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?

Or this:

“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.

Consider this:

“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.


19 Responses

  1. Jim Wallace . - March 6, 2019

    I am we…and they. Thanks again Tom…Fun post, Jim Wallace.

  2. John Skupny - March 6, 2019

    I just got back from a day working in snowy Boston.. cool, re-hab style motel – so far so good… I come in and go out to dinner, come back…. on both occassions three of the m-gen staff are present… the ‘Bellman’ stood silent looking at his phone… I could have had ten bags, walked in naked [well it was 15f.] or with a loaded Uzi. The two check in staff – mind you 3 feet away, one looking at her monitor, the other her phone… no body moved… I said, Hi have a good night, thanks….. no one muscle moved… customer service in the 21st century… and I have to figure out how to sell my hand made wines to them?… it is not with personal human contact, I guess..

  3. Bob Henry - March 6, 2019

    Leandro:

    Your Linkedin post is a tacit solicitation to discuss the issues you raise.

    Yet your volunteered “new venture” e-mail address doesn’t work:

    leandro@cabriniwineservices.com

    Your volunteered “new venture” website is inactive:

    http://www.cabriniwineservices.com

    Click on it for this auto-reply from WiX.com:

    “Hey, this domain used to be connected to a Wix website.”

    Here’s how to reconnect your domain:

    1. Sign in to your Wix account

    2. Check Billing & Payments for more information

    3. Make sure the Domain Auto-Renewal option is ON

    ‘Tiz a puzzlement . . .

  4. Peter Ricci - March 6, 2019

    Tom you hit a grand slam home run! Robert Redford would be proud of your home run.

  5. Cristian Ventura - March 7, 2019

    In my humble opinion, as a millennial that is just starting to know the wine industry from a marketing perspective, I believe that you can rant all you want behind a keyboard, but to have real impact on an industry you have to get into the trenches. Reading reports alone wont lead you to the magic formula of succeeding in marketing and selling to millennials. You have to get all the angles of the narrative right: trying to understand where millennial attention dwells and what things matter to them. Also trying to understand winemakers stories, struggles, victories and defeats. Then, as a marketer, try to marry both on a happy place where the exchange of money/product/experience occurs. Today’s tech is fast moving and adapting is not easy. But maybe with a trusted advisor and a strategic plan in place, wineries can have a better shot and more at bats at marketing to millennials.

  6. Peter Ricci - March 7, 2019

    People are taking a snap shot of Millennials, projecting them as they will never change. Companies are changing their way of dong business for the short term, a snap shot of Millennials as they are today. Look at the evolution of Baby Boomers, their wine preferences changed dramatically from the 70, 80, 90, 00. A company can adjust their marketing but to change the way they do business is very short sited. Stop reading articles that are driving an agenda, simply making noise, not founded in sound branding.

  7. Rob McMillan - March 7, 2019

    Ranters rant. We need better rant filters. And they come from both ends of the debate, traditionalist who dont want to change, and neuvo drinkers who feel excluded.

    Truth is, we have to market to both sides today. We need to have a traditional pitch and we need a pitch to on-ramp new consumers. It’s the first time the business has been in this spot, and we have a long ways to go.

  8. Keith J - March 7, 2019

    Tom, good stuff, 38-year vet of this business and I love watching it being shaken by this whole argument about how to capture the millennials (and we have 5 of them as our kids, plus their significant others, so we live it and with great enjoyment). Ignore or pooh-pooh or marginalize them at one’s own peril, to be sure, as we go to increasingly more funerals of friends in the coming years.

    Here’s one, I was recently in a little comment banter with some Seattle Times readers of an article a few days ago regarding the release of Target’s private label ten-buck “Collection” series of wines. Think of them, or the concept, whatever you like (bottled by Delicato CA), I have no dog in that race – but the Times had them reviewed by a “Level Two Sommelier” and local blogger, who sucks up to the $75/bottle Walla Walla Syrah producers regularly and calls those unavailable and unaffordable museum pieces things like “scintillating” and “moving”, and “almost ethereal”, for Bacchus’ sake…and so when HE is the one who labels the Target stuff as Not Recommended, the 35 year-old who might try (and love) one along with a grabbing a 6-pack of Lagunitas and some shampoo is supposed to make him their peer advisor?

    We need to stitch a bigger tent, to be inclusive, welcome experimentation, and not tell people where to start or what to like or what to drink. They will learn what they learn and like, just as we did, at whatever pace suits their appreciation. Did Dr.Ethereal jump in immediately with a love for wet rocks, pipe tobacco, and smokey cherry compote? I doubt it, my guess would be that Ste. Michelle riesling played an early part. Let’s remember where we all started, and stay in our proper lanes.

  9. Peter Ricci - March 7, 2019

    Rob, Not sure how long you have been in the industry. The marketplace has seen many ups and downs. Remember the boom of German wines in the late 60s and early 70s, to all but disappear by the end of the decade, Replaced by Italian wines from the Veneto. The explosion of Portuguese Rose’. The 70s gave us Blended Scotches: J&B, Dewar’s, Gin all the rage in the 60s and 70s. No vodka to be found until it exploded. Distributors couldn’t give away Tequila then the premium Tequila became Gold Tequila long before Patron. The CA wine business in the 60s-70s was owned by Italian Swiss Colony, Almaden, Paul Masson; favorites of the Baby Boomers. I could go on an on, the market is always changing, I have seen the end and rebirth of some many beverage types, regions, price points and brands. The Millennial thing is not new, just another roller coaster ride in the beverage industry, The only difference is we now have social media to blow it all out of proportion.

  10. Tom Wark - March 7, 2019

    Keith,

    Thanks for commenting. Interesting perspective. I want to address this primarily:

    “We need to stitch a bigger tent, to be inclusive, welcome experimentation, and not tell people where to start or what to like or what to drink.”

    What you described was not an industry approach to inclusivity, but a news outlet asking the question, how good are these new wines from a professional’s perspective? This is a legitimate question, particularly form a news perspective given that the new wines are going to be very widely distributed and relatively inexpensive. The point, however, is that no one IN THE INDUSTRY appears to have poo poo’d these wines or their purpose or the people who might buy them.

  11. Keith J - March 7, 2019

    Thanks, Tom, and fair observation and point made, to be sure. My underlying concern is that the industry has come to rely so heavily on news and pseudo news bodies to be essentially free and broadly-read marketing arms, which can be very dangerous in these over-information days. And some of those players too often love having that power of being courted as such…so we then get to the question of whether or not sommelier/bloggers deserve the label of actually being IN the industry. I would generally argue that unless they work in an establishment where the tangible success of the wine program and the level of their own pay is truly tied to their performance as educators and salespeople, then the answer would be no.

    So my rant, and I’ll make a lot of enemies with this, but I’ll live: they remind me of realtors who have just gotten a license after a quick course and exam, and then insert themselves as industry professionals in the middle of the actual homeowner with a house and the actual buyer with a bank account, and collect commissions for some buckshot print advertising and drive-by luck without ever having any real vesting or risk in either party’s financial position, fears, and dreams. With these wine bloggers/reviewers at whatever-level somm they have achieved, they assign ratings that end up on shelf talkers (or in newspapers) and can make or break whether or not a thousand new potential customers will try a wine. They are generally looking for a lifestyle notch on their belt so that the winemakers who they fawn over will make them feel like a VIP when they visit with their spouse that spring, or see them at a crowded trade show. They have never made wine, or more telling have never made a living selling wine, and in most cases can’t afford to own a cellar (or a case?) full of the wines that they call “moving”.

    What I can only hope is that like so much of what the millennial generation as potential customers can and does see through – and calls BS on – will include impostors like these, who never bring their needle and thread to help stitch that bigger tent. And from the beginning, I told the Seattle Times that I thought that their approach to using this type of “expert” for these wines to speak to the potential customers for it was a poor decision.

  12. Richard - March 7, 2019

    Tom,

    Think part of the issue here is so called “social media,” the availability of instant news at one’s fingertips; and absolutely no barometer or verifying factors for absolutely 100% of what is being pushed. As a result there is a lot of inaccurate information (and yes, downright lies) being posted, printed, and then reposted as actual fact when it is competely and wholly inaccurate.

    If we live in a society where “everything on Facebook is right, true, and correct; and everything Donald Trump says is the only real news; and everything Alexandria Ocasio Cortez says is absolute fact; then we are in big trouble – none of the aforementioned, appear, at least to me, have any filters.

    My point is, we need education of the millenials – and they are not being educated by social media so called, but they think they are…

  13. Bob Henry - March 7, 2019

    Peter, you write:

    “Rob, Not sure how long you have been in the industry. . . .”

    How ’bout this long?

    https://www.svb.com/profile/rob-mcmillan

  14. Bob Henry - March 7, 2019

    Here’s an article from 2007 on rant filters. We still haven’t achieved the success hoped for . . .

    From Fortune “Techland” Section
    (November 12, 2007, Page 46):

    “OMG !!! The End of Online Stupidity?;
    A software team is building a filter that blocks unintelligible comments”

    URL: http://money.cnn.com/magazines/fortune/fortune_archive/2007/11/12/100954554/

    By Josh Quittner

  15. Bob Henry - March 7, 2019

    Excerpt from The Wall Street Journal “Marketplace” Section
    (November 13, 2007, Page B7):

    “Venting Anger on the Web Is All the Rage – Literally”

    URL: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB119492127546490849.html

    Edited by Ben Worthen
    “Best of the Business Tech Blog”

    We received this email the other day in response to a post about Google Inc.’s mobile-phone operating system: “You are a moron…Hopefully you have not (and will not) procreate. It would be a shame to have your genes pollute the gene pool. PS: you’re a [expletive deleted].”

    We’ve never met, talked with or written to the sender. And while it may seem a tad over the top, it’s an example of something you and your business need to prepare for: Web rage.

    Web rage is what happens when you combine unfamiliarity with the ability to easily communicate with someone. “That combination is relatively new,” says Clay Shirky, an adjunct professor at New York University. “It leads to a pretty unfettered expression of the id.”

    It used to be difficult to reach the people who make us angry — a journalist who wrote something we disagreed with, a businessperson who made a decision we thought was wrong. But because of email and the Internet, it’s possible to get in touch with these people in a matter of minutes and in a way that doesn’t require human-to-human interaction. That encourages vitriol, Mr. Shirky says, largely because it frees people from the societal bonds that keep us civil.

    . . .

  16. Bob Henry - March 7, 2019

    Excerpt from The Wall Street Journal “Op-Ed” Section
    (April 21, 2006, Page A1f4):

    “When Blogs Rule, We Will All Talk Like —-”

    URL: https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB114558585173032092

    By Daniel Henninger
    “Wonder Land” Columnist

    . . . it looks to me as if the world of blogs may be filling up with people who for the previous 200 millennia of human existence kept their weird thoughts more or less to themselves. Now, they don’t have to. They’ve got the Web. Now they can share.

    . . .

    Not surprisingly, a new vocabulary has emerged from clinical psychology to describe generalized patterns of behavior on the virtual continent. As described by psychologist John Suler, there’s dissociative anonymity (You don’t know me); solipsistic introjection (It’s all in my head); and dissociative imagination (It’s just a game). This is all known as digital identity, and it sounds perfectly plausible to me.

    A libertarian would say, quite correctly, that most of this is their problem, so who cares? But there is one more personality trait common to the blogosphere that, like crabgrass, may be spreading to touch and cover everything. It’s called disinhibition. Briefly, disinhibition is what the world would look like if everyone behaved like Jerry Lewis or Paris Hilton or we all lived in South Park.

    . . .

  17. Bob Henry - March 7, 2019

    Now that I have gotten that off my chest, let me proffer something more pertinent.

    From Harvard Business Review
    (March 5, 2019):

    “What the Wine Industry Understands About Connecting with Consumers”

    By Gregory Carpenter and Ashlee Humphreys

    URL: https://hbr.org/2019/03/what-the-u-s-wine-industry-understands-about-connecting-with-customers

    Preface:

    “In the battle to gain an edge over competitors, companies spend millions of dollars to understand consumers through focus groups, surveys, and sophisticated analytics. But too often, because most people don’t really know what they want, these methods waste time and resources. There is a better way: educating consumers, rather than listening to them. To better understand how firms succeed by educating consumers, we studied the U.S. wine industry.”

    [For those in the wine industry, this made the DailyNewsLinks@winebusiness.com blast on Tuesday, March 5, 2019.]

  18. Peter Ricci - March 8, 2019

    Rob Impressive resume, you have been around for a while so you have seen many cycles in the alcohol beverage industry, all of this is old hat for you, just another dragon to slay.

  19. John - March 15, 2019

    What does old man know about millennia generation preferences? This type of demagogy just represents the situation where an old fart is trying to convince a young girl that sluggish is better than fully erected.


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