by Lauren Davidson
Everyone loves an underdog, and Richard “Fritz” Lance ’83 is focused on capitalizing on that. As president of Underdog Wine Merchants, a branch of The Wine Group LLC (the world’s third-largest wine producer), Lance is working to craft, market and sell premium wines to the large and growing millennial consumer group.
“Wine continues to be a strong growth industry with positive trends for the past 20 years and a bright future,” Lance says. “This is based on America’s demographics and the enthusiasm for wine by millennials who, in the next 10 years, will be the largest consumer group.”
And while this boom is beneficial, it brings a new set of challenges. According to Lance, the wine industry has had to change to accommodate the different purchasing style, and undeniable purchasing power, of this consumer group.
“The millennial consumers think differently than their parents, the boomers,” he explains. “Boomers are more traditionalists who prefer a chardonnay from Sonoma. Millennials are more interested in exploring new wines like prosecco from Italy. We have spent way too much time talking about things like terroir, barrel regiments, grape clones, fermentation techniques, bottle aging, etc., versus talking about how wine should simply be enjoyed. We should be telling and showing consumers that wine is like food—if you like it, buy it and enjoy it. There’s no reason to talk it to death.”
Lance’s industry expertise can be traced back to his early years working in restaurants and in Dickinson’s Dining Services as a student. He joined E&J Gallo Winery after graduation, where he focused on wine sales and marketing in the restaurant and hotel arena. After 20 years there, he joined The Wine Group as a partner and acquired a winery in Sonoma, Calif., with wife Kelly Kaufman Lance ’83 (whom he met at Dickinson, of course).
“Perhaps because of the thrill of the product and the geography we get to play in, it’s also very competitive,” he says. “In California alone there are more than 6,000 wineries—and then when you add all the other producing areas like France, Italy, Spain, New Zealand, it becomes mindboggling how many different brands and types of wines are being offered.”
Which connects nicely to Lance’s liberal-arts background.
“Simply put, my education at Dickinson gave me the tools to learn, think critically and communicate successfully—all skills necessary regardless of the career path one choses—or does it choose you?"
Published March 30, 2017