NASCAR Set Embracing Wine

Wineries sponsor cars; owners, drivers produce own vintages; fans upscaling

YORK, Pa. -- Tracking a trend that could have positive implications for convenience stores, Ad Age said that wine seems to be catching on with the NASCAR set, a prime c-store demographic.

NASCAR West team owner Randy Lynch and his 12-member crew are wine drinkers, and Lynch's racecar features the logo of California's Bennett Lane Winery. Separately, Ravenswood Winery said recently that it will partner with Brewco Motorsports to sponsor a car in the Busch League as primary sponsor for three races, and will create a marketing campaign to tout the sponsorship.[image-nocss]

And NASCAR team owners and drivers are producing and promoting their own vintages, the magazine said. Team owner Richard Childress opened Childress Vineyards two years ago in North Carolina. Driver Jeff Gordon recently put his name on the first of what will be the Jeff Gordon Collection, a set of wines bottled by August Briggs in California.

Infineon Raceway serves as the focal point for the trend, the report said. The Sonoma Valley track hosts the only NASCAR Nextel Cup run in wine country and is one of only two Nextel Cup racetracks in California. When I started here in 1998, it was mostly that stereotypical blue-collar, beer-drinking crowd, but over the last four or five years you see a lot more polo shirts and khaki shorts, John Cardinale, Infineon's vice president of media relations, told Ad Age.

Infineon took notice of that, as well as the annual requests before the June NASCAR race from fans asking for wine-tour recommendations. This year, Infineon became the first, and so far only, racetrack to build its own vineyard, said the report. Some 661 pinot-noir vines were planted outside the front office at Infineon. The first wines, likely 80 to 100 cases annually, will be ready in three to four years, Cardinale said.

Stefanie Longton, Bennett Lane's manager of hospitality and marketing, told the magazine that the first year of the Infineon NASCAR race the company did not notice a bump in visits, but by the second year, several NASCAR fans started dropping by the small winery that houses the Bennett Lane NASCAR racecar in its tasting room. Year three proved to be the charm, with traffic more than doubling for the weekend. To help encourage both the locals and the visitors, Bennett Lane put up a big screen TV in the tasting room to watch the race.

Still, the market has room to grow. None of the current wines are NASCAR branded or have NASCAR imagery on their labels, the report said. Some of the Childress wines carry checkered-flag swooshes, but those not aware of Childress' association with NASCAR might not get the connection.

Lynch has more ambitious plans, though, he told the magazine. He has trademarked a name and idea for a mass-produced wine called Turn Four, named for the place where the most exciting action occurs on the track. Someday, he said, he may make that label a mass-market reality.

Beer is losing market share to wine while sports are losing market share to NASCAR, he said. I like to say we're changing beer guzzlers to wine drinkersone race at a time.

Click here to visit the Bennett Lane Racing website.