A Little Responsibility in Wine Journalism Please

BBThe other day I was making the point, emphatically, that a great deal of responsibilities lies with those who are attempting to communicate something of substance to the media. Their responsibility is in providing good, true, honest information. The reason this is so important is because things get repeated, then repeated again, then spread around and repeated a number of other times until what you originally communicated becomes common knowledge; it becomes the basis for understanding something or some issue. What if you got it wrong?

I don’t know if this particular news story about millennial wine drinkers vs baby boomer wine drinkers is a result of the original information never being very good to begin with or if it’s just careless reporting. Either way, the tone, substance and message in this story is wrong. But more importantly, it is a message that has spread far and wide and is accepted by many, despite being wrong.

That incorrect message is this: Millennial wine drinkers are fundamentally different from their parents in ways that identify the Baby Boom wine drinkers as dopes, unthinking ratings followers, with no curiosity.

The article is entitled “Why Boomers Should Drink Wine Like Millennials” and offers “5 Wine Drinking Tips From Millennials” that the author suggests we (Boomers, presumably) ought to try….Because, presumably, these five things will be new to Boomers. What kind of insulting advice do Boomers get?

1. Rely on your own taste buds. Marketers have learned that Millennials taste for themselves and decide what they like rather than listening to experts.
Yes…..Because this is something that Boomers never did. Boomers never made their own decisions about and took responsibility for their own preferences. Boomers waited and waited until an expert told them what to drink. Thank goodness there were experts otherwise boomers never would have ever picked up a glass so stunned into inaction was this generation.

2. Embrace — and share — what’s new: “Because this generation is not as easily influenced or intimidated by experts, they don’t mind being neophytes….According to a survey conducted by the Wine Market Council, 85 percent of Millennials “frequently” or “occasionally” purchase unfamiliar brands. That number drops to 76 percent for Gen X’ers and to just 61 percent for their boring old parents.
It’s kind of silly to ask, I know, but I wonder if it ever occurred to the author of this article that the reason Millennials more frequently purchase unfamiliar brands is because being younger, they are familiar with fewer brands than older drinkers who are probably familiar with many more.

3. Love a good tale. These consumers like wines that are made with “passion” and have a “story….This generation likes to know who’s making their wine and its members often favor mom and pop wineries. 
One wonders how it was possible that so many mom and pop wineries emerged during the Baby Boomer’s reign as primary wine buyers given that this concept and appreciation of mom and pop wineries with stories is such a new development among Millennials.

4. Look for boutique wineries and shops. According to market research, Millennials have been driving the growing trend in buying more wines from small artisanal producers. Not all boutique wineries produce a great product, but as with any artisanal effort, it is less likely to have additives.”
It’s commonly known, I guess, that Baby Boomer wine drinkers really, really liked having additives in their wine and this is why “artisanal producers” never existed until the Millennials started buying wine!

5. And perhaps most important: Make it fun. Marketers have found that Millennials often avoid what they consider stodgy old labels depicting castles and hilly vineyards. This is one reason we now see so many creative graphics on bottles — everything from drawings of cupcakes to cute animals to curvy pinup ladies. The message is: Don’t be overly serious.”
Ah! The author and researchers have figured it out. Baby Boomers only bought wines that had depictions of vineyards and castles on them. It’s a miracle that Randall Grahm at Bonny Doon and John Williams at Frog’s Leap were ever able to survive when Baby Boomers were in command of the wine market.

As I mentioned earlier, it’s very important that producers of wine who put information out to journalists and even on social media act responsibly and not trade in bogus, unfounded, untrue, prejudicial information for the simple reason that it could become understood as gospel. But the fact is, it’s equally important that journalists act responsibly. Otherwise, you get articles like this one.

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24 Responses

  1. John Kelly - August 14, 2014

    Especially #3: Chances are the vast majority of the wines and wine experiences the Millennials are discovering in so many “new” ways were created by boomers. From the tone of this article you would think that the whole wine industry sprung into existence in the last 15 years. But give the narcissists credit where it is due: it did not exist to them until they recognized it exists.

  2. Thomas Pellechia - August 14, 2014

    Hah!

    I wrote a couple of wine-related articles for NextAvenue.com. I was continually told that their readers didn’t want to get bogged down information.

    • Thomas Pellechia - August 14, 2014

      bogged down in information…they wanted to have fun reading, and who knows, maybe they wanted to make believe, too.

    • Blake Gray - August 16, 2014

      Thomas, what do they pay? That’s usually key to the quality of freelance articles received.

      • Thomas Pellechia - August 17, 2014

        Blake:

        I don’t know what they pay now. At one point, freelancers were told they could no longer afford us and that most of the writing would be done by staff or as freebies–you know, for the exposure.

        This particular article is not only poor journalism, it’s also just a rehashing of something I remember having read elsewhere but can’t recall where, because even then I considered the whole thing nonsense.

        Each generation thinks that it is the smartest one to hit the world, and each generation seems to go in the general direction of trashing the one or two generations before it. At the same time, the older generations don’t believe much of what the younger generation “discovers”, primarily because it had already been discovered.

        You say that Tom overreacted and that there are some truths in the article. The truths that I pick out have to do mainly with the generalizations pertaining to the Millennial habits. Just about everything said concerning the baby boom generation is complete BS. It was the boomer generation that laid the foundation for the wine revolution of the 70s and 80s, and we did it by doing all the things that the article claims we don’t do now, Of course we don’t do them now–we have matured and don’t need to.

  3. Scott - August 14, 2014

    Some may consider these dubious distinctions insulting to Baby Boomers, as you do Mr. Wark. But I also think a couple might be insulting to the x’ers as well. Specifically, the author’s implication that GenX would be positively influenced by cupcakes and curvy women on wine labels.

  4. William Allen - August 14, 2014

    I think being a baby boomer, perhaps you are being a bit defensive. There are quite a few studies that validate the Millenmial habits, and my personal experience the last two years selling wine, which my opinon was orginally quite dubious about Millennials, reflects a lot of this.

    You can of course generalize, but Millennials do seem far more open to new things, buy from boutique/local shops, spend more disposable income for an experience, and don’t (thankfully) pay attention to WS or WA. Many boomers seem more set in there ways by comparison, to be expected per se.

    Item 3 & 5 do seem less applicable, but as a consumer myself on the edge of the boomers, I didn’t find the article offensive in any way. Some of these are common suggestions I make to many wine enthusiasts, the younger crowd seems more likely to act on them, or already doing so.

  5. Tom Wark - August 14, 2014

    Hi William.

    You know, it turns out that I’m a genXer, but only by a couple years. I don’t dispute that millennials may in fact act somewhat like the author suggests. But her characterization of baby boomers is so far off the mark that it’s difficult to know if she is trying to be remarkably insulting or if she merely decided to just phone it in, have fun, facts be damned.

    • Amy Corron Power - August 17, 2014

      Wait, Tom, if you’re a genXer then I am too, I think, because I’m just a year older than you are.

      I don’t know that the whole Millennial marketing myth is more based on age than it is on access to information. Take music, for example. Millennials have fewer choices of GOOD music marketed towards them, so they are more apt to listen to corporatized Pro-Tools American Idol-type homogeny. On the other hand, unlike us at that age, Millennial have access to many choices; are used to making decisions based on “talking points” that they equate with facts; and have been conditioned for instant gratification. Often the only way to slice through that is with an emotional appeal (i.e. cupcakes, funny labels, and eye-catching graphics).

      It’s not that Boomers should drink like Milliennials, or that Millennials make “better” decisions about wine purchases. Boomers have already developed a frame of reference that allow them to process the emotional content of wine marketing, and add in the intellectual component, e.g. artisanal, vs mass-marketed, family owned- vs corporate owned, value over price, and consider the ratings in addition.

      I think you’ve hit the nail on the head that the substance and message of the article is lazy and wrong, but I think it is representative of what now passes for journalism. The piece indeed seems to be a phone-it-in, probably because it’s much easier to write a 5 talking point internet post that will stir up Boomers, than a well-reasoned, well-researched longer article which compares and contrasts the purchasing decisions of both.

      Knowing the author’s age and background, and the fact that since working in print she has spent the last 12+ years writing talking points for FEMA, allows one to make more sense of the post, and be more sad than outraged at what passes for journalism in the age of 24-hour cable “news.”

      • Blake Gray - August 17, 2014

        Amy, it’s all about the money. You know that. Publications get what they pay for. And as a society, we get what we pay for. We don’t value journalism, so we get what we get.

        One of my reactions to Tom’s overreaction was to Tom’s headline. Articles like this aren’t “journalism” to me. It’s just not. I just filed a piece for Wine Searcher where I had to call people and read white papers and learn something about government regulations. That’s journalism. Why did I bother? Please see the first paragraph.

        • Amy Corron Power - August 17, 2014

          Blake:

          I might argue that society doesn’t value “journalism” because at least two generations have been exposed to very little of it. They cannot value what they have never known to exist. When the broadcast news room began having to show a profit, true journalism walked out the door. When viewers (and readers) claim that fact-based journalism is “boring” and are being spoon fed infotainment — they do not demand ethical journalism. That being said, I tend to agree that the post isn’t really journalism, and it’s not a news story — it’s simply a blog post. And like most blog posts — it is merely editorial comment.

          • Thomas Pellechia - August 18, 2014

            Amy:

            You are spot on. I’ve grown weary of editors seeking five or ten “fun” ways to make a point. Journalism has gone the way of People or Cosmopolitan formats.

            Even the Gray Lady has succumbed. In fact, the only journalism standing seems to be at the New Yorker.

  6. Amy Corron Power - August 15, 2014

    Ironic that the article was written by a Boomer who spent most of her career writing for Boomer-targeted publications like Reader’s Digest, Redbook, Marie Claire and Good Housekeeping!

  7. Tom Wark - August 15, 2014

    You looked her up too, didn’t you, Amy. Not only is it ironic, it’s also nonsensical.

  8. PaulG - August 15, 2014

    Funny thing is, Tom, that every single one of these statements could have been said about the Boomers when they were in their 20s and 30s and exploring this new world of wine. Guys like Robert Mondavi and Joe Heitz were cutting edge, artisanal and way different from the Euro-centric stuff our parents might have drunk. Everything old is new again.

  9. Amy Corron Power - August 15, 2014

    Yes, Tom, I looked her up on LinkedIn – the fastest way to find out someone’s age. It makes it look like she was either appealing to her kids or she was bored and wanted to stir up something she stepped in instead 🙂

  10. Amy Corron Power - August 15, 2014

    But, being a Boomer myself, I thought her name looked familiar — probably from my days of reading Reader’s Digest and my MOTHER’s Good Housekeeping.

  11. Blake Gray - August 16, 2014

    Tom: Your panties are all twisted. Chill out man. There’s a lot of truth in that article.

  12. Is a little responsibility in the media too much to ask? « Artisan Family of Wines - August 18, 2014

    […] https://fermentationwineblog.com/2014/08/little-responsibility-wine-journalism-please/ […]

  13. Alan Goldfarb - August 19, 2014

    Responsibility? Journalism? Ethics? Truth? What the hell are those?

  14. gabe - August 20, 2014

    A) I thought this was going to be an apology for all of the scientifically erroneous statements you’ve made about wild-yeast fermentation. Turns out you think OTHER journalists are the ones who should be responsible in their reporting.

    B) I love listening to old people complain about millennials. Ruin the economy, the environment, saddle us with student loan debt, then accuse us of being selfish. Thanks for all of you sage guidance.

    • Tom WARK - August 20, 2014

      Gabe,
      As always, anything I can do to help.

      Best to you and yours.

      Tom…

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