Younger generations are consuming as much wine as baby boomers, but what kinds of wines will they be looking for in the future? And how are they going to learn about wine's culture, tradition and place in the world if their only sources of information are what they read online. There is no substitute for sampling wine with someone who really knows what those wines are about.
"Gen Y (born between 1982-1993 and also known as millennials) is the most highly educated generation of our lifetime. They seem to have a short attention span because they are busy doing so many things at once, and while many are not rolling in dough right now, Gen Y's annual spending (is) escalating to $3.39 trillion by 2018, significantly eclipsing Baby Boomers in spending power."--Inc. Magazine
"Everywhere you turn, organizations are performing research and studies on our fascinating Millennial Generation. Businesses have worked hard to earn their loyalty and influential powers. It's been an enlightening and engaging journey, and now the focus is quickly turning to our Gen Zers. While Millennials have had a major impact on how businesses think, act, and advertise, Gen Z may become the most influential generation in America to date." --Inc. Magazine
Wow, things are moving fast. What does this have to do with good wine, you ask?
In this sped-up world of instant information, reflexive responses and spirit-crushing tribalism, one characteristic necessary for good wine seems to be missing from our collective experience.
It's not news to anyone who has been around wine as long as I've been. Baby boomers have lacked patience, too, but we were raised with books, taught cursive writing, even had to diagram sentences to make sure we didn't end one with a preposition. What was it all for?
Bourbon Barrel wine?
Breakfast cereal and wine pairings?
I was asked recently to lead a wine tasting to help raise money for the Long Beach Symphony, a band in which patience is drilled into each member. It takes a lot of solitary dedication to become a player in a symphony orchestra.
One of the wines I was tasked with commenting on was a three-digit Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon from a well known outfit. I noticed that, unlike the Napa Cabernets of my young adulthood--the kinds of wine that could be mistaken for Bordeaux in a blind tasting--this jet-black Oakville elixir had no noticeable tannins, and possessed a soft character that made it instantly drinkable.
No need for patience in the cellar. Buy it off the rack today and drink it tonight. Just like microwaving your dinner because you don't have time to cook.
There is nothing inherently wrong with instant-wine. Most wines are bred that way, and many classic wines are better that way. Sauvignon Blanc and Beaujolais come to mind.
But they don't cost three digits. Somehow the prestige of Napa Cabernet, which is historically related to the prestige of classified-growth Bordeaux, allows wine buyers to feel special without any effort--like cellaring wine to gain complexity--besides whipping out the credit card.
But millennials do drink wine, apparently lots of it. Consumers aged 21 to 40 drink as much wine as their Baby Boomer parents. But what kinds of wine?
There are so many choices now: Albariño and Rueda from Spain, Vinha Branca from Portugal, Grüner Veltliner from Austria, Furmint from Hungary, Falanghina and Greco di Tufo from Italy, Saint-Bris and Menetou-Salon from France. None of these were available to Baby Boomers starting their wine journeys.
In the 1970s Baby Boomers were trying to memorize the five approved red Bordeaux varieties and three white varieties in order to inform our domestic varietal purchases. When we could afford it, we cellared classic wines in the hope we could drink like British royalty at some imaginary dinner in the future.
Robert Parker and his ilk changed all that. Sure, there were the intended, and unintended consequences of hoarding celebrated wines which in turn made prices skyrocket, and vintners engineering wine not for the table, or the cellar, but for the express purpose of eliciting praise from on high. A straight line can be drawn from this shift in purpose to the resulting, immediately drinkable wines like the Oakville Cab on which I was commenting. (For the record, I enjoyed the wine's aroma and flavor, even if I couldn't find any Oakville or Cabernet Sauvignon character in the wine, if that's important anymore.)
So this is the subject of conversation among purveyors like us. With all these new generations of potential customers talking to each other on their phones, what is it they want? Is it the same things young adults always want? Acceptance? A job? A life partner? Social engagement? A few bucks left over to afford a sample or two of the good life?
Planning Upcoming Events
Most important to us, do they want us to continue offering educational wine tastings in an effort to expand their repertoire? Or are they satisfied merely getting recommendations from friends on social media?
Samantha Dugan and I were in the midst of planning our upcoming September wine tasting events with a particular focus on bringing the world of fine wine to younger consumers.
"What makes Pinot Noir great?" I mused. " How about constructing an evening seminar aimed at demonstrating that?"
"Why should anyone care about that?" Samantha asked. "Young people only need to look it up online to find out," Samantha answered.
"But wine is experiential. You can't understand Pinot Noir by reading about it. You have to smell it, feel it, taste it. And that's only those grown in the Russian River Valley. Or Oregon. Or the Sta. Rita Hills. What about Burgundy? What about Grand Cru Burgundy? What about beautifully aged Grand Cru Burgundy?
"Does anyone under 40 have any curiosity about any of this? If so, how do they experience new wines, and who should be their tour guides? We all know how to read about wine, many of us know how to evaluate wine. So how any of us gain wisdom with wine without having mentors?"
None of this matters, of course, if there is little curiosity on the subject. Perhaps curiosity about wine is diminishing with younger generations. But not entirely. We get questions all the time about subjects like natural wine, sulfites, the best rosés, champagnes, sherry and port wine, Spanish wine, Zinfandel, GSMs, Viognier and Pinot Noir. But these are mostly queries for a recommendation rather than seeking understanding of a wine's origins, culture and purpose.
Now that Inc. magazine is looking past millennials toward the spending power of the generation to follow what will the newbies want to drink? And how much will they be willing to spend? Will they be tribal in their preferences, or will they be eclectic?
And where we are concerned, do they want to experience what we have learned? We're here for them.