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February 28-March 6, 2007

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Bye-Bye Brats

By Alastair Bland

After 10 years of progressive marketing goals, hip lingo and some of the sexiest covers in the magazine aisle, Wine X Magazine announced on Feb. 15 that it is dismantling operations and saying goodbye.

Based in Santa Rosa, the popular glossy-covered magazine targeted readers in their late 20s and early 30s with the aim of luring Generation-Xers into the stodgy old realm of wine sipping. And for a while, at least, the plan worked.

"We broke down a lot of barriers and got these young people thinking about wine," says publisher Darryl Roberts. "People didn't just wake up and say, 'Hey, I'm going to drink wine today.' Some outside force made them do that, and I think in part it was us. I think that we started that snowball rolling."

But while Wine X cultivated a large readership and inspired many wine virgins to begin purchasing and drinking wine since the magazine's first issue hit tasting room shelves in June of 1997, wine-industry advertisers remained reluctant from day one to associate themselves with the publication.

"I'm sorry to say it, but I think those in the industry just want to retain that image of wine as something for the sophisticated, older classes rather than making it a beverage for the common people," Roberts says.

He expresses disappointment with the wine industry and reports that he had been losing advertising and the associated revenue for years.

"We could foresee this coming, even in '97," he says. "They basically ignored us. Our biggest mistake was creating a vehicle that the wine industry couldn't understand."

But 2 million young readers understood the publication, which read something like a slick lifestyle magazine. Its covers featured swanky shots of celebrities, chicks with sexy navels and plenty of cool people under 30 enjoying wine.

A telling chapter in Wine X's career arc came with the magazine's sixth issue, which featured a female African-American model on the cover. Wineries responded with little grace.

"Just for that--because she was African American--we got thrown out of a couple of tasting rooms," Roberts says, still incredulous. "It was unbelievable. Our whole purpose was to reach out to other demographics, not just ethically, but into the gay and lesbian community, too, and basically move wine outside of that little white bubble."

With the demise of Gen X's only significant link to the universe of wine, Roberts warns of negative, if not dire, consequences for the very wine industry that by and large refused to support Wine X.

"Baby boomers are going to start dying off and people need to be reaching out to these younger people," he warns. "The industry's just assuming that the next generation will move into wine, but I think in four or five years a lot of them are going to go back to beer or liquor."

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