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Are Boomers, Millennials talking past each other?


Do you want to know what troubles me? I mean, something in my work that I think and worry about nearly every day? It’s the notion that, depending on our age and social peer group, we speak different languages when it comes to wine.

I’m a Baby Boomer, so the language that I use is pretty much the same as that of other Boomers. We inherited this language from our elders, people like Hugh Johnson and Michael Broadbent. It’s a fairly sophisticated version of English that doesn’t heavily rely on vernacular. We use words according to their classic definitions, and while there’s no universal, formal agreement on winetasting terminology, we march pretty much in lockstep when it comes to words like “cassis” or “buttered toast” or “black pepper.” We even have agreement for the most part on such hard to define terms as “elegant.” There’s a distinct lack of cleverness in Boomer wine writing; we don’t try to be funny or ironic, and there are few cultural references or puns. We keep it tight; it’s an academic style that’s been around for a long time.

Then we come to Millennials and Gen Xers. Even before the rise of wine blogs, it was becoming common to hear complaints that Boomer writing was stodgy. It wasn’t “hip” or “edgy,” it didn’t take into account the life experiences of people who were in grade school when Bill Clinton was being impeached, it didn’t know squat about modern music, and it wasn’t keeping up with street slang.

That was bad enough. Then came the wine blogs, and the criticism mounted. We not only wrote like dinosaurs, we were dinosaurs (or so the critics said). The young bloggers felt free to reinvent wine writing (and speaking, given the rise of YouTube) however creatively they wanted. Far from feeling a reverence for what had gone before, they seemed to take pride in tearing the past to shreds, replacing Boomer winespeak with something more akin to the lingo they actually use with each other.

The epitome of this change, in my opinion, was Gary Vaynerchuk and Wine Library TV. The fact that Gary’s winespeak was verbal, not written–coupled with Gary’s outsized personality–suddenly made the Boomer style of written precision and quiet control seem fusty and antiquated . Gary was to traditional winespeak as punk rock is to a string quartet. The bigger Gary got, the more I perceived new wine writers attempting to mimic him. If they couldn’t do it through video, because that was too technically complicated and expensive, then they did it in their writing. Just as Gary V. has that Jersey-New York loud, gesticulative, attitude thing going on, Gary’s impersonators write as though every other word is italicized, every other phrase in bold or CAPS.

What makes me worry is that what had been a consensual form of wine communication–the old British style–has now become an every man for himself cacophony. It’s the Babelization of wine writing. When everyone wrote more or less similarly, it was possible to have discussions that everyone could participate in. Information was mutually understood. That didn’t mean everyone agreed. We might differ over whether this or that Latour was ageworthy. But at least everyone was on the same playing field.

That’s by the wayside now. There’s no universal conversation about wine, only a series of parallel conversations with no lanes connecting them. There’s no more shared understanding, nor can there be, when we’re all divided into different camps based on age, self-identity, peer groups, or whatever. This has its good points, I admit; the “democratization” of wine writing is something I embraced shortly after I started blogging. What I didn’t then anticipate was that it would kaleidoscope the world of wine writing into an explosion of shards. Maybe out of this chaos will come something more beautiful and perfect than before. I can only hope.

  1. I seem to recall another instance in this Country’s history when “the old British style” was cast off, and that turned out OK.

    I hear you though Steve and I feel very conflicted about this post. On the one hand, I do have great respect for those wine writers in the World that have been treading vineyards for decades and have crippled their hands with a pen. My hats off, respect how we got here (by the way, I do not consider myself a writer).

    On the other hand, I hate the old guard mentality in wine. I hate when I get talked down to when I am casually visiting wineries and I hate being pitched whatever crap Parker said about a particular wine by some sales associate barley aware the internet exists. This might make me sound pompous, but so be it.
    I could ramble on because this is a passionate topic for me. So I will say this. Thirty years ago, wine consumption in the US was hot and bothered by wines from France, and some from California (generally speaking). Now there is clamor coming from all corners of the US and indeed the World compounded by blogs and social media. Wine writing is more fractured because wine is more fractured. So some of the new ways to talk about it are a must moving forward, as we need new ways to absorb it all.

    Second, you are right! Most wine blogs suck, period! Bad writing, shallow knowledge, and a general lack of homework being done generalizes many of them. Drinking three wines from Trader Joe’s a month and posting bottle shots does not a wine writer make. But however the language is used, it should be used well. I can assure you this Steve, there are those of us that value both sides of this story, and at the end of the day we value quality over how “hip” something is.

    So like of my GOSH!!!, that’s like all I can say!!

    P.S. You have served as a bridge for me between the two generations. While I follow a few of the young guys, I am always eager to listen to what you have to say. Respect experience.

  2. Wayne, thanks. One comment: You wrote “I hate the old guard mentality in wine. I hate when I get talked down to when I am casually visiting wineries…”. I agree with you, but the person talking down to you isn’t a professional wine writer, it’s some sales flack. You can’t hold that against writers! The Baby Boomer writers I know are acutely aware of the danger of snobbism inherent in their jobs, and go out of their way to avoid it, both in their writing and in their professional and personal behavior with other people.

  3. Steve,

    I remember the folks who wanted to be different and individuals from the 1960’s. They showed there individuality by wearing their hair longer and wearing flowered shirts and tied died t-shirts and bellbottom jeans, men an women alike. (not knocking it just remembering) It was a ‘movement’ then it got to be stylish.

    What I find distressing is the lack of real education and real knowledge as opposed to superficial types. You cannot go to math and sciences and evolve it without studying its basic (classic) forms.

    I can agree with anyone who promotes changing and evolving how we classify wines and winemaking that no longer uphold the standards that made some of our so called ‘classic’ wines great.

    The good thing about a classical style of wine knowledge is that is is based on the history of wine knowledge and not passing fads, like bellbottoms.

    Also some folks just wear their wine knowledge like a new suit, it becomes part of their social ego rather than a deeper part of that persons personality. Suits change styles and get worn out. Real knowledge becomes integral.

  4. “You can’t hold that against writers!” Correct. Sorry, to clarify, I meant the attitude of some Baby Boomers, not wine writers specifically. I certainly do not feel you have ever done so. Good topic!

  5. I do think that communicating with the buyer/drinker has changed. The eloquence has certainly deflated over the last 7 years or so. Wayne mentions in his response that he was tired of being spoken down to. He brings up a good point. I think that the Boomer wine critics have scared people away from trusting their own pallet. I hear more often than anything else from a potential customer, “Oh I don’t know much about wine.” They say it with a terrified look on their face as if they are scared they might say the wrong thing. Who is to blame here?

    The internet has done wonders for the wine world. But remember what the internet is saying about wine. Most of the time it is a snap judgment. Short and to the point descriptions are given and the critic usually gives a simple thumbs up or thumbs down, as if we are clicking the box next to our favorite song on Pandora.

    The next issue with the Generation X & Y drinkers is that we have trained them to look for a deal. You can give a thumbs up to a wine but what really sells it now with sites like WineSearcher and others is when we see a wine that used to sell at X and now sells for 50% less. The “deal” is what speaks to the younger generation. Not eloquence.

  6. James, I hope there’s some midway point between “the deal” and “eloquence” that keeps the best of both.

  7. Steve,

    Nice post and a good topic. Personally, I feel (much like wine) there is room for many different styles of wine writing. A writer such as yourself, will never be “old had” or “out-of-style” because the knowledge and depth you bring to the subject of wine is what is so appealing. On the other hand, there is something to be said for the entertainment value or, more modern verbiage/slang of some writers/bloggers. For someone who is using the video medium (vlogging) it is absolutely important to be engaging. Otherwise, IMO, even if the information is good, it comes off a little flat. Whatever the format, good information, honesty, and the ability to convey that to the reader will always have a place in web, print, etc. Just my two sense. Keep up the good work!

  8. Interesting column. I’m a Gen Xer, I guess, although I still don’t know what that really means. I was certainly well beyond grade school during the Clinton impeachment and by and large I’ve been a consumer of Baby Boomer wine writers who are much more my speed than younger writers trying to be trendy. For the longest time I found Gary V very off-putting but I have to say that I have warmed to him a little. While I still don’t rely on him for my own wine advice, I do think he’s played a role in demystifying wine and encouraging hoards of young consumers to embrace wine and trust their own palates–which is a good development in my opinion for wine lovers in general. And I think Boomer writers could learn something from him (or others like him) without trying to adopt his particular style. Take, for example, the use of “cassis” and “currant” in wine reviews. Maybe I’m some true outlier but I have never eaten currant in my life. While over years of following reviews and drinking wine I feel I can now infer what a wine described in terms of “currant” or “cassis” might taste like, I’m better served by reviews that describe wines using points of reference with which I’m really familiar. Boomer writers might recognize that their growing audience is increasingly a younger one and strive to write using more familiar points of reference. That could be accomplished without abandoning proper English and descending into crude vernacular and I think there will be a continuing market for this kind of writing among passionate wine consumers of all ages and generations.

  9. Cody Rasmussen says:

    Little off-topic here, apologies, but I can’t resist –

    What is cassis/currant?? Mike brings up a great point. I’ve never eaten a currant in my life, nor ever seen one in stores (my Iowa locale might have something to do with that), but I’ve heard that they can be found easily in Britain. Does that explain why Bordeauxs are always described as smelling, in part, like cassis? I’m not ready to throw cassis out as a descriptor, for all I know it might be the most accurate word choice possible, but if I’m going to use it I need to understand what it means. Words are symbols after all, and right now the word ‘cassis’ has no link to any concept in my mind/olfactory memory. Are there any other fruits that smell like cassis? How can I remedy this situation?

  10. Ryan Flinn says:

    I don’t see what the problem is with a younger generation using different descriptors for their reviews. Language changes, as does social reference points and meanings. If you don’t allow for new voices to describe what they’re seeing and tasting from their perspective, you calcify wine reviews and cut off newcomers from understanding the drink. Ray Walker does a weekly Burgundy appellation series on Wine Besrerkers, and his most recent post on Volnay reprinted a description of the wines from 1855. The author at the time said “the wines of Volnay and from Pommard should only have a color, lightly shaded, such as the eye of a partridge.” How many times do we see that used to describe a wine nowadays? So what if Gary V says a wine tastes like a cherry jolly rancher? If that gets a newbie excited to try that wine, and in turn further their knowledge and palate, what’s the harm?

  11. george kaplan says:

    The Babelization( not a word that would ever have passed Broadbent’s lips, BTW) of wine writing is an inevitable consequence of the Babelization of wine drinking. Still, there’s more good writing on wine than those of us with real jobs can keep up with. I no longer subscribe to any wine mags, partly because my 70’s formed tastes are set, partly because I don’t have the time or the constitution to taste everything from all the great wine regions, ie, everywhere.As a confirmed dinosaur, I read your posts on Santa Barbara and Santa Rita Hills and despair that I can barely manage a couple bottles of Burgundy a week, much less explore the glories of domestic Pinot. Nevertheless, I read more while drinking less, not the most gratifying of vicarious thrills, but something.To mix a metaphor, the cream rises to the top, writing about wine is better than ever, and some of you will be the Waughs and Ashers and Schoonmakers and De Groots, if not the Bellocs, of today.

  12. I find very amusing that Boomers are complaining that Gen X and Y have little to no desire to be initiated into the old boys wine club. Gen X anf Y are definj g their relationship with wine on their own terms.
    After all, Boomers cared little when they were going around in the 60’s and 70’s endeavoring to dismantle more important societal institutions and recreate them on their own terms with all their “free love” easy drugs and easier divorce.
    So I just find this a tiny lesson in karma. If you dishonor the institutions your parents held dear, don’t be surprised when your children don’t cherish your traditions either.

  13. This is a pertinent topic. I think it’s important to have a wealth of knowledge as far as the history of wine lingo and education goes, but it is also important to contemporize oneself.
    I am lucky, because I grew up learning wine speak from my father, who is from the Baby Boomer era, so I have all the ‘old-school’ descriptors in my vocabulary,as well as my generations own spin on how to describe a wine accurately.
    I think it is becoming helpful to speak sort of a hybridization of the two.
    While I champion and applaud my generation for stepping up to like wine, I also think that it is soooo important that we have an idea about ‘wine history’ and also have the proper vocabulary to describe what we taste, and our likes and dislikes to a person of any generation, without alienating anyone.
    It’s about respect for what our ‘wine forefathers’ have accomplished, and elegantly melding what a new generation of wine lovers also has to offer.
    You’re awesome Steve!

  14. Carlos Toledo says:

    Brilliant post. Seriously, there’s room for a long trip here on this subject.

    Congrats, again.

    PS: Vlogging is boring to death. I don’t want to see anyone saying something i already know. “Oh, this wine has smell of morning cut grass, aroma of Himalayan goat, deep purple, pepper, ground dodo egg, fried worm….”

    I want to learn and to be taught something useful. Blogs like this one are really RARE out there (and i read blogs in a few other languages).

  15. Victoria says:

    What drives me crazy (as a millennial) is that it’s the non-millennial marketers who have brought about the notion that Gen Xers and millennials need hip, edgy, Gary-V-styled communications in order to notice wine. Not so! We’re looking for something honest and delicious at a good value, just like everyone else. Not to mention we have a very low tolerance for BS…

    In the wake of this marketing frenzy writers have had to become more polarized just to claim their stake on their constituency of readers, and this helps no one in the end.

    So thanks, Steve, for being the voice of reason and one of the very few wine blogs this millennial even bothers reading anymore.

  16. Victoria, thanks for your vote of confidence. I try with all my might to be reasonable and understanding. Blogging is the best thing I’ve ever done — it brought me into the circle of younger people, who have inspired me.

  17. Shauna, OMG, you make me weep. Thank you.

  18. Dear Tamar, I didn’t mean my post to open wounds between political extremists. I don’t see how “free love, easy drugs and easier divorce” has anything to do with what I wrote! However, I respect your right to your beliefs. I would love to talk about this with you if you are ever in my neighborhood.

  19. George Kaplan, Roy De Groot! An awesome reference to a great writer few have heard of. I endeavor with every fiber of my being to write in a way that people will enjoy. Thank you for taking the time to comment.

  20. Hi Ryan, I tried to suggest my mixed feelings about modern wine writing. I recognize it has to evolve. Thank you.

  21. Hi Cody, cassis is a berry. It is similar to a ripe blackberry, but wilder and more intense. It is a historical descriptor for Bordeaux. Currants are dried grapes, raisins if you will. They are close, and wine writers tend to use them interchangeably. There’s a very identifiable Cabernet smell and taste you find in Bordeaux and Napa Valley that instantly suggests cassis and/or currants, not just freshly crushed blackberries. Maybe we need to move beyond these terms. At the very least, I no longer use terms like elderberries. I try to limit my fruit vocabulary to things I actually eat at home.

  22. Steve, Provocative post and good comments too. I feel that I am in over my head here due to a lack of eloquence in writing. But here goes with my little analogy. I think it is natural to think that younger generations are playing their music too loud. As a matter of fact, I was in a bookstore a few years ago and found myself in the line to checkout with a famed rockstar behind me (keyboard player for the Doors).
    He was commenting to someone that he now lives in Beverly Hills man. And what was bothering him was the damn skateboarders man. Can you imagine that? The Doors would grow up to see skaterkids as corrupting the neighborhood.

    In todays media world, I think there is room for everyone to exist. We will connect with those that we resonate with. And there will always be someone new doing things a little different. While I enjoy listening to music on vinyl, I also enjoy the convenience of mp3’s on my ipod.

    I value and respect your contributions and experince as a journalist. You stand tall in the sea of wine bloggers. There are other ego journalists not mentioned in your piece that I find repulsive.

    Shine on brother!

    P.S. This may not fit in your comments section and will not be offended if you choose not post it.

  23. Cody: “Are there any other fruits that smell like cassis? How can I remedy this situation?”
    What Steve said. For further research, D’Arbo is a well distributed Austrian jam firm that often offers a blackcurrent jam, quite tasty. I’d bring up the fundamental issue that people’s palates and mental wiring differ and thus one person’s sage is another’s hay and still a third person’s must, but that would be thread drift. Oops…

  24. Disambiguation:

    “Blackcurrant ( /ˌblækˈkʌrənt/; Ribes nigrum) is a species of Ribes berry native to central and northern Europe and northern Asia, and is a perennial. It is a small shrub, growing to 1–2 m tall”.

    “Le cassis est le fruit et le nom d’un arbrisseau, le cassis ou groseillier noir (Ribes nigrum) de la famille des Grossulariacées originaire de l’Europe septentrionale, poussant spontanément dans les régions montagneuses et froides de la zone paléoarctique”.

    Currant is a common name that usually refers to berry plants of the genus Ribes:
    “Ribes, pronounced /ˈraɪ.biːz/, is a genus of about 150 species of flowering plants native throughout the temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere. It is usually treated as the only genus in the family Grossulariaceae. Seven subgenera are recognized. Ribes includes the edible currants blackcurrant, redcurrant and whitecurrant, gooseberries, and many ornamental plants”.

    Blackberry is a common name that usually refers to the species Rubus fruticosus (Common Blackberry):
    “The blackberry is an edible fruit produced by any of several species in the Rubus genus of the Rosaceae family. The fruit is not a true berry; botanically it is termed an aggregate fruit, composed of small drupelets. The plants typically have biennial canes and perennial roots. Blackberries and raspberries are also called caneberries or brambles. It is a widespread and well known group of over 375 species, many of which are closely related apomictic microspecies native throughout the temperate northern hemisphere and South America”.

    [1] The Comp. Encyclopedia of Trees & Shrubs; T.B.P.
    [2] Wikipedia

  25. Cody Rasmussen says:

    Thanks for your response Steve, and Christian and Peter as well. Cheers!

  26. Currant is a common name used to describe both berries in the Ribes genus: blackcurrant (sometimes referred to as cassis), redcurrant and whitecurrant and also dried Black Corinth grapes. Blackcurrant and dried currants are similar in taste and color and used interchangeably. I like Steve’s qualification of limiting descriptive (fruit) vocabulary to what is eaten at home. That is one of the things that is part of the different languages of the boomers and the millenials. How many people have tasted gunpowder, garrigue, or even eucalyptus. Gary Vee may have an outsized personality, but many people know what grape jolly ranchers taste like and understand the simile of Lebron Portman more than the pica that boomer writers sometimes exhibit in their notes. I’m not saying one is better than the other, just that, as you say, we speak different languages. As a result, when I do find dried currants in the store, I never new exactly what a currant tasted like before I tried one. They are just like tiny raisins soaked in cabernet!

  27. Steve,

    Currants are berries that look similar to a huckleberry. Very different flavor. Can’t believe no body else’s mom ever made currant jelly. Cassis is a black currant. Grows on the other side of the pond for the most part. I have been told it refers to dried currant but not sure if that is so.


  28. CWP –> Brilliantly said. “Dried currants are like raisins soaked in Cabernet”. Good Cab, whether here or in Bordeaux has that character. I would hasten to add however that good Cab on either side of the pond is not raisiny.

    Tamar–Before there was free love and drugs and bell bottoms, there was Alan Freed and Rock N’Roll. And before that was the Lindy and the Charleston.

    Steve–It has been forever thus. Young people breaks the molds of the past and move on. We all did and they all will in the future. But, if you look back over time, you will see that young people grow older and have consistently melded tradition with modernism. And that will be forever thus also.

  29. Charlie, thanks and I wholeheartedly agree with everything in your comment.

  30. Remember when we grew our hair out, burned our bras (even though you didn’t have to do that one, you hung with women who did), and lived in communes. Our parents didn’t get it, either, then we crossed the line into the next generation, and by the time we were all mid 30s to early 40s, we were our parents. This generation is very much like ours was. We’ll be in our rocking chairs and listening to them talk about how kids just aren’t like they used to be… But, they will be.

  31. Ah, Ms. Diaz. If we did not have young people to keep us young, we would all be old. I have no intention of growing old even though I have grandchildren and do not text every other minute.

  32. language is its own constantly evolving system of communication, and so it’s bound to mutate, particularly among people/groups who have different life experiences and outlooks (i.e. generations). i don’t think you should worry about it. you are a lively, engaging, enthusiastic writer who draws from obvious extensive knowledge and thought, using authentic words that are important to you, words that are relevant to you, and to the bulk of us who read them. if you start peppering in a bunch of ‘yo,’ ‘yo,’ for example trying to “speak” to a different group, or start using “jolly ranchers,” in your descriptors, it’s not authentic to you, to date, and you might end up sounding more like a yo-yo than yourself, yo. (i highly doubt i used that properly).

    what i don’t think should happen is any “dumbing down.” if you think it tastes like cassis, then use the word cassis! — it’s in your knowledge base, it’s what YOU know, and it’s your knowledge you are imparting that we are so happy to learn from/ponder. or, if you think it really needs it, provide an alternate that people might understand, side-by-side with the original descriptor. hopefully for those who care, it will stimulate curiosity (as it has above) to find out what the heck [cassis] tastes like, or what its closest flavor profile is. it’s good to learn from what we know, to give us context, but we can learn a lot more from what we don’t know (sorry if this sounds somehow rumsfeld-esque — i hope you understand what i’m trying to say!).

    anyway, that’s my 2 cents.

  33. I’m looking forward to how my grandchildren will never believe how their dad (my son) used to wear his pants.

  34. Christian Miller –>> “I’m looking forward to how my grandchildren will never believe how their dad (my son) used to wear his pants.”

    Please, please, do not tell me that he is one of those “pants around his knees types”. The next thing you will be telling us is that he has tats all the way up his arm. No one our age would go that.

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