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A Closer Look At The Millennial Revolution In Wine Preferences

By Stephen Eliot

There is rarely a lull in journalistic jabbering about the significant impact that so-called millennials are having and will increasingly have on the evolution of the wine market (and by extension, how wine will be made) and, while I have been annoyed for some time at what appears to me to be a good many specious claims, I confess that my irritation is evolving into smoldering anger and becoming harder to contain. Mind you, it is not millennials with whom I have issues, it is the parade of marketing types with their desultory surveys and self-serving conclusions about who the millennials are and what they want that rubs me the wrong way.

They have, we are repeatedly told by the wielders of social science, “very different wine tastes, driven by a passion for quality, authenticity and discovery” and those different tastes set them apart from the presumptively undiscerning, far-less-inquisitive generations that have gone before them. Yep, that is enough to get my dander and blood pressure building.

The idea that ardor for quality, authenticity and discovery is unique to the latest wine newbies is nothing short of insulting. I and most every graying wine lover I know have always been driven by those same concerns, and the older we get, the better we understand the nature of each. If millennials do, in fact, have different tastes, and I am not so sure that they do, they cannot be ascribed to some illusory shift in generational zeitgeist or an evolutionary rise in the powers of perception. I wonder if changes in taste, such as they might exist, are not at least in part due to new wine economics wherein once-attainable bottles of the best have become the exclusive property of the wealthy, and simple, everyday quaffs are not always priced for everyday drinking.

What I am sure about is that young wine lovers will become middle-aged wine lovers and older ones after that. They will collectively decide what is or is not good, and the criteria for making those decisions will change over time. They will gain more and more influence in the market as their incomes climb, and their preferences will no doubt be questioned and challenged by the next generation in line. They will become those who will be accused of resisting change, and they will be suitably indignant when they are pressed to defend their positions.

In the end, all the talk about millennials is about selling wine. It is not about insight or connoisseurship or redefining the parameters of quality. It is a topic near and dear to those who make and provide wine to a generation soon to become the biggest market share of all. It almost seems at times as if marketing folk have purposely fanned the flames of generational antipathy and dissent. Perhaps it is a big-winery payback for baby boomers refusing to enthusiastically celebrate the rise of Moscato and sweet red blends, but, then again, I suppose that playing to youth is a staple in the advertisers’ bag of tricks. Playing to youth sells.


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Absolutely On-Target
by Richard Peck
Posted on:12/17/2015 11:03:11 AM

The Connoisseurs' Guide's assessment, that changes in taste are partly attributable to once-attainable bottles now being a privilege of only the wealthy, is spot-on.  I look back at tasting notes I made, when I had no idea what I was buying (but was interested in wine), and it is clear that I could try classified Bordeaux growths for less than today's indifferent, mass-produced bottles.

The craft beer movement should tell the wine "industry" that making wine "approachable" does NOT require dumbing down distinctions (varietals, terroir, appellations, AVAs) and offering goofy brands/labels for the demographically-targeted.  Young beverage enthusiasts are learning about the subtleties of brewing and the differences in beer ingredients and brewing practices.  I recently had a great conversation with someone much younger than I about Brasserie Cantillon, Trappist beers, the sours category, and the deliberate use of brettanomyces in brewing.

Cantillon is not cheap, but as a "first growth beer," it is a lot less expensive than more expensive stuff being foisted on young wine consumers. As a somm and wine educator, wine is a huge part of my life.

Wine "industry" beware?


Craft brews
by tom merle
Posted on:12/17/2015 9:22:49 PM

Also the commentary on the two major consumer beer rating sites, and, are incredibly intense, interactive, and communal.

Millenials and boomers
by Ahli Anggur
Posted on:12/18/2015 9:04:00 AM

If we are talking about average customers instead of "graying wine lover[s]", then anecdotally I can tell you that baby boomers (like me) tend to be more insecure about wine, clinging to familiar brands and styles, and that millenials are a lot more fun to work with. Quite a few of the former seem convinced that I'm going to try to make them spend more than they want to.

Other commentators and critics (RP) have blamed sommeliers rather than "marketing types" for hyping the "new mainstream" (see Bonné). Since the old guard/Big Flavor producers have and spend much more money on marketing and excessively heavy bottles, I suspect there might be something to it.

by Bill Goetz
Posted on:1/1/2016 10:37:32 PM

When I was in my twenties, I knew virtually everything that anyone would ever need to know.  Thankfully, except on rare occasions, no one took my platform seriously, although, most often, they didn't dismiss me....totally...and that is the natural order of things...and rightly so. 

Personally, I have altered my thoughts and opinons on a lot of issues since then.  I find that millennials today purchase very similarly to how I purchased when I was their age -- frugally, and the ABV takes precedence over the quality. This is not to say that I have not encountered more than a few serious millennial wine dringker, because I have. 

I can't help but believe that their tastes will change as mine did.  I will say that more than anything, they are into sweet, so Shandys and root beer "beers" are something that I wouldn't have thought of when I was their age, but fly off the shelves these days.  On the other hand, they are creating a new and serious interest in Riesling, which I think is a good thing.

Marketing is marketing, and I don't begrudge anyone who can reap the rewards of clever marketing, but to think that this generation has it all over the previous one, in other than marketing sense, is kind of silly.  After all, they are paying serious money for rye whiskey, and think it's worth it. Who, over the age of 55. would do that?  I know that was the stuff my parents drank, and I wouldn't have any of that...but then again...I was twenty-something when I made that decision.

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