Purchase of Napa Valley Balloons prompted by millennial demand for Wine Country experiences, says buyer

The wine industry has been criticized for having a growing challenge becoming the alcohol of choice for the youngest adults. A Napa company that links consumers with experiences from some of the North Coast’s most notable high-end vintners has made a lofty bet on what millennial Wine Country visitors are looking for.

Cuvée Collective, a venture of Libation Labs, on Wednesday announced it has acquired Napa Valley Balloons from Gabe Gundling, who has been an owner for 15 years of the company’s over four decades in business. The purchase price wasn’t disclosed.

“We acquired the oldest hot air balloon business in Napa Valley because that’s what our community wanted,” Andrew Allison, CEO of Cuvée Collective, told the Business Journal.

The wine business surveyed its 1,850 customers on what they wanted in a wine-tasting activity, and the top response, at 78%, was a hot air balloon ride, Allison said. Four in five customers are millennials, and the median age overall is 35. Average household income for Cuvée Collective customers is $260,000.

Cuvée Collective said the balloon company’s riders have been trending younger (42% millennial) since pandemic restrictions started lifting early last year. This year about half the riders are in that demographic.

For about a decade, the wine business has been looking to attract millennial consumers to embrace wine, because the generation size was comparable to that of the boomers who had propelled sales of fine wine for decades.

But some beverage industry analysts have been sounding the alarm that as boomers’ spending trends downward as the generation ages, Gen Xers and millennials behind them are also looking at spirits and craft beer as beverage alternatives.

Napa Valley Balloons’ origins go back to a club in 1978, and co-founders Don Surplus and Kim Kleist incorporated the company in 1980, according to the website. Gundling came on as part of the balloon chaser crew in 2003 and became a partner in 2007 when Surplus retired. Kleist retired in 2014.

“With a keen appreciation and desire to providing memorable wine county experiences, their ambition, creatively and dedication to being good stewards of Napa Valley Balloons will send it soaring to new heights,” Gundling said in the announcement.

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