Generational Changes are Inevitable, Yet Unpredictable.
As I was doing some fact checking in preparation for a presentation I was about to give in front of the Long Beach Library Foundation, I came across the website of the caterer of the event, our friends at T.G.I.S. Catering.
As the company was introducing its staff, a curious feature popped right out: employees were asked what their favorite signature beverage was (imagine that question being asked of its employees on an insurance company website!). The answers were revealing, if not really surprising.
Sofia Riley, the CEO and inspiration for the company, chose "Big Red Wines" as her favorite signature beverage. That's not surprising because a lot of our customers are drawn to that style of wine, some drink Big Red Wines exclusively.
Her younger employees had distinctly different answers. Their signature drinks were indicative of a generational divide between Baby Boomers and Millennials. Baby Boomers, after all, discovered premium wine in the 1970s to 1990s, which itself was a break from the cocktails preferred by the post-war Mad Men generation. You've heard my observations before: You drink what your daddy doesn't understand. It's a way of expressing independence, which is pretty universal, actually.
Sofia's young team mirrored a new generation's choices: of the 17 members polled, only two indicated wine as their favorites, one an Orin Swift Papillon, and the other a white spicy sangria with fresh peaches and plums.
Two others selected beer, not surprising considering that has been a chef's choice in many kitchens. (It's also the choice of many winemakers after a long day of sampling unfinished wine.). "Really good IPA served with a great cut of grilled steak with our scratch-made Chimichurri--SOOO good!" Corona with lime was the other choice.
All the rest of the catering staff indicated their favorite signature beverages were cocktails of some sort. Most popular were Moscow Mules, or some variation, like a Hawaiian Mule with fresh muddled pineapple, a Jalapeño Moscow Mule or a Hendrick's Mule. Margarita variations were popular choices, too, with a Watermelon Margarita, Strawberry Margarita and Jalapeño Margarita singled out. Pomegranate Mojito and a thing called "Citrus Crush with fresh squeezed lemon and lime juice, agave nectar and garnished with mint and sliced lemon."
Some conventional cocktails, most leaning toward the refreshing side, were choices as well. Plymouth (gin) and tonic with a lime wedge, Buchanan's Scotch Whisky served over ice, and the classic French 75, the latter ordered in Casablanca.
So what does that mean for wine merchants, like yours truly? Wine certainly isn't going away, but the kinds of wines preferred by younger consumers are literally all over the map. Interest in wines from places like Greece, Croatia, Portugal, Sicily, Liguria, Spain, Argentina and South Africa has never been higher. And requests for "natural wine" "pet-nats" and "orange wine", "champagne natures" and "extra bruts" would have been as alien to Baby Boomers as dial phones are to millennials.
Not to mention the obvious. People trying to buy their first homes while paying off massive student loan debts aren't lining up to buy first-growth Bordeaux and cult Cabernets. In fact, they sort of resent those wines with a kind of class-envy I feel when lusting over villas on Lake Como.
The Wine Country has always been insulated against shifts in the economy, because I chose to build our business around great tasting affordable wines teachers and nurses could afford. Some of our competitors, however are experiencing some real shocks to their systems. High end wine tanked in 2008, and only recovered for the two-percenters. And modern publications have designated so many wines with 90 points and more, that they have lost all power, except for a handful of old-timers who value such useless information.
Besides, if I'm going to be honest, most people who work in the retail wine business can't afford to buy high-end wine, but we still want to drink well. We have a selfish incentive to acquire high-quality wine at lower prices. We just have to look harder and further to find them, but we do. Just ask us.
What about all the cocktail drinkers and IPA enthusiasts among the young? How are we adjusting to meet their needs?
Two words: Nic Bradley.
Nic is our secret weapon, perched most days in the freezing cold of our open-air beer cooler, discussing the latest and rarest acquisitions from the craft beer world, artisan meads and ciders. The guy is plugged in, and has nearly a thousand Instagram followers, which is pretty remarkable, since Nic has been with us less than a year.
Another secret weapon is our liquor department, surprising for two reasons. One, a place called The Wine Country kind of lets people know what our main emphasis is, but customers come in every week surprised that we even offer specialty spirits. The other reason is our reliance on classic spirits, leaving whipped cream vodka and cocktails-in-a-can to the chains. Fads come and go, but classics remain classics.
Upcoming Events You May Want to Note
We have just published our August events calendar and our annual Panzanella Fest occurs on Saturday August 3rd, right at the height of tomato season. Perhaps more interesting is the night before, Friday August 2nd, Nic Bradley will be hosting our first-ever night time Artisan Mead tasting. The famous "honey wine" with its 4,000 year old history has attracted modern day artisans who have taken mead to heights never imagined by the Druids. Believe it or not, there is a market for high-end mead, and Nic has them.
Samantha's annual Champagne and Fried Chicken tasting is scheduled for August 30, but don't wait to reserve a seat. This event sells out quickly.
See you at 4th of July Rosé Fest & Empanada Fest on Saturday July 6.