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Is wine in trouble with Millennials?


Someone made a comment to me yesterday (it was a top exec at a wine industry company who knows whereof he speaks) that he’s a little concerned that Millennials (people under 30 or thereabouts) are turning away from wine. Or, not so much “turning away” in disgust or ridicule, but simply ignoring it in favor of more exciting alcoholic beverages whose manufacturers (and marketing gurus) are doing a better job of making them exciting than are wine companies and their marketers.

It made me recall a grappa bar I recently went to in downtown San Francisco where they serve something like 180 different grappa cocktails tarted up with exotic things like orangeflower, orgeat syrup (made from almonds, sugar and rose water), limoncello, Prosecco and almost anything else you can think of. These mixed drinks are not only delicious (trust me, I sipped through a bunch of them), but they are utterly beautiful to look at, especially in the context of a zinc, steel, glass, mirrored and spotlit bar that makes them as transparently otherwordly as a Dale Chihuly glass sculpture.

As Wine Business News stated recently, “France’s Millennials or young adults in their 20’s…have moved away from wine to embrace other beverages — primarily beer and spirits in the alcohol category, and bottled water, sodas, and juices.” The writer cited several reasons for this trend; the most important, it seemed to me, was that “Wine is Traditional/Old.” Kids don’t want to be like their parents (who is this case are boomers). When I — a boomer — was looking for kicks as a teenager, I steered clear of the beer and Scotch my parents drank and went over to — well, let’s just say it wasn’t wine, or a beverage at all, but it did make me feel good.

And it’s not just in France. I don’t have hard evidence to support this trend, if it is one,but there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence it’s happening here too. A spate of magazines aimed at men and women in their 20s and 30s is heavy on spirits and liqueur advertising and related how-to stories. When I go to after-work bars in San Francisco, when all those 20-somethings are pouring out of the office towers looking to chill, often what they’re drinking is in a cocktail glass, not a wine glass. It would have been the other way around 5 years ago. “The ‘it’ drink of the moment is the mojito, muse of Ernest Hemingway and the millennial generation alike,” declared Cox News Service last month, while announces the Trend of the moment to be “Asian spirits like a new Vietnamese vodka made from Yellow Blossom rice called Kai and a South American grappa called Pisco, claimed by both Peru and Chile.”

Wouldn’t Trend of the Moment have been, uhh, Pinot Grigio not too long ago?

Someone at Chowhound who was bored with mojitos and cosmos asked what the new trends were and the answers ranged from “pomegranate anything” and “Sazerac cocktails” to “vintage cocktails” and “Pisco Sours” (whatever those are) — but nothing about wine.

Let’s face it: Wine is boring, from a visual and experiential point of view. It’s only one color, not a rainbow pastiche. You can’t put little paper umbrellas or flowers in it, or sip it through anise-flavored straws. It’s not made with ingredients from all over the world so that drinking it makes you feel like you’re touring the planet for a mere $15 a glass. And, worst of all, if you’re a Millennial, your parents do drink it, which makes it so Nineties.

If the Millennials are bored with wine, there are good reasons for it. Wine marketers, you have your work cut out for you. What are you doing about it?

P.S. Please visit my new post at Wine Enthusiast’s blog.

  1. Ken Bernsohn says:

    Who says you can’t put paper umbrellas in your wine? you can also serve it in novelty glasses with imitation plastic Florida oranges or put ice cubes in it if you want. Once you’ve bought it, it’s yours to do with as you wish. The classic Wine cooler from California is red wine, 7-Up and ice. And remember sangria with fruit and perhaps gin added.
    Those aren’t how i prefer wine on a regular basis but a quick check of the Canadian Criminal Code and both the Tao Te Ching and the scriptures says there aren’t any rules agaisnt these uses commonly accepted in North America.

  2. Hi Ken, Yes but I understand it’s illegal to do those things in Iran. Anyhow, I have done worse things with my wines than put umbrellas in them. I have even been known to put a splash of Pinot Noir in Chardonnay, but don’t tell anyone.

  3. Interesting thread, but one that I have a ‘differing’ opinion on. I’m not sure wine has ever been truly ‘hip’ with the Millenial group, even five years ago. I’m not saying that wine is not popular with this group, or they are not ‘getting into it’ moreso than any previous 20-30 year old group (because I think that they are). Anf it would have been interesting to ask 5 years ago if they truly were asking for wines then (I would venture to guess it was Manhattans or different types of martinis . . .).

    What I AM saying is wine is simply not as ‘hip’ to order and drink in cool after-hours places as some of these other concoctions you mentioned . . . Does not mean that after someone has had one of these they won’t switch to a glass of wine . . .

    It would be more interesting to poll these folks on their purchasing habits of wine. My guess is that even if they are not buying it by the glass after work, they are still purchasing a lot of wine, and not just the under $8 stuff either . . .


  4. Larry, you’re undoubtedly right. I know there are a lot of companies out there that do studies on this sort of thing, but they charge a lot of money for them, so I won’t be seeing them. I also know that big producers like Gallo probably have extensive research on it. But they’re not about to reveal anything. It’s a fascinating topic and one I’ll be following as closely as I — a mere scribe — can.

  5. Morton Leslie says:

    My nephew is 32. Raised in the wine country, lived in Oakville, grad SHHS and a UC, kicked around uncle’s wineries as a kid. Now he lives in So. Cal and his buddies drink “craft’ beers, they rarely drink wine. If someone says the wine is “terroir forward, rustic, bold, with dark berry notes, licorice and cocoa flavors and hints of pencil lead”, he hears, “blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.” He reacts to pretention a lot stronger than my generation; he even once told me he was put off by all the wine B.S. On his 30th birthday I sent him a case of wine from his birth year. When I talked to him about the gift I just spoke the honest truth about the wines and what he might look for in their flavor. Found out from my brother he recently bought a wine storage unit and has begun exploring wine. I think it is just communication issue, I just am not sure how to do it, other than with family.

    At sixty something,I’m easier to sell to. There is an ad for a white rum where the music is playing, a bartender is muddling some mint in a mojito, and some scantily clad girls with cute tummies are grinding their hips, and when he stops muddling the whole party stops. Hips and tummies, that’s how to communicate with me.

  6. Hips and tummies. Hmm, Morton, I think you’re onto something. This opens whole new possibilities for wine magazines. So how would you describe the best wine you’ve had this week? Inquiring minds await.

  7. I’m 30 years old and I think it’s partly a money issue. At home it’s a lot cheaper to make mojitos from a $20 bottle of rum than to pour wine. Restaurants and bars often put their fru fru drinks and beers on special for happy hour but rarely wine, and under-30s aren’t about to spend $10 on a glass of house white zin, you know, when they can get a mojito for $5.

    Then you get a little older, your checkbook swells, your palate changes, and you start moving towards drier drinks with more nuance. And that’s where wine comes in.

    Steve, you’ve got to try a Pisco sour. They are totally amazing!

  8. Gretchen, I’ve got a new mission: Finding a Pisco sour! I agree with you about the price of wine. Granted, you can always find a decent bottle under $10, but the truly great wines are usually more expensive than most Milliennials can afford (although I’m constantly amazed at how much money 20-somethings seem to be spending in bars and restaurants in San Francisco. I guess they’re living on their credit cards). I hope your analysis — that Millennials will come to wine when they get older — is correct. Partly, that depends on the economy, and right now I’m a little pessimistic. Maybe I’m just suffering from that “mental recession” that Phil Gramm was blathering about!

  9. Larry – yes; more below. Morton – me? at 50-something? HELL yes. Gretchen – I was formulating the money-thing hypothesis myself while I was reading Steve’s post.

    Salaries for 20-somethings have not risen at the same rate as wine prices since I was a 20-something. And while I was drinking and collecting a little wine way back when on a grad student’s salary, I was also drinking a lot of beer (anyone else remember Mansion Cellars in Davis? I went around the world 5 times). And spirits too – I have vague memories of kamikazes at hot tub parties, among other vague memories.

    Back to Larry’s point – I doubt I’m the only winemaker who does not order wine in a bar or club. These days you will find me in those locales with a Fernet Branca or a Negroni (technically, a Negronski – since I prefer vodka to gin).

    But anyone who is worried that Millennials are not drinking wine needs to visit The Tasting Room in Uptown Park (Houston) any day after 4 pm, but especially Fridays. Holy $h*t! And I will share that about a quarter of my Wine Club members are 20-somethings. Maybe they ARE drinking less Gallo or whatever. Cool.


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