Unsubstantiated: Millennials, Wine and the Meme

milgenThere is and has been a very strong trend among wine industry members, commentators, and reporters to declare that the Millennial generation is changing everything about wine. The side story is that they are breaking free from the bonds and chains of pretentiousness and obfuscation that defined previous generations of wine drinkers and winemakers.

I can’t help but wonder what these folks are going to say when they finally wake up and discover that the Millennial Generation wine drinker and winemakers turned out to be exactly like the “pretentious” and obfuscating generation of wine drinkers and winemakers that came before them. Because I promise you, they will.

The drive to make the Millennial Generation into the generation of wine drinkers that will altogether change the understanding of, the making of, the drinking of, the marketing of and the meaning of wine has been rushing down the road for some time now. Along with this unsubstantiated view of the Millennial generation comes the view that the Boomer Generation was duped into becoming label buyers, ratings junkies and were conned by wine industry marketing. We see lots of talk of incomprehensible wine language and wine reviews. We see this view outlined in articles that declare wine finally needs to become “authentic”. We discover that the Millennial wine drinker is somehow adventurous in a way that no previous generation of wine drinkers (including Boomers and Gen X) ever was.

The epitome of this unsubstantiated and false understanding of the wine industry and wine drinkers and wine culture can be found in a recent article entitled, “How Millennials Are Changing The Wine Industry”

If you are interested in understanding all the various myths that drive this unsubstantiated understanding of wine now circulating in the media (and among many wine industry members and observers) just read the article. Or, consider the following assertions that were made this recent piece:

“Millennials are storming the wine market and they want adventure and demand more transparency and authenticity from winemakers.”
Someone needs to explain to me exactly what transparency has been absent all these years and what exactly is meant by “authenticity”. Over the past 20 years more solid information on live-with-parentshow wine is made, where it is made, why it is made and on the business of wine has been made available than all the past years of wine drinking combined. Authenticity? What lies have been told? And how is it that the Millennial Generation discovered them and now wants authenticity, presumably in the form of corrections to the record? All this is nothing but a meme that is circulating and being reported as though it is true. It is being reported as though past generations never had any interest in authentic wine or genuine and actionable information.

“Historically, wine has been marketed to older generations and came with a huge pretense. But this generation is blowing all of that out of the water. They don’t care about the pretentiousness of a wine, they want something that is authentic and speaks to them. This is a huge marketing opportunity.”
Actually, wine has been marketed to ANYONE WHO WILL BUY IT. It just so happens that older people with more disposable income tend to drive the mid section and higher end of the wine industry for the simple reason that they have the disposable income to do so. This isn’t brain surgery. When the Millennial Generation begins to fall into their 40s and begins making serious cash, they will act exactly the same way, driving the mid and upper ends of the marketplace. And what is this about “pretense”? You mean the marketing of wine has used the pretentious idea of terroir? Good lord.  It has talked about the intricacies of making wine? Heaven forbid. It has suggested that one can actually study wine and become quite an expert in wine? I”m shocked. I fail to understand what is meant by this meaningless notion that wine has been marketed in a pretentious way.

poster276_2“The market for older, stuffier wines that are popular among older drinkers is diminishing (and) there is a new era coming for wine.”
I can’t wait to see what this “new era” brings. No more Cabernet and Chardonnay or Bordeaux? Here’s a prediction: in 20 years Cabernet will be the top-selling red wine and Chardonnay will be the best-selling white wine in America and members of the Millennial Generation will be the ones buying these wines. Anyone want to put money down on this. I will. And what exactly is a “stuffy” wine? Does this mean “expensive”? Does it mean complex? Does it mean coveted? Who knows what this means. This statement comes with no meaning and is unsubstantiated and looks more like wishful thinking than reality.

“You no longer need to be in Napa Valley to learn about specific grapes or blends; now consumers all over the world can have a relationship with wine makers, drinkers and distributors.”
I, my New York friends, my English friends and my Florida friends who all became wine lover, and fairly educated ones at that, somehow became this way without growing up in Napa and even did so without the Internet. How could it be??? It’s as though some people think information didn’t exist before the Internet.

“Presenting a bottle of wine at a party to show off how much you paid for it only happens among older drinkers. Younger drinkers are picking wines based on the story behind it, how they found it, what unique blend or region it comes from.”
Yeah, because Baby Boomer wine lovers really had no interest in the story behind a wine or the thrill of finding a new wine or how the wine was made or in terroir. One wonders how Kermit Lynch was ever able to sell a bottle of obscure Loire Red or an unknown red blend from a husband and wife team in the Languadoc given all those Baby Boomers only interested in showing off how much they paid for their wines.

“This generation’s mistrust of institutions makes expert reviews useless in getting them to pick up a bottle off the shelf.”
Let me make another prediction. In 20 years, the professional wine critic will still exist and will still help sell millions of bottles of wine. More importantly, once Millennials can actuallyCalera afford to pay more than $10 for a bottle of wine, they will in fact seek the input of experts who have tasted and evaluated thousands of wines in helping them determine which $75 wine upon which they should heap their $75. For that matter, I suspect that Millennials will continue to read movie reviews, music reviews, reviews of restaurants and other reviews from professional critics. Additionally, they’ll take advice from their friends and peers…EXACTLY the way the Baby Boomer generation has done, only the Millennials won’t have to look their friends and peers in the face while taking the advice.

“They are adding wine into their lives on their own terms, they’re not interested in the traditional aspect of wine pairing, they believe there is more than one way to do it and setting their own path.”
Lord knows, the generation that invented the word “Foodie”, bought million of books on food and wine pairing and were responsible for creating the boom in ethnic, vegetarian and local cuisine could never have questioned the conventions of wine pairing. More than one way to pair food and wine? Catch me, I’m fainting and below me are the bodies of an entire generation.

Guy“This generation wants to know the story of a wine. You are going to see bottles with generous amounts of information that have a cool design that is authentic and appeals to people so they don’t look like everything else on the shelf.”
What does “cool” and “authentic” look like? You see, I’m 50 years old and I’ve never been exposed to “cool” or “authentic”. All I know is the likes of John Lennon, Buddy Guy, Kurt Cobain, Saturday Night Live, Scorsese, Stuckism, Randall Grahm, Roshambo Winery, and extreme Sonoma Coast cold climate Syrah. What is this “Cool” and “Authentic” of which they speak?

I cannot put my finger on what it is that drives this nonsense. Perhaps its some sort of inter-generational resentment. Perhaps its just immaturity. Perhaps its a matter of being so excited about the size of the Millennial Generation and the kind of dollars they will one day represent that it’s necessary to try kiss their bottoms now rather than in the future. It’s all very puzzling.

Here’s what I do know from being in a pretty good position to observe the wine industry, wine buying patterns, product development and wine marketing: 90% of what is being attributed to the Millennial Generation can be considered silly and forgotten. If you want to understand how the Millennial Generation will interact with wine when they come into their prime, then just look at the Baby Boomer generation and Generation X and how they have reacted to the world-wide diversity of wine.


52 Responses

  1. Dwight Furrow - October 9, 2013

    Hi Tom,

    I agree that much of this is nonsense. There is nothing special about the millennial generation aside from their lack of disposable income. (There is an undercurrent of anti-corporate attitudes which is what is meant by “authenticity” I think. But whether that has legs or not remains to be seen.) But I suspect when they do acquire the finances to purchase fine wines, their tastes may be different from earlier generations. For one thing, they are growing up in a global wine market in which wines from new markets are more available. This may lead to more diverse tastes than earlier generations. Furthermore, with the rampant experimentation going on among winemakers, new trends with staying power might emerge to replace the reliance on Cab and Chardonnay. And, of course, climate change will fundamentally reshape the wine map of the future and that may influence changes in taste preferences as well.

    Change will come but it is unlikely to be the result of the special character of Millennials.

  2. Tom Wark - October 9, 2013

    Dwight, I think was might possibly occur is that some wines or wine style not currently in the market may come to market in the coming years. But there is no evidence that the Millennial Generation will significantly change the product make up in the market place based on their tastes.

  3. Terroirist: A Daily Wine Blog » Daily Wine News: Great Lists - October 10, 2013

    […] Tom Wark wonders what “wine industry members, commentators, and reporters… [will] say when they finally wake up and discover that the Millennial Generation wine drinker and wine maker turned out to be exactly like the “pretentious” and obfuscating generation of wine drinkers that came before them.” […]

  4. Thomas Pellechia - October 10, 2013

    Tom,

    If you can’t put your finger on what drives the nonsense find out the age of the writer of that piece (or stop reading Fox ;)

    Every generation thinks it has found the answer because the generations before were either stupid or plain wrong.

  5. Tom Wark - October 10, 2013

    This makes me sort of doubly stupid, Thomas, being born on the cusp of the Boomer Generation and Generation X…thereby explaining a great deal.

    • Thomas Pellechia - October 10, 2013

      How do you think I feel: I was born after WW2 but before Boomer generation registration!

  6. Richard Auffrey - October 10, 2013

    Excellent rebuttal of the original article. Another thing that is often neglected when considering Millennials & wine is the rise of craft liquors. There has never been a greater diversity, and higher quality, of spirits than ever before. There is a rise of mixlogists and cocktail culture. There is the possibility that these spirits could steal a significant portion of Millennials from the wine drinking community.

  7. Alder Yarrow - October 10, 2013

    Well, some of your points are quite salient, but I will say this about your core premise: anyone who believes that each generation will simply turn into their parents eventually is not a good student of history. There ARE fundamental differences between generations that dramatically impact their behaviors as consumers. While the Millennials may not be spending money in a way that shifts the economy now, they almost certainly will in the future, and those buying habits will definitely be different than the boomers.

    • Rob - October 10, 2013

      Alder -
      I’m not sure you stated a conclusion but I get the point you’re making. I would say like all the preceeding cohorts, Millennials will spend the most when they reach their prime spending years between 35-55. I have no doubt their spending will be different because the world is getting smaller and change is always inevitable. That is a challenge for the wine business because the generation is drinking a lot of foreign wine as their gateway wines. Combating that issue is a challenge for the business as a whole versus any specific producer.

  8. Tom Wark - October 10, 2013

    Howdy, Alder…

    Sure, generations are different, but I don’t think the fundamental nature of those residing in one generation is different from another. That said, I suspect the MG will push forward certain trends already well ln the works, such as buying more wine locally. However, much of what is now being attributed to the MG just doesn’t come with facts.

    That the MG will buy more wine based on peer reviews or via mobile apps isn’t a function of this generation being any different from the baby boomers. Rather, it’s a function of them being born into this moment in history when obtaining recommendations from peers and using mobile apps can happen or happen more easily.

    In the end, the Millennial Generation will prove itself by virtue of how it reacts to the specific circumstances it must confront during its time in the limelight. Here we are talking about meta trends such as economic factors, changing demographics and whatever geopolitical challenges they are forced to face.

    But where wine is concerned, I don’t see any evidence as yet that the MG is acting anything like the way you would expect a generation of people to act who in the pre-peak earning years. There is no indication that in 20 yeas they won’t be buying up lots of Cab and Chard. And to the extent they have access to more grenaches or red blends or Virginia Viognier or Tasmanian Pinot Noir, this seems to me something they can thank the Baby Boomers and Gen Xers for putting on their plate by being open to the huge expansion of wines and wineries over the past 30 years.

  9. Jon Stamell - October 10, 2013

    Just to add to Alder’s point, I don’t think my kids drink any more wine than I do but they are more adventurous with wine than I was in my younger years. They’ve also done more traveling than I had done at their age as I did more than my parents and that exposure to foreign cultures has made our tastes different. They are exposed to wines from dozens more countries and regions than I was. They communicate differently than I did or do now and that requires marketing to them in a different way. Trying to get my kids on the phone is next to impossible but they’ll respond to a text in 30 seconds. Their experts are not mine nor I suspect yours. There is little to no recognition of people like Robert Parker or Jancis Robinson, but a wine article in Huffington Post may have an impact. In large part, they are different from Boomers because the times and technology are different. They often make decisions faster, hold on to them for less time and, as a result, are not as brand loyal. Are they remaking the wine industry? I think by sheer weight of numbers, they are but much of that is not their doing and simply the way the world around them has changed.

  10. Joel - October 10, 2013

    Tom – I couldn’t agree with your assessment more. When I was reading the original article this morning, I kept saying to myself “what and who pulled the wool over the eyes of a generation that built the modern American wine industry?” Your points are spot on and I’m glad you were able to articulately refute most of her points. Alder brings up the good point that this new generation will have a different palate and have a different point of view, but overall I concur that as they age, mature and have more dough to spend, they’ll use their technology savvy minds to spend more on better bottles of wine.
    On another note, I’m still shocked how every week there seems to be another article about wine and the Millennial generation. As a classic Gen X-er, it’s starting to freak me out! Be well. JP

  11. Julia - October 10, 2013

    Right on.

  12. Mike Meisner - October 10, 2013

    Thank you for writing this. I’ve been thinking of addressing all the BS and hype surrounding the M-word and wine, and you did a great job capturing my sentiments. As a 31 year old wine consumer, there’s very little difference between how I approach a purchase, and I don’t believe there’s much difference between what motivates me, you, or my father. We are all consumers, motivated by certain aspects; whether a friend recommended a wine, or we had it on our honeymoon, or I do in fact think the label is interesting, the reasons transcend generations.

  13. Matthew C - October 10, 2013

    I cannot speak for an entire generation, but I can, however, speak for myself. As someone who is in their late 20′s and tastes many of the expensive Napa Cabs & Chardonnays, I can tell you, they are not my preference. I respect them for their cultural significance, but I do not prefer them regardless of monetary reasons. I am not throwing out the baby with the bathwater either. I will purchase Mayacamas Cabernet & Hanzell Chardonnay, but not Opus I & Caymus. I happen to prefer higher acid wines, and I see a trend to that in this generation. It’s not that I dislike tannin, structure, or find Cabernet/Chardonnay boring. I don’t dislike the varieties. I appreciate their nobility. I simply do not prefer the manner in which the majority of producers make them. Quite simply, I find most of them loud, boring, and narcissistic. They end up being more about the winemaker or the demographic than the site in which they are planted on. At the end of the day, I think there are people of every generation that drink wine because they like what it says about them instead of simply liking wine. It just so happens that previous generation’s preferences have been Napa Cab and Chard. This generation it might be German Riesling and Cru Beaujolais. But, I don’t think it will be the same. Although, an argument can be made that the ultra wealthy will drink big Cabs because well, you tell me?

  14. Thomas Pellechia - October 10, 2013

    To the Millennials who have commented: I’ve been in the wine business for thirty years and have been connected to wine even longer. I’ve seen trends come and go; I have also witnessed changes of substance that exceeded mere trends.

    Parallel to a career as a wine producer and seller, I’ve studied and written about wine history. Nothing anyone has posted here has not been said before. Nothing anyone has thought about wine has not been thought before. With the exception of technology, little is new either about wine or about wine consumers. These discussions have been taking place for about 8 millenniums.

    I don’t know what it is about wine that brings out the passion in humans, but I do know that every generation struggles with that passion. I also know that every generation thinks it has a lock on answers. When individuals decide what they like, exclusive of what they are told they should like, only then will those individuals be content with what they consume.

    The article to which Tom has referred is just one more opinion from someone who thinks that she has found the answers, but has anyone noticed that she expresses those opinions as if they are facts, as if she knows not only what Millennials like and consume but also what they should like and consume? She is no better than the previous generations of hacks about which she complains.

    As a wine person who left age 25 in the dust a long time back, I have never liked the bombastic style of wine, the fruit-forward, the over-oaked, the overly alcohol (in my view). My preference is for racy, acidic, leaner wines, with good fruit and a long finish. But I have no idea what is meant by “authentic” wine. If it ain’t made of plastic, it’s real. I have also never followed any wine critic–ever. What does that make me to the marketers who just got out of marketing school and have a propensity to statistically classify at the expense of applying simple reason?

  15. Tom Wark - October 10, 2013

    Matthew:

    You wrote:

    “Quite simply, I find most of them loud, boring, and narcissistic. They end up being more about the winemaker or the demographic than the site in which they are planted on.”

    How do you know they don’t represent the site on which the grapes are planted?

  16. Tom Wark - October 10, 2013

    Thomas:

    For what it is worth, most of the assertions I quoted in the article come from others the author quoted, not from her. But your point remains the same regardless.

    • Thomas Pellechia - October 10, 2013

      Tom: you are right. I guess I should have actually read the article first, which I have done and I hate it even more. I hate journalism that simply regurgitates what others say–but what can you expect from a Baby Boomer?

  17. The meme of Millennials’ Wine: Are they really changing the market? - The Wine Observer - October 11, 2013

    […] Home / Grape / Chardonnay / The meme of Millennials’ Wine: Are they really changing the market? […]

  18. Robert - October 11, 2013

    While I agree with the contention that millennials are not immune to pretention–they’re fueling the whole mixology thing which has jumped the shark into one of the most pretentious food and beverage trends that I’ve ever seen–the real contention of this piece is the arrogant belief that the Millennials will suddenly turn their back on European wine when they come to their senses. That is just the very core of Napa Valley hubris and wishful thinking.

    Sure, many will spend more on wine. That doesn’t mean that today’s Muscadet and Bierzo drinkers will suddenly develop a taste for buttered popcorn Chardonnay and ball-busting Cabs. Rather the logical progression will simply be to higher priced European wine. That Millennial cutting his teeth on 15 dollar Muscadet is far, far more likely to be drinking Mersault in his forties.

  19. Kristina Studzinski - October 11, 2013

    I’m a baby boomer who has met many Millenials while studying wine production in England. I definitely do think that there is a shift in wine culture occurring. I don’t think it is solely down to a new generation of wine drinkers emerging. It’s partly down to people feeling more empowered around wine because there is so much information out there whether in books or on the web. It’s becoming less establishment and more populist. There are ways of tasting the more expensive wines such as going to tastings that are reasonably affordable. The wine scene is definitely changing.

  20. Scotti Stark - October 11, 2013

    Tom,

    I am in agreement with you here. Whomever wrote this article clearly does not work on the front lines of the wine business. As you know one of my jobs is to host people in Napa Valley at high end wineries that I represent. I have been doing this for ten years now (Sommelier for ten years prior), and I must say that I have definitely noticed a huge increase in Millenial visitors in Napa…and they are asking great questions, being respectful, and most importantly…buying wine! Our generation (and the ones prior to ours) were not studying wine nearly as much as they are now at this young of an age. Encyclopedia Britannica has been replaced by the internet, and information is instantly accessible. I think that is the major advantage they have…and they are using it.

    The Millennials are going to be buying wine for a long time, and I think we should encourage and embrace them now to build long lasting relationships. Sure they may not be buying a case from each winery they visit, but I was not buying cases of Strawberry Hill when I was their age.

    The writer of this article is insulting the Millennials because he/she has no working knowledge of them. Good thing they are not selling wine.

  21. Michael De Loach - October 11, 2013

    Tom,

    I wish I had a dime for every article with this same angle over the last 40 years. What is undeniable is that consumer attitudes about food and wine have been continuing to evolve through every named generation during this time.

    Witness organic produce, natural foods, New World wine (Cabernet – it will always be #1), free-range everything, $5 coffee (French Roast – it will always be #1), and now $10 craft beers (IPA – it will always be #1), and craft distilling (Vodka – it will always be #1), all being purchased by thirty-somethings regardless of their ability to pay for it.

    All of these trends tend to build on each other. As for the article, just like most of the rest, there is little in the way of facts to back up the statements, except for (endless) surveys which have a younger generation viewing themselves as distinctly different from the last generation. It’s an echo chamber.

    When will someone asked the experienced wine consumer about how their behavior has evolved over the years, considering that they purchase most of the wine sold? Perhaps this would be a better vantage point for predicting what our kids might be doing ten years from now.

    Cheers!

  22. Randy Caparoso - October 11, 2013

    Hate to say it, Tom, but you sound like an old fart that needs to be dragged kicking and screaming deeper into the 21st century. I’m 58 years old, and have been selling or writing about wine professionally for over 35 years; and although it is true that the circumstances of the current younger generation of alcohol drinking adults is pretty much the same as previous generations, even I have to admit that there’s a lot that’s different. Therefore it makes sense to keep talking about Millennials, because if we don’t there’s a good chance that those of us who sell to or communicate with them will be missing the boat.

    Needless to say, there’s a big difference between the information dispersed instantaneously through iPhones and the information the previous generation got through their laptops. For one thing, the information is no longer filtered through a blogosphere still heavily influenced by traditional print media (with trappings like numerical scores or obsessions on just a few wine types, such as those made from Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay or Pinot Noir).

    Consequently, Millennials are clearly more disposed towards alternative wines from many more places, and they have even developed their own sense of quality. As duly noted in other responses, things like “big,” and “oaky” have even become less preferred than “light,” “plain” and “tart.” This, in turn, is currently forcing everyone in the business — from wine producers, importers and distributors to restaurateurs and retailers — to rethink their product lines. On the ground, it is definitely effecting the way growers are thinking. I was talking to one the other day in Lodi who was seriously thinking about pulling up some Pinot Gris (an “innovation” 20 years ago) and replanting with Chenin Blanc and/or Gruner Veltliner. No matter how you slice it, incidents like this underline the huge impact this new generation is having on the market, starting with the farmers.

    In my world — encompassing both sommeliers and winemakers — it has become almost surreal: the ease in which wines made from grapes like Verdelho, Vermentino, Ribolla Gialla, Teroldego, Zweigelt, Alicante Bouschet, etc. can be presented and sold. Wines that were tough sells 10 years ago, and danged near impossible 20, 30 years ago. These new wine drinkers don’t even bat an eye — they are so predisposed to “new” experiences. If that’s not a big change, I don’t know what is.

    Of course, a lot is still the same. Like previous generations, the latest generation is still prone to being suckered in by slick packaging and images. Yes, it’s a contradiction that a generation purportedly seeking “authenticity” also gobbles up mass production bottlings with colorful labels masking, alas, what amounts to less-than-authentic wine. No one says Millennials are smarter than previous generations. But no matter how you slice it, they are different.

  23. Tom Wark - October 11, 2013

    Randy,

    You wrote:
    “Consequently, Millennials are clearly more disposed towards alternative wines from many more places, and they have even developed their own sense of quality.”

    How do we know this?

    Also, you wrote:
    “For one thing, the information is no longer filtered through a blogosphere still heavily influenced by traditional print media (with trappings like numerical scores or obsessions on just a few wine types, such as those made from Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay or Pinot Noir).”

    Is there really an obsession with just a few wine types. It was the Boomer and Gen X generation that began seriously buying Rieslings, Grenache, Red Blends (Dry), Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah and numerous other varieties that 30 years ago were not even a blip. However, is there any reason to believe that serious Millennial wine drinkers, when they reach their peak earning years, will pay no attention to the classic wines such as Chardonnay, Cabernet, Bordeaux, Burgundy, etc? I so no indication of this. There is no reason to believe that the Millennial Generation would take such a hugely radical turn.

    • Randy Caparoso - October 11, 2013

      Tom, how do we know Millennials drink differently? Honestly, I don’t know what you do all day, but I spend my days and nights with sommeliers and working with wineries, and the fact that we have a new generation of wine drinkers with slightly different tastes is as plain as the sun rising in the morning and setting at night. There’s nothing “unsubstantiated” about this.

      Just the fact that we can sell far, far more wines today that we couldn’t with Boomers and Xers tells you that. I’m not saying that Boomers and Xers and zero interest in wines like Riesling and Syrah; but the diversity of what we sold 15 to 30 years ago doesn’t even come close to the diversity of what we can sell today. It’s as simple as that.

      When Millennials grow up, will they be drinking the same things that previous drinkers did? Of course, many of the wines will be the same — no one is disputing that. A good Cabernet Sauvignon is a good Cabernet Sauvignon, a great Pinot Noir is a great Pinot Noir, and all wine lovers eventually gravitate to things like that. However, I would say that it would be a mistake to say that they will approach these same wines in the exact same way as previous generations. We can already see that. Just the fact that they do not rely on the tastes of a just a handful of wine critics is pretty much a guarantee that standards are bound to change, and savvy growers and producers will change along with it.

      We all acknowledge the powerful influence certain elements of the media have had on the way recent generations have thought of, and appreciated, fine wine. But it would be dumb to ignore the fact that the latest generation gets their information in different ways. The beauty of wines from all around the world is that perception of quality can vary endlessly. In the future, Millennials may be drinking many of the same wines previous generations drank, but I wouldn’t bet against them drinking them in different ways.

  24. S.F. - October 11, 2013

    Thank you! Spot on, Tom!

    As a Millennial who is both a wine-loving consumer and employed within the wine business, I become increasingly annoyed with every stupid take on Millennials that I read. Writers need something new to write about, and they need to stop expressing opinions as facts.

    As a 29-year old wine consumer, I can tell you that my nights were spent drinking Two Buck Chuck in college because it was cheap and accessible, and it was, well, wine. When you have yet to be educated in a subject, how do you know what decision to make, as if there is even a right or wrong decision to be made? Everyone was else was drinking it, so why wouldn’t I? But guess what… my palate developed from enjoying the ripeness of Menage a Trois to preferring the bright acidity and leaner style of Gary Farrell, and in just a few short years. Your tastes change over time – just ask my mother who can’t believe I love green vegetables now! Your wallet changes too, and while it’d be a hell of a lot more affordable to buy cheap wine, I find greater enjoyment in drinking the style of wines my palate prefers, and paying a reasonable amount to do so. When I’m older and can afford to buy $75+ wines regularly, I just might. Or I won’t. The fantastic thing is I just don’t know, and no one else should claim to.

    One last thought as a person working in the wine industry, it is disappointing to see wineries who buy into a fad, and this Millennial hocus pocus spreading like wildfire is a fad. Yes, technology has changed the way we can do business and you should always tailor your marketing message to your demographics, but you certainly shouldn’t be so quick to overhaul your brand to fit one segment of wine consumers. The wineries who are all of a sudden heavily focused on Millennials will come to find this is a short-lived effort. Millennials will age just like everyone else, and their tastes and ability/willingness to purchase will change too. So if your focus is on younger novice wine consumers, then great, there’s a target market around which to build your brand. But these won’t always be the Millennial generation.

    • Thomas Pellechia - October 11, 2013

      S.F.

      On the “fad” subject: hear, hear.

      A grape grower who rips out grapes to plant the new fad is not necessarily a smart grape grower.

      As I’ve said, this conversation is as old as civilization–and communication methods have been changing throughout civilization too, so I don’t buy the concept that the newest technology is the reason behind the changes that we see. Change is constant.

      What I believe is different today from two generations ago is that product loyalty is not what it used to be, and that does make it harder for producers to keep up. Couple that with a great deal of producer competition, and you are right back to fads!

  25. 1WineDude - October 11, 2013

    Hmmm. I am not going to defend the article, because I don’t think it’s quite up to snuff, but I can challenge this:

    “There is no indication that in 20 yeas they won’t be buying up lots of Cab and Chard.”

    Tom, I don’t need to tell you that lack of data to prove the unprovable does NOT make the unprovable inevitable. You’re prediction might come true, but it is likely a factor of a) too much of each grape being grown, b) the fact that replanting to meet changing demand will take a long time (it would maybe be in place for the MG’s kids and grandkids), and
    c) a+b = a marketing blitz to sell Cab and Chard to anyone who will buy it.

    It seems that in these arguments almost no one turns to data. And yet, we have data that largely suggests the opposite. The data we have – the data that are driving **GIANTS** like Luigi Bosca and Gallo to change their winemaking formulas to emphasize freshness (acidity) and different grape varieties – points to younger people preferring different wines and buying and responding to some of them differently in the marketplace. Why would anyone start to turn ships that large if they didn’t have very good reasons to do so? So all that Cab and Chard will likely NOT look like the Cab and Chard that is sold today. It will have more acidity and it WILL for certain have MG-targeted marketing behind it because we do, for certain, buy things in the marketplace differently from generation to generation.

    What evidence exists to suggest that MG consumers – or ANY consumers – will not continue to do something as they age that they are already doing while they’re young? None: only opinions from people with skin in the current game that MG consumers will “grow up someday.”

    I’ll put money on the bet that the will NOT “grow up” to meet the business models and marketing models that work for Boomers today. No. F*cking. Way. What generation has ever done that in the history of consumerism for any luxury product category… ever? Surely not enough that the numbers couldn’t be explained via random chance alone.

    It’s just not a winning bet.

    • Thomas Pellechia - October 11, 2013

      “What generation has ever done that in the history of consumerism for any luxury product category… ever? ”

      A telling sentence.

      Does that mean you don’t see wine ever becoming and everyday drink, like Coca Cola?

      • Thomas Pellechia - October 11, 2013

        “an everyday drink” is what I meant.

      • 1winedude - October 11, 2013

        Thomas – I think it’s just about at that status already in the US. To some extent, anyway. But that’s not exactly what I was getting at there. Wine is a luxury in that it’s never going to be an essential purchase like toilet paper or food. It has to be marketed as a luxury good because buying it is essentially a luxury.

        • Thomas Pellechia - October 11, 2013

          I understand, Joe. Coca Cola is like toilet paper ;)

          • 1WineDude - October 12, 2013

            Except tp is better for your health! :)

  26. 1WineDude - October 12, 2013

    And while I’m at it:

    ‘I can’t help but wonder what these folks are going to say when they finally wake up and discover that the Millennial Generation wine drinker and wine maker turned out to be exactly like the “pretentious” and obfuscating generation of wine drinkers that came before them. Because I promise you, they will.”

    Why?

    Why will they substantially change and do this? We have no evidence to support that, do we? If that’s true, why haven’t Gen Xers done it as well? Instead they’ve turned to craft beer.

    Tom, you’re in a position to help wine brands actually reach these consumers and potentially make more money in the future. And they won’t be able to do that if they market their wares to the MG the same way they do to Boomers.

    • Robert - October 12, 2013

      1WineDude;

      What you’re missing is that nobody in Napa Valley WANTS to hear the truth. They have no use for statistics, trends, studies or surveys. They want to hire consultants and public relations people who will tell them exactly what they want to hear: “all is well” “you don’t need to change a thing” “import growth is a short-term aberration” “the younger generation will start turning to Cali wines any day now” and above all “it’s all the distributors’ fault!”

      I don’t know if Mr Wark is a died-in-the-wool kool aid drinker or just a cynical p.r. man catering to his clients. I do know that, were he to try and speak truth to power, those clients would flee to another company willing to do nothing more than reinforce the echo chamber and tell the Emperor how wonderful his clothes look.

      • Jon - October 12, 2013

        Now you’re onto something. I recently took my daughter and 5 other 26 year-old girls out for dinner…in California. Not one of them wanted to drink CA wine and when I asked about this, they all said it was boring. This had nothing to do with the grapes – they didn’t know anything about grapes. They knew what was adventurous and different in their minds and it wasn’t CA. Millennials are drinking more imported wines because they don’t want to do what their parents did, a point I made earlier in this stream. CA wineries have their heads in the sand if they think these young consumers are going to realize how much they like those big buttery chards and robust cabs. Go to a wine store (outside of CA wine country) with a millennial and watch how they buy. Then ask why and they’re more likely to talk about price and where they spend a semester abroad than they are the grape.

  27. Carl - October 13, 2013

    I just read the subject article as it is posted on the front page of the Fox News website, and almost pucked.

  28. Mark Ganchiff - October 13, 2013

    Regional wines are getting better and Millnennials, especially women, like the regional tasting room experience. As the wine “experience” takes precedence, the importance of varietals for wine marketing will decline. Millennials are developing preferences for wines baby boomers wouldn’t touch. Tom, you’re a great wine writer, but you’re thinking like a baby boomer.

  29. Tom Wark - October 13, 2013

    “Millennials are developing preferences for wines baby boomers wouldn’t touch. Tom, you’re a great wine writer, but you’re thinking like a baby boomer.”

    With the possible exception of muscat, every single wine Millennials are drinking now is a direct result of Boomers being not only open to them but willing to buy them. Furthermore, every single wine millennials are drinking now are being drunk in greater amounts by Boomers and Gen Xers. You can’t simply make stuff up and call it fact.

  30. Tom Wark - October 13, 2013

    1wine dude:

    You asked, “Why”

    The wine industry moves at a glacial pace. In fact the face of product development has been glacial during the most dynamic time in the history of wine (1985-2005). The idea that somehow Napa and Sonoma wines will be cast aside by Millennials Chardonnay and Cabernet, the two most important red and white wines suggests that winemakers and wineries that have made an industry on these two wines will some how give them up because Millennials don’t want them any more.

    When you look at what wines Millennials are having shipped to them from wineries over the past 3 years you discover that the top four wines they buy and have shipped are identical to the top 4 wines that Boomers and Gen Xers have shipped them, and it doesn’t matter if you are talking about wine shipped from CA, OR, WA, TX, NY or any other state. If the #5 wine the Millennials are buying and having shipped to them is different from the Boomers and GenXers, you discover that wine is number 6 on the list for Boomers and GenXers.

    As for Millennials buying a larger percentage of imports, the reason is not their wildly diverse tastes. It’s because imports happen to hold a much larger percentage of the cheap wine category. If domestic wines had a larger percentage of cheap wines, then the Millennials would buy more domestic wines.

    As for the future, I can promise you what I’ve promised every winery that has asked me: When Millennials core wine drinkers are in their 40s and 50s they will be buying a boatload of Napa Cab, Sonoma Pinot,, CA Chards, Bordeaux, Burgundy, Rioja, etc….The same thing we are buying. Why? Because when these core wine drinkers have the money, the will want to drink the best, the classics, the benchmarks, the wines from the great winemaking regions they’ve visited and read about.

    We already see it happening among the Millennials who have the money now.

    • 1WineDude - October 14, 2013

      “As for Millennials buying a larger percentage of imports, the reason is not their wildly diverse tastes. It’s because imports happen to hold a much larger percentage of the cheap wine category. If domestic wines had a larger percentage of cheap wines, then the Millennials would buy more domestic wines. ”

      - Dude, those imports **are defining the tastes** for that generation. And the wines are VERY different than Napa Cab and Chard. So… if they cut their wine teeth on those imports that are very different than Napa Cab and Chard, why would they suddenly do an about face and start buying up those wines like Boomers when they make more money? It implies that they’re pining for those wines now, which they’re not. When they make more money, they will probably buy more expensive European and imported wines, which is what they’ll know.

      “As for the future, I can promise you what I’ve promised every winery that has asked me: When Millennials core wine drinkers are in their 40s and 50s they will be buying a boatload of Napa Cab, Sonoma Pinot,, CA Chards, Bordeaux, Burgundy, Rioja, etc….The same thing we are buying. Why? Because when these core wine drinkers have the money, the will want to drink the best, the classics, the benchmarks, the wines from the great winemaking regions they’ve visited and read about.”

      - See above. I don’t dispute they’ll turn to the classics, but they won’t do it the same way that Boomers did it, they won’t be buying by the case, they won’t be buying every vintage, they won’t be totally brand loyal. And the CA wines will be at a disadvantage, since the imports are the MG reference point, so they’ll need t market more heavily. But it won’t work if those wines are marketed to them in exactly the same way that the are marketed to Boomers. How do we know this? Gen Xers got marketed to like Boomers on those wines, and they’re buying beer.

      “We already see it happening among the Millennials who have the money now.”

      - Data, please.

  31. Robert - October 13, 2013

    [[[[ As for the future, I can promise you what I’ve promised every winery that has asked me: When Millennials core wine drinkers are in their 40s and 50s they will be buying a boatload of Napa Cab, Sonoma Pinot,, CA Chards, ]]]]

    And I suggest that you keep telling them that, Tom. That way, they won’t stop payment on their checks! When the ugly truth finally dawns upon them like a load of bricks, the money will be safely in your bank account.

  32. Don Clemens - October 14, 2013

    Loved this post – I couldn’t help but wonder what rock the writer of the millennial-loving article has been living under. I’m older than you, Tom, but I couldn’t help but feel that “here’s deja vu all over again”.

  33. Full Disclosure…and Some Cool Links to Read | Hoot n Annie - October 14, 2013

    […] link is to Tom Wark’s blog post on millennials and […]

  34. Rob McMillan - October 14, 2013

    The crap that comes out from vaunted news services never ceases to amaze me. I work in the wine business, research it, and see more of the financial side of it than perhaps anyone else in the country.
    *I can tell you for a fact Millennials are not moving the needle on fine wine purchases. they are buying cheap wine and in total represent something around 15% of purchases depending on which source you use.
    *They are experimenting with everything – beer, spirits, and wine …. (who remembers experimenting with Blue Nun, Mateus, and drinking Harvey Wall Bangers … and if you do … do you still? Answer: No. Because everyone’s tastes and pocketbooks change over time. Will they buy Napa Cab? That remains to be seen. The wine industry was built on Boomer tastes and exists as it does because of it. My guess is they will buy what we make domestically, but I do expect to see the major wine growing regions in the US have to adapt to a lower price environment.)
    *Even the Wine Market Council which for years has been evangelical about marketing to Millennials, has now started to change the focus and suggesting wineries market to those who are core consumers with the means to buy their wine. For the $10 and above wines it’s Boomers according to WMC.

    Perhaps surprising to most, but Millennials aren’t close to having the same impact in any consumer luxury category as Boomers. Why? Because the Boomers out-numbered the population on a percentage basis and that’s still felt today. Look at population stats by percentage of the population broken out by 5 or 10 year age ranges. What you will find is the Millennials – who demographers can’t even agree on an age range, are no more than average in representing the population for any decade, and their real impact only fades over time based on population forecasts. Gen X has the same averages as Gen Y when you ignore the cohort and focus on age, and the Hispanic population that is really growing in the US as a population bubble isn’t being considered at all in the discussion.

    I agree with the Wine Market Council. If dollars matters to you, focus on those who can afford your wine today. The vast majority are Boomers because they have wealth, numbers, and are still in the 35-55 age range to an extent, and then Gen X because they are the second largest cohort buying wine and squarely in the 35-55 age range.

  35. Cafe bus winery tour - October 15, 2013

    You are making a good point. What a great inspiring article about wine. I enjoyed reading your article.

  36. 1WineDude - October 18, 2013

    From http://rabobank-food-agribusiness-research.pr.co/62424-rabobank-wine-quarterly-q3-innovation-and-market-diversification-to-drive-argentine-growth

    “Cabernet Sauvignon and other red varietals have seen some of the most notable pricing declines.”

    “Though their preferences diverge from the typical wine consumer, the millennial generation are driving sector growth and brands that have successfully targeted this consumer segment have seen significant sales growth.”

  37. Afternoon Brief, Oct. 21 : WIN Advisor - November 4, 2013

    […] Unsubstantiated: Millennials, Wine and the Meme […]

  38. Conner - January 27, 2014

    Many here quote facts with substantiation. Many here give opinions and suggest they can’t be challenged. Let’s reduce this discussion to facts.

    The Wine Market Council used a formula of % Drinking More minus % Drinking Less to determine which generation is driving growth in the industry. What they found was that Millennial accounted for 34% of the growth in the wine industry. Gen X were second at 28%. Boomers were responsible for only 7% of growth.

    Additionally, the same report found that 51% or Millennial that drink wine are considered core wine drinkers. Gen X leads the way with 62% as core drinkers. Once again, the Boomers lag with just 30%.

    Boomers may have more and may spend more per transaction, but it’s clear that Gen X and Millennial are buying more often.

    In the US alone, there are currently 80 million Millennial. According to DataSense, of the Millennial who are of legal drinking age, 90% say they consume alcohol. So….that means there are between 50-60 million Millennial that will consume alcohol this year. That’s far more than any previous generation.

    Impact Databank, IRI and several other sources note the growth in craft beer and craft spirits, and attribute much of it to the Millennial generation, followed closely by Gen X. Boomers actually contribute less than 1% growth to both the craft brew and craft spirits categories. Hopefully, smart winery owners know they have to make smart business decisions if they want to grow their share of the business, and based on the facts, that means catering to Millennials. If they’re happy with their business as it stands today, then by all means, appeal to the Boomers with their larger disposable income. However, if growth is part of your long term plan, then you must look to where the growth is.

    • Rob McMillan - January 27, 2014

      Conner -
      While these are facts, they aren’t really getting at the question, some are wrong and some out of context. That’s been the problem with statements on wine consumption for years now. Take for instance the fact you cite that 51% of Millennials are core consumers. If you look at the Wine Market Council’s information, they have never said that.

      Then take the WMC survey and formula you cite. The sample is small and the formula hasn’t ever been tested against a validation group. How would that be validated? By getting the real facts about Millennial consumption.

      Millennials consume around 15% of wine. That is consistent in data from Nielsen, Silicon Valley Banks survey of 650 wineries who reported cohort market share, and from on-line wine transactions where Millennials come in below 10% of total share of consumption. That to me says the formula that you are applying isn’t useable because it leads to a faulty prediction.

      Even the Wine Market Council itself is distancing itself from statements such as this now and putting their focus on core consumers who they acknowledge are largely Boomers. That is not to be dismissive of the cohort or suggest they aren’t going to be the consumers of tomorrow, but for today, Millennials can’t be characterized as you suggest.


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