From the September 1998 issue of Entrepreneur

So much for hearing it through the grapevine. Although wine is a much appreciated (and even coveted) alcoholic beverage among older consumers, the youth of today are decidedly reluctant to exchange their beloved brewskies in favor of, say, chilled Chardonnay. What's a presumed-to-be old-fashioned (read: stodgy) industry supposed to do?

Pop the cork on Wine Brats, launched five years ago by Sonoma Valley vineyard heirs Jeff Bundschu, Jon Sebastiani and Michael Sangiacomo (pictured below at left, second from left, and far right, respectively). The nonprofit Santa Rosa, California-based organization is working to get notoriously wine-shy Generation Xers into the cellar. "We're out to introduce the next generation to wine," sums up executive director Joel Quigley. "We [present] wine in a fun, approachable way."

Fun? Approachable? Wine? Yes, as the Wine Brats are proving, wine can be as hip as it wants to be. All that's needed are the 42-plus chapters of Wine Brats throughout the country, a membership newsletter for the more than 10,000 Brats, and, most significantly, creative events such as the group's immensely popular Wine Rave tour.

"People walk out just blown away," says Quigley of the Wine Raves that blend music, fashion, technology, food and wine into one event. "People come for a lot of different reasons, and the next thing you know, they taste wine."

And become converts? "Everybody basically feels we're having an impact," says Quigley. "It's pretty exciting."

Catching On

When your product name stinks.

When tom slightam took over his family's fledgling salad-dressing business in 1989, he soon realized something smelled fishy. "I had a marketing problem," Slightam says simply. "People were really turned off by the [product's] name."

That name--a derivation of the Slightam family's Stewartville, Minnesota, seafood restaurant--was Fish House Dressing. "[Our customers thought] there was fish in the product," explains Slightam, 40, "or they'd think of a building where you clean fish."

Either way, the name was sinking sales of the salad dressing line that was created from Slightam's father's recipes. Clearly, a name change was in order--only it wasn't such an easy decision for other family members to make. "They told me `You can't change the name--you can't even think about it.' "

Eventually, however, Slightam won them over, and Fish House Dressing was re-christened Jimmy's Salad Dressings. "It just made sense to name it after my father," says Slightam, who eased the transition period by initially including the Fish House moniker in big letters on product labels.

It was a good call. From sales of $100,000 in 1990--the first year the salad dressings sold under the new name--to 1997 sales of $2.4 million, the Slightams' products have indeed caught on. Now available in nine states, Jimmy's Salad Dressings are projected to enjoy a sales increase of 15 percent this year. "That single thing really turned sales around," says Slightam of the change. "It made our product more widely accepted."

Contact Sources

Fish House Dressing Inc., 1711 Second Ave. N.W., Stewartville, MN 55976, (507) 533-7786

Wine Brats, (707) 545-4699, http://www.winebrats.org