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I Love A Good Yarn But I Drink The Sweater

By Stephen Eliot

The new, millennial generation of wine consumers, upon which I hear the future of fine wine so precariously depends, does not care one bit about scores or critical ratings. What they want is a good story. That at least, that is what I am being continuously told, especially by those writers and winery public relation folks who respectively do not “score” wines or do not receive particularly good ratings.

“Stories” have been an integral tool in selling wines for as long as I can recall, and I admit that a good yarn will enliven what can be another dry-as-dust article about this or that new winery, but is the younger portion of the market really so stupid as to give over their steadily devaluing dollars to the best storyteller? Do they honestly care so little about quality, or has the very idea of quality become irrelevant in the age of electronic popularism where everybody is an expert and all opinions have equal validity and weight?

I am father to a couple of millennials, both of whom were lucky enough to be around very good wines for most of their lives, but I think they are still fairly representative of their generation as they have begun to buy wines on their own, and, neither stories nor scores are what comes to mind first. They want to know what is “good, better and best”. In discussions with them and their friends, I am struck by both a fierce independence and a real desire to learn, and too often those two driving forces leave them on the proverbial “horns of a dilemma.”

They very much want to make their own decisions yet are not about to spend money they do not have on trying every wine on the shelf in the process. They are smart enough to know that expertise is not dead, but are quick to question the credentials of those who would call themselves experts, and, in the end, they find a way to balance volition, learning and budget in their pursuit of quality. And, while they like a good story as much as anyone else, the tales of winemaker ethos, special soils and hallowed winery history do not matter half so much as what is in the bottle. I am pleased to say that they have followed their old man’s advice to taste, taste and taste while spending a little less time listening to stories.

I would submit that “quality,” however one might like to define it – and to paraphrase the late Supreme Court Justice, Stewart Potter Stewart, “when I taste it I know it” – is still what we are all after. The cream has a habit of rising to the top. There will be wines that many will exalt simply because they are very expensive or made according to one dogmatic philosophy or another, but I trust that the next generation of wine lovers, just as the last, will come to recognize what is good and what is not…stories be damned.


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winery stories
by judy reynolds
Posted on:1/24/2015 11:46:28 AM

Well put, Charlie.  Though the story can be important, interesting and fun, it is the wine quality that is the bottom line.


good, better and best
by Kyle Schlachter
Posted on:1/26/2015 12:09:45 PM

Good = good story

Better = good quality

Best = good story and quality

Don't conflate stories with storytellers and don't forget that quality is subjective. JCB is a terrific storyteller. Steve Matthiasson has a great story. Some people will prefer JCB's wine, and others will prefer Steve's.

You are correct in advising your children to taste because listening to someone else's good, better, and best can be headache inducing. Case in point: Caymus 2012 40th Anniv. CS. Some people think it's the bee's knees, some think it is liquid garbage.

People don't drink stories anymore than they drink wine, but both help people choose to part with their money for certain wines. I know which piece of info I'd rather use...

I Love A Good Yarn But I Drink The Sweater
by Bob Henry
Posted on:2/4/2015 10:21:59 PM


Excerpt from the Los Angeles Times “Calendar” Section

(March 9, 2010, Page D8):

“Critics’ Ranks Thin Out”


By Patrick Goldstein

“The Big Picture” Column

Virtually every survey has shown that younger audiences have zero interest in critics. They take their cues for what movies to see from their peers, making decisions based on the buzz they've heard on Facebook, Twitter or some other form of social networking.

AND SEE THIS RELATED ARTICLE ABOUT CRITICS' RATING SYSTEMS (and think about how it applies to wines) . . .
From The Wall Street Journal “Main News” Section
(January 23, 2009, Page A12):

“Let’s Rate the Ranking Systems of Film Reviews;
The Stars, Grades and Thumbs Applied to Movies Suffer From Lackluster Performance, Low Production Values”

On marketing wine to Millennials
by Bob Henry
Posted on:2/4/2015 10:53:11 PM

The domestic wine industry fears Gen Yers failing to follow in the footsteps of the Gen Xers and Baby Boomers in becoming wine enthusiasts.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that Millennials are more apt to adopt craft beers and spirits-based cocktails as their alcoholic beverages of choice.

Wine critics — and all mainstream paid media critics in general — are seen as irrelevant. Millennials take their advice from peers and cohorts.

In a Wall Street Journal (November 9, 2012) interview with Robert Parker, wine columnist Lettie Teague stated:

“He [Robert Parker] will probably end up donating a good portion of it [his 10,000 bottle wine cellar] to charity one day, as his daughter, Maia, is of drinking age but prefers tequila to wine.”


How ironic. 



Excerpt from The Press Democrat

(January 19, 2010):

“Marketing Wine to Gen Y No Easy Task”


By Kevin McCallum

Staff Writer

Wine marketers hoping to get their message across to mobile, fickle 20-somethings have their work cut out for them.

While research shows these young people are embracing wine earlier and at a greater rate then either Baby Boomers or Gen Xers, these so-called Gen Yers or Millennials — broadly speaking those born between the late 1970s and late 1990s — are proving impervious to traditional marketing and advertising methods.

“You need to be authentic with this generation,” 29-year-old journalist Nadira Hira [a reporter for Fortune magazine who focuses on Generation Y] told hundreds of wine executives gathered in Santa Rosa Tuesday . . . at the second annual Direct To Consumer Symposium held at the Hyatt Vineyard Creek Hotel. . . .

— AND —

Excerpt from Bloomberg

(March 19, 2013, 2013):

“Authenticity Key to Wooing Younger Wine Consumers, Price Says”


By Ryan Flinn

Staff Reporter

California’s $20 billion wine industry needs to work harder to entice young consumers who resist conventional marketing, said William Price, a co-founder of buyout firm TPG Capital and chairman of Vincraft Group.

Younger wine buyers, those born in the 1980s and 1990s and known as Generation Y, or Millennials, are the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. wine market and are notoriously averse to obvious marketing tactics, said Price, who spoke on a wine- business panel at Bloomberg’s San Francisco bureau yesterday.

“The key thing to the younger drinkers is being authentic — they have super-sensitive noses about what’s not authentic about your brand,” Price said. “Just trying to be sure what you stand for is true in every aspect in your business, all the way from where you contact people to how you make your wine, how you grow your grapes.” . . .

— AND —

Excerpt from the Los Angeles Times “Business” Section

(March 1, 2013):

“Wineries Pour Efforts Into Targeting Younger Drinkers”


By Tiffany Hsu

Staff Writer

Increasingly, Chardonnays, Pinots and Cabernets are sharing shelf space at your local store with some unusual names — such as Bodacious Brunette red and Buxum Blonde and Angel Food whites.

Veteran wine collectors might turn up their well-trained noses. But the wineries promoting such brands aren’t targeting those buyers.

With many of their best customers nearing retirement age and starting to cut back, American vintners are going after younger consumers in a bid to keep their $33-billion industry growing.

That means more irreverent labels, easy drinking wines, singles events and laid-back tastings — all aimed at demystifying the elite atmosphere surrounding wine while grooming the next generation of oenophiles.

“The battle is on” for younger drinkers, said Danny Brager, an alcoholic-beverages expert for global measurement company Nielsen. “Everyone’s being aggressive.”

The courtship was on display last fall in a former bank building in downtown Los Angeles where event organizing company Second Glass hosted one of its Wine Riot parties. . . . 

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