A prior blog I wrote about young wine drinkers seeking to break out of Moscato and into more serious wines (see Moscato Mania: Prelude to Deliverance, 9/16/16) was published in Karima magazine (karimamag.com). The publisher, Angela Karim, whom I referred to as Signora Moscato in my blog, told me afterwards that my essay resonated will her Millennial readers. As a tail end Baby Boomer, I usually don’t resonate with Millennials much, my own children included. I was pleased, butalso intrigued.
Who exactly are Millennials and what do they seek in wine?
Millennials are loosely defined as having been born around the early 1980s to mid 1990s. They represent a large chunk of the US population, some 83 million people by 2015 estimates. Nowadays most are of drinking age.
While ascribing common characteristics to so many is fraught with hazards, social studies have revealed that Millennials have commonalities. They are narcissistic, apt to emphasize work-life balance, non-religious, liberal, environmentally conscious and politically correct. They are prone to delay common rites of passage into adulthood, earning them a moniker of The Peter Pan Generation. Most importantly, they are heavy and adept users of technology.
They also have some generalities in their approach to wine. In a widely publicized study published by the Wine Market Council in 2015, Millennials drank 42% of all the wine consumed in the US, some 159 million gallons. Two thirds of these wine drinkers were women. They make up a huge market that is likely to grow. Needless to say, the wine industry is very interested in their proclivities and this will, in turn effect the way wine is made and marketed in the future.
“Millennials are not drinking their parents’ wine!” says a pundit who has studied the subject.
20 to 30 somethings are interested in more diversity in wine experience. They are attracted to many different regions, varietals and styles, rose in particular. The rose market is exploding at a rate of 13% per year.
When buying wine, Millennials don’t care much for numerical ratings, or “chateau” and vintage assessments from pundits, nor do they read wine magazines such as Wine Spectator. They get most of their information from digital media such as apps and social media, as well as on-line magazines such as Vine Pair. They are increasingly interested in receiving sommelier certification as a form of formal education, leading to a boom in this previously obscure, mostly professional niche.
With marketing, they respond to cool graphics and trendy lingo on wine bottles, and seek words such as “organic” or “sustainably produced” on wine labels, not caring as much for the experience of the liquid within. “So many Millennials are interested more in the narrative of the wine rather than the wine,” laments a New York City sommelier to Lettie Teague, wine writer for the Wall Street Journal. “A lot of mediocre wine is being sold on the basis of the story.”
Teague goes on to point out that the gap Millennials seem to have in their wine knowledge is due to their constant search for the next cool thing. For example, a Los Angeles restaurant wine director is befuddled by a dramatic increase in requests for Slovenian Chardonnay. If this trend continues we can expect future wine lists full of exotic labels and devoid of stalwarts such as Napa wines or New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. This is already happening in San Francisco, a hotbed of trendy, super-rich Millennials.
On price point, there is some disagreement among those who study Millennial buying habits. Some write that they are not afraid to spend on pricey wines, others say they seek cheap ones. In this regard, in my opinion, there is a division between younger novices versus older, more affluent members of the generation.
Angela Karim’s friends who sought to break out of Moscato fell into the former category, as do my son Richie (age 22) and his close friend Gavi Galloway (age 24).
Gavi has not developed a taste for dry wines yet and favors mostly sweet wines such as Moscato and rose, just like Angela’s friends. He particularly loves Sangria. As a neophyte, he is unable to pick nuances in wine.
“The biggest thing I think,” says Richie, “is that my fellow Millennials want to get into wine but they don’t have the experience and training. So they feel as though they can’t get their foot in the door to really open up their interests.”
This may be the reason behind Millennial focus on marketing gimmicks rather than the wine itself. It takes many years of open minded tasting to train one’s palate and move from easy drinker sweets to more challenging flavor profiles. I predict that as Millennials acquire more experience – and I am sure they will – their consumption pattern will change to reflect something more akin to their parents. Regardless, they will leave an indelible change in the way wine is marketed or talked about. And that’s a good thing.