$120 a tonne, well below the cost of production. “That was when we realised there was a systemic problem here. And then the distillery started to grow as well.”

Success with gin and wine

Applewood Distillery’s gins are distilled with native Australian ingredients. “I could give you a list of about 80 different ones we work with,” says Carter. “The predominant one would be the desert lime, Citrus glauca. It’s probably the most ancient lime we know of. It originates in the deserts and grows on less than two inches of rain a year.”

The Carters started making gin in 2012, “before it was cool. We were number five in Australia making gin and now there’s like 600 of us.” Today, they sell their products in the US, the UK and Japan, among other export markets.

As for their wines, Unico Zelo is flying off the shelf, an acknowledged success from a region in the doldrums. The labels are simple and colourful and don’t reveal the varieties in the bottle. Instead, the focus is on the names —  ‘Esoterica’, a skin contact white, and ‘Fresh A.F.’, a blend of Nero d'Avola and Zibibbo — so drinkers can’t bring preconceptions to the glass.

The end of wine writing?

Carter says he’s not a very good communicator, which became a problem as the business grew, particularly when trying to get things designed. “I did all the things you’re meant to do — a Pinterest board, all those things,” but somehow people just couldn’t understand what he wanted.

Carter bought a camera and watched thousands of hours of photography tutorials on YouTube. “Then I went and took a photo and said, ‘I want it to look like that’ and they’re like, ‘why didn’t you say so?’” He got what he wanted.

“The penny dropped and I was like, ‘oh man, when people say a picture’s worth a thousand words, I didn’t realise it meant that it saved me from having to say a thousand words’. It lifted a weight off my shoulders.”

One obsession led to another, and Unico Zelo started producing videos during Covid, doing daily vlogs and “stuff like that, to show behind the scenes.” Two hundred “practice runs” later, and the Wine For the Peoplechannel launched on YouTube. It’s a mix of wine reviews, interviews, and wine education, all delivered with an irreverent edge.

If the wine trade doesn’t bother speaking to the $5 a bottle drinkers, how can we expect them to become $10 a bottle drinkers? 

At first, hardly anybody watched. This is typical for YouTube, where creators report slogging along, unappreciated for a long time. If they persevere—assuming they’re any good— there comes a moment when the views begin to grow exponentially. “It’s taken maybe three or four years of grinding before it started to take off,” says Carter. Now, the channel is growing at 400%.

Carter believes YouTube is the ideal medium to attract drinkers who currently drink at the very commercial end. He says if the wine trade doesn’t bother speaking to the $5 a bottle drinkers, “how can we expect them to become $10 a bottle drinkers? This is folly — you can’t just ignore them.”

But he also thinks the wine trade is courting disaster by ignoring YouTube and relying on wine writing and Instagram influencers, because YouTube is where the coveted younger demographics congregate.


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Reading time: 16m

The kids are on YouTube

According to SproutSocial, “Users aged between 25 and 34 account for 21.3% of YouTube’s user base, making them the largest age group to use the platform. The second largest age group is between ages 35 and 44.” YouTube also appeals to those between 18 and 24, “with this group making up 15.5% of the platform’s user base”.

YouTube has 2.49 billion monthly users worldwide—100 million of whom are paying subscribers. And, in the US at least, the younger the viewers, the more they prefer video to books; nearly 60% of those in the GenZ cohort prefer learning from YouTube over books.

But too few wine people are on YouTube, so the chances of younger people stumbling over interesting wine content is low.

Carter adds that YouTube engages people much more than Instagram, which he calls “low involvement — they’re only looking for aesthetics. They’ll change topics really quickly.”

But too few wine people are on YouTube, with a few notable exceptions like Konstantin Baum MW, so the chances of younger people stumbling over interesting wine content is low. Worse, when wineries or regions do make an effort, they tend to produce glossy promotional videos, instead of the fun and authentic content that engages viewers.

The best time to get started on YouTube is now

Darren Oemcke, the Chair of Riverland Wine, says the Carters have found a way to engage with both trade and consumers, and do it well, and says it’s obvious they’ve built a big following, judging by how many distributors will take the opportunity at trade shows and tastings to introduce customers.

“He and Laura have a focus on building their customer base through YouTube, engagement with trade, restaurant collabs and a laser-like focus on their specific approach to winemaking style,” says Oemke.

The Australian wine industry has also taken note, and showered them with awards for their ability to engage consumers.

But creating excellent YouTube content is not, it has to be said, either easy or cheap.

Carter says “Laura hates it. She’s like ‘Brendan, we have to stop spending money like this’ — we added up all the money we’ve spent and it’s maybe A$300,000 (€182,000). It’s a lot of money.”

The money went into the fully-equipped studio he’s sitting in and wages, plus buying wines to review. Carter says they don’t accept samples of wines, because they want the right to criticise a wine, and then say, “hey, we spent our own money on it”.

He says he hopes more wine people will jump in and open a channel on YouTube. And he adds it doesn't have to be expensive, because you can start making videos with your phone.

‘Times are changing, and so are the productivity demands,” says Carter. “We’ve found an answer — it’s called video.”

And not using the word ethereal.

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