Wine, Millennials and the Art of the Proper Rant
I have a dream. I have a dream that one day, Johnny-come-lately wine marketers and wine mavens and social media experts can come together and join in delivering evidence, come together and join in offering examples, come together and join in demonstrating the truth of the claim that those more experienced and practice than they really are morons, really are snobbery-promoting doofuses, and the killers of the multi-million dollar wine industry they built. Yes, I have a…dream.
Instead of realizing my dream, I read this:
“We hate wine in a can, wine named White Girl Rosé or wine made by Jon Bon Jovi because they’re not made by “wine people”, but let’s take a moment to ask ourselves, who says good wine can only be made by “wine people”? Why have we evolved as an industry into this big snob club where only the ones in the “know” are entitled to enjoy wine and those that aren’t are outsiders who aren’t entitled to be part of it?
“Nowadays, not being on social media is a luxury only very few well-known, old school brands or very small producers can afford. Anyone in the middle needs to use it as a major element of their marketing strategy, there is simply no way around it. Some people will try to convince you otherwise, but they are either lying or more likely, have no idea what they are talking about…I can guarantee you that if we don’t change our ways, wine sales will keep declining and the same people that are telling you that you don’t need social media will be blaming millennials and other nonsense for their “bad luck” in the future.”
Here’s what I know, and take it with a grain of salt from a guy who has been immersed in the wine industry, working in wine marketing, carrying out wine PR campaigns for numerous clients in all sectors of the wine industry, indulging in social media on behalf of the wine industry, and who has studied the history of wine marketing for more than 25 years: Anyone, particularly those who have spent just a few years working in wine marketing, who tells you that the wine industry promotes snobbery, doesn’t understand millennials, doesn’t understand the market dynamics that impact the connection millennials have with wine, that the wine industry doesn’t use social media, and who tells you that the industry discourages consumers to drink what they like, clearly have no understanding of how the wine industry works or has evolved.
“Millennials are not killing the wine industry. Gen Z is not killing the wine industry. We are killing it with our snobbery and a refusal to listen and see what’s going on around us. We refuse to adapt, maintaining that everything is (and should be) the way it was 20, 30, 50, 100 years ago. Do you know what happens when we don’t adapt? We die. We don’t care about our consumers, we don’t want to listen to what they have to say or what they like, we don’t even know where they spend their time or how they choose their wines.
“It’s easy to blame others for our failures. We didn’t do anything wrong. They’re at fault, destroying our traditions and the good old days. We blame the rise in popularity of gin and beer, the death of the high street, Millenials’ lack of spending power, but we never stop to think that the blame might lie in large part with us.”
I’m quoting extensively from this recent rant from the good folks at Wild Yeast Media I recently was introduced to by the Wine Curmudgeon because I want to point out the unsupported assumptions at the heart of a common refrain we hear these days that the wine industry (particularly those who built it in its current very successful form) don’t know what the hell they are doing.
Let’s start with this:
“We are killing it” (meaning folks in the wine industry.
What exactly is dying? Is the fact that millennials DON’T have the same kind of disposable income as GenX or Boomers of no consequence in understanding the wine industry? Is the fact that Millennials grew up with a far greater choice in drinks than GenX and Boomers of no consequence in understanding why MIllennials don’t choose wine at the same pace as previous generations? Is the fact that the route to market has changed substantially over the past 20 years of no consequence in understanding the current state of the wine industry?
Apparently not. At least these key facts aren’t given the same weight in the above-linked rant as the bogus claim that we in the industry are all just snobbery peddlers.
Yes, apparently, the problem the wine industry has with millennials is all about the industry’s snobbery? But what snobbery? There are more low-priced, high-quality wines available today than at any point in history. Moreover, the marketing has changed completely from focusing on exclusivity in the 80s and 90s to focusing now on inclusivity that stresses experiences and one-on-one interactions. And, nearly every single winery in America uses social media to market their wares. The claim that snobbery defines the industry confuses the connoisseurship of some with snobbery or all.
Then there is the claim that “we don’t even know where [Millennials] spend their time or how they choose their wines,” as though this important question isn’t investigated to death by wineries, research firms, distributors and retailers. Ask any winery in California, Oregon or Washington, for instance, where their customers come from, what draws them to their wines and wineries and they’ll tick off a very precise list of answers to this question.
What I’m looking for here, what my dream consists of, is a little effort; a little demonstration that the ranters appreciate more than their latest business promoting powerpoint presentation. Don’t tell me that the wine industry is failing, that it’s dying, that there’s too much snobbery, that it doesn’t know what it’s doing. Don’t tell me Social Media use will save us. And if you insist on making these claims, at least back them up with facts, figures, data and useful examples.
At least make the case through example that the wine industry is too snobby in its marketing. Show me why it’s not economic and cultural circumstances and instead the wine industry’s failings that have millennials reaching for the thousand of alternative drinks they have now that those previous generations did not have. Show me exactly how it is that the wine industry is not adopting social media. Show me how small, family-owned wineries (which are the vast majority of wineries in the world) don’t know what they are doing and are being too snobbish or “old school” when they deliver stories of hard work, history, culture, terroir and authenticity in their marketing efforts, which are most often carried out by the owners, winemakers or another of the small number of employees on staff that multitask to keep their business running. Show me how an industry that has expanded continually for decades, completely evolved in the way it brings its product to market, adapted from being an agricultural/manufacturing industry to a marketing/tourism/agriculture/manufacturing industry in a few short years, and has successfully turned wine from a supermarket/wine shop product into an experience meant to be visited has so completely gone down the road to killing itself.
Please, show us these things. Don’t just claim them and tell us that Social Media will save us.
As an example of the worst kind of analysis masquerading as cogent observation and advice, let me quote this one more time:
“We hate wine in a can, wine named White Girl Rosé or wine made by Jon Bon Jovi because they’re not made by “wine people”, but let’s take a moment to ask ourselves, who says good wine can only be made by “wine people”? Why have we evolved as an industry into this big snob club where only the ones in the “know” are entitled to enjoy wine and those that aren’t are outsiders who aren’t entitled to be part of it?”
What does this even mean? Who is “we”? Who are “wine people”? Who exactly declared who is “entitled”?
My dream is that those who strive to be real thought leaders and hard workers and good thinkers in the industry will deliver up real analysis, provide hard fact and data to support their conclusions and recommendations, and will provide us with pertinent examples that illustrate real trends and real solutions. Rob McMillen, Cathy Huyghe, Paul Mabray, Liz Thach, and Christian Miller are a few of the real thinkers working on behalf of the wine industry and its future who are doing this by not simply letting loose elementary rants on behalf of themselves.
And if you can’t do what these folks are doing, at least serve us up a proper rant.