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Wednesday Warblings
"The Millenials Are Coming"—No Worries

By Stephen Eliot

I am not in the business of marketing wine, but how and to whom wine is sold is important to me as a journalist and critic. I depend wholly of the folks who, in fact, buy the stuff, and knowing my audience or, if you will, my "customer base" is obviously important.

I have been told time and again that the millennial generation is the great force in today's wine market, and that we had damned well better pay attention to them because they are poised to take control as their increasingly irrelevant elders drift into economic obsolescence. I have also repeatedly heard, as I did again yesterday during a lengthy lunch with the winemaker from a large and successful winery, that the message they get from said Millennials is that they do not want to be told what to buy and that anything remotely like wine connoisseurship is simply not part of their mindset; they simply do not care.

I have always found the two ideas – that the Millennials will control the market and that they do not care -- hard to reconcile and have wondered just how the future of fine wine might be dependent on the twenty-something set of folks who do not have the means to afford better bottlings even if they did care. I have been equally uncomfortable with the attendant notion that those middle-aged buyers who, it seems to me, drive the fine wine market should be viewed as being increasingly irrelevant. I am not an economist, but the numbers have never quite added up.

Sitting this morning with these thoughts and coffee, I happened upon a recently published article1 about the "Millennial Myth" in wine marketing that, if not providing absolute answers and putting my mind wholly at ease, at least validated my questions and made me feel like I was not alone in my asking. It is a smart and thought-provoking piece, and I recommend it to anyone whose passion is driven by and whose livelihood is dependent on the business of wine.

Now, I admit that I am a card-carrying member of the baby-boomer generation, one of the gray-heads whose day has apparently passed. The funny thing is that I do not feel particularly irrelevant, and I suspect that my local wine merchants would agree. I do not feel unconnected from my millennial children. I do not find them substantially different than I was at their age...and I am guessing they will not be so different when they reach mine. They are versed in fine wine but have little passion for it, and neither could or would buy anything more than the occasional $15.00 bottle. In time, as their means improve, their drinking habits may change, but, for now, a winery would quickly go broke by marketing fine wine to them—just as they would have when we were that age.

I and my contemporaries are still here, and we will be for a long time. We are not gone, and, when we are, we will not be replaced by a generation of uncaring drinkers for whom wine has no story. No, the Millennials will be the new boomers. We were them, and they will be us.



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Agree completely
by Cathy Perata
Posted on:8/28/2013 7:32:37 PM

As a millenial and a winemaker at a small winery, I have to agree with your conclusion. I've talked with many of my friends and many of the young people who visit our tasting room and all of them are still in the learning phase of wine drinking. As they experience more wines and their discretionary spending money increases they will buy more expensive wines. Most are just not there yet. I think the most important thing for fine wineries to do now is encourage these young drinker to learn more and not intimidate them with fancy language. Eventually they'll get to the point where they want to geek out on wine but until then let them taste and learn what they like. Don't look down on them or treat them like they don't matter because that will leave them buying the $15.00 wine and not caring about "fine" wine.

Response to Cathy P
by Rob McMillan
Posted on:8/29/2013 12:56:01 PM

Cathy, I wanted to underscore a point you made in the end of your comment about nont looking down at the younger consumers. There are some Millennials who are fine wine drinkers and some experimenting in tasting rooms. An informal survey of people I know in the age group who like fine wine confirmed they feel as though they aren't given the same time and touch at the tasting rooms as others. That is something that will backfire on any winery that doesn't monitor that interaction. Its about long term brand building and if they can make it to your tasting room, they are a guest worthy of attention because its perhaps the only opportunity to convert them to a loyal brand follower when they do have the wherewithall.

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