Unsubstantiated: Millennials, Wine and the Meme
There 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 how 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.
“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 actually 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.
“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.
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.
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.
[…] 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.” […]
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.
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.