[ Editor’s note: following is a guest post from the 1WD intern: the young, unpaid Shelby Vittek. While Shelby may be young, she’s got better creds than a lot of would-be wine media folks out there: she’s been writing about wine for the millennial set for the better part of a year, is already working on her first book (a guide to wine for college students), and has been published in the Washington Post’s travel section. Her current writing gig is for the newly re-launched TableMatters.com. To give Shelby a break from having to catalog the small ocean of samples in my basement, we’re going to let her flex her writing muscles with guest posts centering on how young wine buyers view the wine world. We often talk about the Millennial wine buying generation here on 1WD, but this is a chance for you to get the scoop on Millennial wine habits directly from the source. You can follow Shelby on twitter at @BigBoldReds. Let us know what you think (but keep things civil, you opinionated b*stards!). Enjoy! ]
My usual cutoff price for a bottle of wine is ten dollars.
Yes, you read that correctly: $10 or less.
My problem isn’t that I don’t enjoy drinking higher-end wines, ones that are older or more intriguing – it’s just that frankly, I can’t afford them.
I’m part of the younger generation of wine-curious Millennials – the ones who have entered into the world of legal wine-buying and consumption age in the past few years. We are supposedly the generation of wine drinkers believed to be the almighty saviors of the wine industry. But finding an interesting, relatively delicious bottle of wine that doesn’t give me anxiety when I think about making rent at the end of the month is a never-ending challenge.
While I don’t anticipate these wines will blow me away the same way an older Barolo or an aged Riesling does, I want to be able to take pleasure in a glass alone after work (or rather, hours of organizing the mass amounts of wine samples in Joe’s basement). I want to share a bottle with friends without being embarrassed or horrified by the quality of my selection. (I have been deemed the know-it-all-wine-friend, after all.) And when I go home to visit my mother, I want to bring a bottle with me that impresses both her and her more sophisticated palate, without my budget-savvy ways being given away.
You may be shaking your head, or rolling your eyes at how frugal I am with my wine purchases. Maybe you think I’m crazy for expecting a ten-dollar bill to be traded for a beautifully perfumed wine that also delivers rich flavors. But I assure you, I am not insane, and I am definitely not alone. Many other younger Millennials are in the same boat as I am…
Twenty-five percent of Millennials – aged 18 to 34 – reported not having enough money to cover their basic needs in a survey conducted by WSL Strategic Retail earlier this year. Only 17 percent of adults ages 35-54 and 13 percent of people 55 and older reported the same status.
The Millennial generation is posed with a huge financial hurdle after being impacted by the recent recession, which has left us struggling to find jobs and settle the debt we owe in student loans. Many of my friends work several part-time jobs while trying to finish their degrees and eat ramen far too many nights a week than should ever be medically allowed. So where, exactly, are we supposed to find the cash to fork over for “entry level” wines priced $30 and above? What is our future in the wine industry if we can’t afford to explore beyond cheaper bottles?
In an article published this year in the Washington Post about Millennial wine-buyers, Jason Wilson (also my editor at TableMatters.com) confirms my point above: “Price point is also an issue: It has to be under $10.”See, maybe I’m not that crazy after all.
Now don’t be too quick to jump to any conclusions about our levels of knowledge or interest in wine. Just because we aren’t buying any bottles priced higher than $10 doesn’t mean we don’t know any better and it doesn’t mean we’re all drinking crap. It’s just that we can’t spend a bunch of money to discover everything the great world of wine has to offer.
Millennials aren’t just dabbling in the mass market of Yellowtail, Barefoot or Cupcake wines.We’re drinking reds from Portugal, New World Chilean whites, bubbly wines like Prosecco and Cava, Shiraz from Australia and fruity, high-alcohol Spanish Garnacha – all very enjoyable wines that can widely be found for $10 or less.
For the past year I have been on my own personal mission to find the best-valued wines in the average Millennial’s price range to actually learn something from and of course, enjoy drinking. Surprise, surprise – it ispossible!
The one piece of advice I give to every one: Go study abroad in a wine shop. Seek out lesser known regions and funky or obscure grape varieties. That’s where you will find quality bargains. By venturing to aisles of less famed regions like Toro, Spain or Southwest France or Soave in the Veneto, it’s not difficult to find quality wines that aren’t associated with a hefty price tag. It also helps to be on the look out for obscure varieties.
It’s now time to rethink what you believe about Millennials, especially if you’re a producer from a lesser-known region with an appealing bargain wine. You may be missing a golden opportunity to sell your wines to a new generation far more curious and experimental than our parents. What may be looked over by a Baby Boomer is exactly the kind of wine a Millennial seeks out.
We have absolutely no fear of trying an unknown producer or a funky-sounding grape from an unheard-of place – but how do we know you exist? A market for your wines only exists if you get your name and wines out there for Millennials (and our wallets) to fall head over heels in love with and keep us coming back to the wine shop for another fix.
To those wineries who already offer a REAL entry level wine (priced $10 or less), which you put as much care into growing and making as you do your more elaborate (read: pricier) wines: We young Millennials thank you.It is because of you that we can continue to discover and explore our love for wine and still keep our landlords happy and electricity flowing.
And to those producers whose wines we may currently pass up in the wine shop because they are too expensive, we have no beef with you. But please be patient with us. All the time and money you are investing in social-media marketing campaigns now won’t benefit your sales…just yet. Our generation still has a few more years of growing up and learning to do before we can make a profit and ultimately graduate from our $10 limit.
96 thoughts on “A Millennial’s Open Letter To The Wine Industry: I Would Love Your Wine, If I Could Afford It (Guest Post)”
I enjoyed this post and particularly the frankness of Shelby's voice. I still wonder why better quality wine that retail at higher price points don't do more with .375 liter bottles (half bottles) to get more sampling of their brands to younger consumers. It is similar to how expensive super premium ice cream brands have found growth in small "dixie cup" size servings. It allows a consumer into the brand through a smaller investment. What Shelby wrote about in her post is identical to what I hear from my daughter's in the same age range who like trying wine by the glass at restaurants so they can explore new varieties even though it cost more per ounce. Marketers need to think about trial sizes and sampling more in the wine industry. Shelby, keep writing and sharing your views!
While I only speak for myself, I find buying a 1/2 bottle of something usually doesn't feel worthwhile. If it costs $20 or above, then I can likely find something that's of similar quality from elsewhere in a 750 ml bottle for the same price. If it costs $15 or less, then I usually feel I can wait another two weeks to buy a 750 ml bottle. 375 ml bottles only hold about two-and-a-half 5 oz glasses of wine, which is great if you're alone, but isn't so great if you're having dinner with someone who drinks wine quicker than you (or vice-versa) when you both love that wine equally. As Mr Pellechia noted below, 1/2 bottles are also more expensive to market and produce per bottle. For the way I drink and share wine, it just doesn't usually make sense.
Thanks Jeffrey! Glad you enjoyed my first post. Like your daughters, I too am a big fan of trying different wines by the glass at restaurants. Although there's of course the markup in cost, I think it's a great way to discover what's worth buying by the bottle.
Great post here – I'm a little older but my shopping habits are pretty much mirrored in this article as well.
Thanks! Lately it seems like everyone is on the search for a great $10 bottle of wine….not only younger millennials
Yes, agreed. This is true at all ages from the baby poor 30-somethings to the pensioners. Under $10 is entry level (except in Canada, where $20 is the Maple Leaf version of the tenner thanks to tax markups that are above 100% in many regions).
YES!! I totally agree with you!
Regions I've tried with a good price-to-quality ratio recently include Dão and Alentejo in Portugal for dry reds; the Pelješac peninsula in Croatia, the Republic of Macedonia, and the Thracian Valley in Bulgaria also for dry reds; and Greece and Romania for Muscat-based dessert wines–so far, they've ranged in quality from great to pleasantly drinkable. They cost me between $6 and $12, but prices and taxes tend to be higher here in Ontario than across the border in New York State–I have no idea about prices in Pennsylvania compared to Ontario.
Good luck keeping the landlord happy and electricity on while still being able to drink good wine!
Thanks for suggesting new wines for me to explore! I've tasted plenty of delicious dry reds from Portugal but will look for these other ones in my price range too
Half bottles are more expensive to produce–and to retail. Doesn't that negate Shelby's point about price?
Incidentally, I fully agree with Shelby. For years I've asked members of the American wine industry how they could talk about promoting a daily bottle of wine with dinner yet ask a price for quality wine that few can afford to pay on a daily basis.
It remains that when it comes to $10 a bottle, European wines have it over most domestics.
I agree — most wines that I find for $10 or less a bottle are European. Very difficult to find any domestic wines in this price range worthy of tasting.
Great Post! as a Wine Industry veteran and father of a trio of millenials interested in food & wine, I can empathize with Shelby. (I was there once as well, as a cellar rat making 5$/hour, scrambling to pay rent ) Even now, alas, I sell a lot of wine that I cannot afford…..
The good news is that the world is awash in good juice, and much of it is affordable and interesting. Keep tasting (for free as much as possible), searching, learning, reading… it takes time!
Thanks Clay. I look forward to more tasting, searching, learning and reading. When I'm not busy organizing Joe's cellar, that is!
great post. most of the people i know are like shelby, and it's great to hear that opinion in the online blogosphere.
my only defense of higher priced wines is that she also be patient with wineries, as we try to create hand-made wines with distinction, hand-made artistan products, and a lot of wineriebare pricing them as affordable as possible. A $10 wine is a $6 wine wholesale, which means selling to a distributor for about $4 a bottle. Post recession, small wineries are also struggling to keep the lights on and pay their employees.
All that said, keep drinking your $8 juice (that's how I started), and consider splurging for a $15 or $20 bottle on a really special occasion. Thanks for the blog post, it was fantastic.
Thanks Gabe! I'm definitely no stranger to the occasional splurge. You're right — there's a time and a place for a great $15 or $20 bottle of wine. Hopefully I won't have to wait forever until I have the means to splurge more often :)
Great Post! I'm looking forward to more from you Shelby. I'm one of those small producers in an unknown region (Colorado) that has plans to market some of our wines at the $10 price point. Partly because I agree that an entry level wine is not $35 or even $20, partly because I need to seperate myself from my local competition and partly because I really want to sell more wine.
Our winery currently has two employees, my wife and myself. This fact makes for some very long days making wine and marketing our wares but also has the benefit of keeping my operating costs down. Without the higher overhead, I can make money at the the lower price point. The reward will come from additional volume of wine we sell. Let's Hope!
BTW, much of the wine we drink is our own (it doesn't get any cheaper), and the rest are many of the $20 – $35
"ENTRY WINES" and a few cults.
Thanks! Exciting to hear you're looking into marketing a wine at the $10 price point. Good luck and I hope it comes across my radar soon :)
Nice guest post here, Shelby. And very nice to see a millennial speaking to the marketers who view you as the ultimate coveted prize that they're after… in addition to those shiny medals on the neck of their bottles!
While I totally respect your point, the sad reality is IMHO, very few wines under $10 SRP are going to impress. I've dabbled in my fair share of tourgia franca and vinho verde. Some might not offend, and some might even quench thirst but very few under a Hamilton are going to have any sense of place, distinction and complexity to make it really worthwhile experience.
I've found if I can kick the price range up to $15 max, the market becomes a whole lot more interesting. That said, keep on kissing $10 frogs and let me know when you stumble across a princess that I should check out!
Thanks! It definitely can be a struggle finding interesting and distinct wines in this price range, but I'm always up for the challenge. Plenty of $10 frogs to keep kissing for now!
Well done. This post probably hits home for quite a few people, in a number of age brackets, it just happens to be that the millenial generation is one that is easily identified by the economic pocket it inhabits. The $10 bottle is a good example point, because even at that price if one were to enjoy wine with each meal, the monthly cost would still be between $250 – 300. That may be small change to the folks who brush their teeth with La Tache, but for most folks, that represents a significant chunk of car payment, rent, student-loans…
Making wine at home gives me a little buffer so that I can afford to upscale periodically, but otherwise, the adventure is in finding interesting wines between $8 – 12. They are out there, usually not domestic: Douro red blends from Portugal, Chileans of course, even have found a Hungarian Harslevalu that is go-to for $9.99.
Recommendations I make to anyone who is budget sensitive, but trying to learn about wine:
– find local tastings that are free
– fee based tastings are usually well worth the $10-20 entry ( snacks often included )
– Wine dinners out are a great resource because often the restaurant and wine distributor collaborate to deliver the goods below real cost, because they both benefit from the exposure…win for the taster. Besides if the winemaker is there, it is a rare opportunity.
Hate to say it Joe, but we may have to recommend Shelby for a paid internship already.
Thanks! We'll see about that paid internship…For now though I'll have to settle for free local tastings, and of course the occasional 1WineDude ones that come with the job :)
Great post Shelby! Thanks for sharing. I am French and grew up in a family where my dad and his brothers would compete to find the best bottle of wines under 10 francs…Now that I live in California, I have been amazed how difficult it is to find great wine under $10 from California (that are not mass produced). After working for a high-end producer that sells $250 cabernet, I jumped on the other side of the fence and started a negociant project trying to make good wines more democratic in Napa/ Sonoma Valleys. Still buying the juice and not having much cost…It is hard to get under $24 for a red wine that I would want to drink because of all the costs. I think you are on something trying new wine regions and new varietals, continue sharing with us because we can learn a lot from you.
Thanks Claire! Hoping to contribute more of my budget-savvy ideas and opinions on wine again soon
This "millennial" situation is not new. Almost all wine drinkers start this way: young and broke. The shame is that most wines under $10 are only palatable at best and swill at worst. Until your income goes up, buy less wine, but buy better wine, which will almost always cost more. Then just work hard at your career to boost the income so you can boost the quality of the wine you buy.
Even simply "palatable" wines in the $10 price range can allow a new taster to begin to distinguish between the primary flavors delivered by different varietal wines. It's also a zone in which QPR can be easier to determine, because of the budget limit. I.E. maybe next time I skip the junk $7 Yellow Tail Pinot Noir, and go for the $10 Joseph Mellot Vin de Pays Pinot Noir instead…
The industry's take on this generation is that they enjoy wine tasting trips and winery events but when it comes down to buying something, they'll end up at BevMo grabbing a bottle with a kangaroo on the label. I can't blame them. They are confronted with a host of overpriced Napa Cab Sauvs (two-hundred buck Chuck) that taste good but are pretty much indistinguishable from each other. I know how difficult it is to make a living with handmade wines with an average price of $20, but I know the kids will step up and spend $20 or $30 on something they deem special. But not $50 or $100. When all the old white guys die off, so will the market for expensive cult wines. The future belongs to the Delicatos and Yellowtails that have figured out how to engineer and mass produce a reasonable quaff from cheap fruit.
I'm 23 and unlike setting a price point in which to buy a wine, I find myself looking for good deals. Sure, I have had a few OK wines for under $10; however, I think you can maximize your money further when it comes to wine purchasing by doing a little research. Working in the wine industry has helped a bit as well ;)
Enjoyed your post Shelby!
Thanks Ashley. I'm always looking out for good deals too — especially on wines from regions I haven't tasted before. A little advance research is always helpful in a wine shop too :)
I think some of the previous comments addressed in part what it costs to make wine, but the under $10 bottle (especially domestic wines) are incredibly difficult to produce. Take for instance this EMPTY bottle: A winery pays approximately $1.00 for a decent bottle, $.28 for a decent label, $.23 for a decent cork, $.06 for a capsule, and $.25 for the cardboard box in comes in (per bottle.)
Now let's say I can convince a distributor to sell a bottle of air: There's $.46 in overland transport, $.28 (varies) in state excise tax, and $.21 federal excise tax ($.31 over 14% alc.). By some stretch, imagine the winery had just one single employee who was somehow able to personally produce and bottle 10,000 cases a year, add $1.00.
Now add 28% margin (40% markup) for the distributor, and add 33% margin (50% markup) for the retailer. That empty bottle is $7.99 on the shelf. No grapes, no farmers, no employees, no contracts, no utility bills, no equipment, no debt service, no barrels, no sales professionals, no computers, no property taxes, nothing else added…not even a penny's worth of profit was added.
It's only in volume and mass production that you can get the entry-level wine you want so much, but to expect too much for nothing can be disappointing. Are there cheaper bottles and labels? Sure (slightly)…Is there cheaper labor in Chile and Argentina, of course there is. Just remember someone had to grow it, someone had to transport it, someone had to make it, and everyone gets paid – it goes beyond the fantasy of pulling a cork and inhaling the terroir. Unfortunately, it goes waaay beyond…(go on – get your calculators out! :-)
Exactly! And small producers pay significantly more for things that are discounted with volume. (e.g. labels – for a run of 100-200 cases, it costs me about $1.00 per label).
Even in regions that can produce affordable wines that are of good value (e.g. La Mancha in Spain, certain appellations in southern France), it is *extremely* difficult to find real wines of character at $10, which is why it's said that $15 is the new $10. At that price you have plenty of old world options and even some from the US. So if you find a terrific wine at under $10 and can't pay more, buy it in quantity, for there aren't many like it.
You can also look at it like this…
If the winery takes a 50% cut on a $10/bottle wine, and assuming that it needs to make a 40% Gross Margin over Cost of Goods sold, then the winery has to produce this $10 bottle for no more than $3.
Now, assuming that packaging costs $1.00/bottle, the winery only has $2/btl left to purchase the grapes and make the wine. Even if you can push production costs to $.50/bottle, this leaves you with only $1.50 to buy the grapes.
One ton of grapes can make about 840 bottles (750 ml size) of wine, so it is not profitable to pay more than $1260 for a ton of grapes and meet this $10 price point.
For reference, the average price of Grapes in Napa last year was $3,200 per ton (or $3.80 per bottle).
In addressing the image of where millenials are taking their wine purchasing dollars today, Shelby nails the fundamental problem for premium California wine tomorrow. California’s ludicrous pricing has essentially forced an entire generation to cut their teeth on European wines, and it’s highly doubtful that they will ever transition to California wines. Consumers rarely–if ever–go from drinking European to drinking California. It’s traditionally been the other way around. When–and if–millenials’ disposable income rises to the point of spending 25, 35 or 75 on a bottle, historical consumer patterns say that they will spend it on more prestigious Eurpean wines.
Imports accounted for 18% of the US wine market in 1999. In 2010, they were 31%, and according to raw shipping figures from Gomberg-Fredrickson, should hit at around 34% for 2011. If I were a futures trader in Chicago, which way do you think I’d be betting they go over the next decade?
I must admit that my knowledge of California wine is very limited due to the price range that most fall into. They're not easily accessible to most young millennials. But I'm hoping it doesn't have to stay that way. One of Joe's first goals is to help me expand my wine horizons beyond Europe. After I tackle his extensive collection of wine samples, that is!
Great write up. You do have to look into the cost of goods AND supply/demand. The grape and bulk market makes things easier for a company to get going and keep pricing down but even then you definitely have to have some capital to get the ball moving. As the old saying goes, "How do you make a million bucks in the wine industry? Start with two million." It takes time, and I think as a result of that delay you see some high price points because producers feel the need to play catch up. Or maybe they just think they can get away with it, who knows.
I'll throw this out there to play a little devils advocate. Look at the overall scope of Napa, which has popped up a few times in this thread as having pricing out of control. It is a 30 mile long, 5 mile wide (at best) area that produces somewhere in the neighborhood of 6-8% of all the wine made in California. Now look at the scope of that production from a global standpoint. From there supply and demand takes over for land, grapes and wine. I say if people are willing to pay the premium more power to them.
IMHO this discussion is history repeating itself. Did the baby boomers at the ages of 21-35 fork out $30+ for their "entry" level wines? I'm guessing no, but I wasn't there to experience it. Millenials, hopefully, will have less debt, more secure jobs and have more discretionary income in the future (myself included).
Shelby, that is the most refreshing and encouriging post about wine I've read this year!
There is much that the industry, beyond the producers, can do to help people explore. What has stopped investment is the idea (perpetuated by marketing consultants?) that consumers don't "care" about wine, that what matters is not what's in the bottle, but packaging and spin.
By recognising that there is a ground swell of interest in what is in the bottle, perhaps people will have the confidence to try and tackle the issue of distribution and retail formats … and bring the cost of exploration down, and help the enthusiasts really engage with wine.
As a fellow millenial, I couldn't agree with you more, Shelby. When I used to have to buy wine, I would typically buy Spanish reds, Italian Pinot Grigios or Argentinian Malbecs because they were all I could afford. Now, as a wine writer, I'm fortunate enough to be able to drink much more expensive wines without having to pay for them. If only the rest of our generation were so lucky!
Thanks for the reality check on the Millennial's Shelby. This is a point I've noted for some time now in writings: The Millennials don't have the money to have a real impact on fine wine just yet. You will get there. In some respects, the housing collapse while a present headache, is also allowing your generation entry into homeownership. Most people in the past 40 years made their nest eggs in real estate and you now have a chance. Its the 35-55 year range where consumers become dominant and Millennials will get their time to shine I am sure.
This was exactly the point I was trying to get at: "The Millennials don't have the money to have a real impact on fine wine just yet. You will get there." In the meantime, I look toward more obscure European regions for better value wines, while also looking forward to a future of finer wines from all over.
Hi all. great discussion. I've attempted to reply to several comments here today but apparently the intense debate email comment response function is NOT working and I've effectively lost all of them! Sorry about that, but clearly shelby held her own :).
Good assessment of the wine world, when a second label syrah can cost $300 a case it puts things in perspective. From California, there isn't much in that category of $10 per bottle. I think Cameron Hughes gets close with some of the whites, or maybe a J. Lohr Reisling. Sticking with varieties that don't need expensive oak is a good place to start, pool your dough and share with a friend :)
Joe, I would have thought you had come up with an efficient way to organize your basement by now, or sampled your backlog. Isn't that what samples are for, even if you didn't request them?
Doug – & you’d be wrong about my organizing skills! :)
Shelby, I certainly understand the issue you write about here, but producing a $10 bottle of wine in the USA is not as simple as one may wish. The numbers in Jim Silver's comment pretty much illustrate the reality. Labor cost is a huge problem when compared with other producing countries. Just to give you another example of how difficult a $10 bottle of wine is to achieve for most wineries here in the USA… this year I made a white wine in my family winery in Portugal. I paid the equivalent to USD$480 for one ton of quality old vine white grapes (think $.80 cents per bottle). This same vintage here in the USA, I paid $1890 for one ton of locally grown Riesling (think $3.15 per bottle). It goes beyond wine… there are plenty of reasons why almost everything deemed "affordable" is NOT made in the USA.
I absolutely understand that the cost of producing wine in the US differs from what it costs in many European regions. Which is exactly why millennials look to Europe for better values in wine. I'm not asking California wineries to cut their prices just so younger consumers can afford them. I'm trying to get them to start thinking about how their wines appeal or WILL appeal to this younger generation of wine consumers. Especially because the wines we are beginning to start drinking in our formative years are different than those consumed by our parents and older generations.
I am with you in spirit. My price point is a bit higher — there should be no need to spend more than $20 for a good wine experience. Or even less. I write a monthly column for WashingtonExec, and my piece last month was on outstanding 2009 petit chateaux Bordeaux at really low price points. If you can afford $12-14, try some out, esp. from Cotes de Castillon.
Great point in bringing up petit Chateaux. Where is the equivalent wine coming out of Napa. I recently tasted two "affordable" Napa Valley cabernets of which I knew a bit about the backstory. The $25/bottle wine is a joint project between a vineyard owner and a SF sommelier. It is predominately bulk juice blended with around a third of actual crushed fruit. The $40 bottle is even more of a sham. It's official storyline is that it comes from "secret vineyard sources" that can't be named because the vineyard owners don't want their name attached to such an "inexpensive" bottle. The reality is that it is a group of friend winemakers throwing all of their press wine into a tank and fleshing it out with bulk juice and some highly manipulative oak techniques. The wine is thrown into a very heavy bottle with a stylish label and is expected to justify its $40 bottle a price tag because……well, just because.
That same $25 will open me up to a world of wonderful world of chateau bottled Bordeaux. In Italy, it will buy some barbera or dolcetto from some of Piedmont's most famous producers. That $40 will buy domaine bottled Burgundy (albeit village level) from top communes such as Mersault or Gevrey-Chambertin, top flight crianzas from Ribera del Duero from Spain and get me close to buying some lesser priced Barolo or Barbaresco from Italy.
Somebody tell me again how these millenials who have cut their teeth on European wine and have developed more nuanced European palates are ever going to come back to California wine when they have the money to spend on it.
Tug – As several here have pointed out, it's not always possible to make inexpensive wine in the U.S. :). Having said that, I think there's a lot of merit to the concern of palates being set on Old World styles and then finding New World to be too fruity, or too whatever, and spawning a generation who more-or-less starts to shun those styles. Not saying CA wine producers should change, but that they need to be thinking (soon! now!) about courting this generation. Cheers!
Next year, give Fred Franzia a call…
Thanks for bringing him up… I encourage people to read Bronco Wine Co.'s wiki page. It only takes 5 minutes and you get an idea as to how one can make a "cheap" bottle of wine in America.
I had a long comment all ready to go, but then decided not to post it. I figure "open letters" like these come up every year, touting a Millennial's viewpoint. As others have so ably pointed out, there is a lot that goes into a bottle of wine, and taking account of those costs should explain why so much $10 wine sucks. Hopefully it encourages Millennials (my generation) to spend a bit more. Maybe cut back on some other thing in order to afford that extra $5-7 a bottle?
Beau – there’s an argument to be made there I think. by way of comparison, I have an ancient cell phone with a tiny data plan. How many millenials have an iphone with a couple of gb data plans that cost a few hundred bucks a year? A lot of them :).
Great article! As a Millennial I definitely understand your point. My price point is 20 Swiss francs for a wine I wouldn't flinch about buying personally. I appreciate the wonderful wines that I get to taste through work, but at the same time I'm not going to buy them…yet. The Millennial market is a very important niche on which I think more wine companies should concentrate. They would gain loyal followers for years to come. Bravo!
Growing up is a process, and a lengthy one. 20-somethings aren't *supposed* to have disposable income for fine wines (though maybe skipping a club night or three, or unsubscribing from ten paid sites/services/etc could free up some extra cash). Hearing a 20-something complain they don't have enough money for fine wines is like hearing them complain that they can't afford maid service, or yearly trips to Cancun, or that they didn't start at $80 in their social media job straight out of college. I remember scraping for cash inside our tiny little used car for coins to treat ourselves to the 69-cent taco menu at Taco Bell. Now we can collect fine wines. Suffering for your art is a good thing. Take advantage of free tastings at local wine bars, enter winery sponsored contests, and make friends with older wine fanatics who have earned their moment in the sun.
More importantly, if you truly enjoy wine on its own merits, you will begin to find plenty of $10 to $20 bottles that are quite well presented, usually from under-appreciated regions (Greece, Chile, now Portugal and Hungary). Maybe cut consumption in half, so instead of a $10 bottle every week you can get a $20 bottle every two.
Except for the highest-priced trophy wines, I'm not really buying into the idea that things have changed all that much. Forty years back, my just-legal price point was around $3 — so I cut my wine teeth on Mateus Rose and Gallo Hearty Burgundy, with the occasional Liebraumilch or wicker-covered Chianti thrown in. Decent Bordeaux at $10 was every bit as out-of-reach to me as that $35 "entry level" bottle is to today's Millenial.
Actually, I'd go so far as to suggest it's the other way round. Thanks to the growth and competitiveness in the marketplace, today's Millenial has way more drinkable wine, from more grapes and further-flung places, to select from at $10 than we ever did at equivalent price points back when!
Joel – “Thanks to the growth and competitiveness in the marketplace, today's Millenial has way more drinkable wine, from more grapes and further-flung places, to select from at $10 than we ever did at equivalent price points back when!” I think that's true for everyone, there's never been a better time to get a good, clean bottle of wine for a relatively low cost.
Why not consider crafting your own wines, or have them crafted at a professional U-Vint store? These days, kit wines from a reputable company (example RJS Craftwinemaking, a Constellatioh Brands Company) can cost a fraction of retail commercial wines and produce some incredible international award winning wines for far less than the $10 a bottle average.
I like a good bargain as much as the next girl, but with respect to Shelby, I'd encourage her to look at what goes into that $10 bottle of wine. Having seen such wine made–or should I say "processed"–I don't think she'd be too pleased.
What I find among Millennials (and perhaps all of us) are strangely conflict priorities between authenticity–a love of all things local and handcrafted–and plain old consumerism. They/we want to feel close to artisan goods…. but also sometimes just want to indulge. So that $10 bottle becomes awfully tempting, even if it was filtered with the same plastic used to make Barbie dolls, and if lizards were crushed alongside the grapes (true stories, folks).
I understand budget–I really, really do. But even I cannot compare a $10 bottle of wine and a $40 bottle of wine. And I would not ask my favorite vintners to price under $10, because I know that would be asking them to seriously compromise the integrity of their winemaking process.
I wanna hear more about those lizards!
@wineshout – I believe the term is MOG (Material Other than Grapes) :-). Includes snakes, frogs, snails…
Completely agree with you Amy!!
I've had the chance to spend personal one on one time with winemakers in the $40+ range. Even participated in some harvest work with them. Having seen all the hard work and enormous time and resources spent on their truly hands-on crafted wine. For sure there is a certain price level that is justified solely for profit reasons, however $10 wine is that price for a reason.
Amy, the irony of your argument is that one can often find more authenticity and artisinal production in a $10 (and certainly a $20) wine from Europe than in a $40 wine from Napa or Sonoma. Take for example the $40 wine from Napa that I noted above. Contrast it with two wines that I am literally looking at while awaiting my appointment in Boston. The first is a 2009 Montagne St. Emilion: Chateau bottled, less than 5000 case total production. $17. The second is a domaine bottled Muscadet from estate grown 90 year old vines with a 1000 case production. $13. That's an average retail of $15 for two wines possessing both a sense of place and a sense of authenticity. These wines are also having to come through a four tier system (producer>importer>distributor>retailer), and you can probably add a fifth tier of (export negociant) in the case of the Bordeaux.
And for what it's worth, I had plenty of lizards spit out of the crusher at me 15 years ago when working for a boutique Napa Valley producer of $40 wines.
@1winedude: I did not realize there was a technical term for crush critters. My vocabulary is officially enhanced.
@Tug: I cannot vouch for overpriced schlock. You're dead right that there's plenty of it, and it brings a bad name to those wineries that price more fairly. In full disclosure, I work at a Sonoma winery where we consistently base our prices on the grape costs. No overpricing of wine here–if there was, I'd be a rich girl!
(Oh, and no lizards either–that's a story passed from a coworker who worked harvest in Australia.)
Truly, no offense to your Muscadet, as it sounds like you scored some great finds, but "chateau bottled" and "estate grown" are semantic terms with legal loopholes bigger than the sky. The wine industry is full of smoke and mirrors. There's such a thing as healthy skepticism…
My bottom line? You can't get something for nothing. So generally, beware the budget bottles.
Shelby – when I was a 20-something, I also could not cover my living expenses for the same reasons you cite and I'm now 52 and still can't afford some of the wines I'd love to drink. Be grateful you don't live in a cardboard box without electricity and running water like my ex-husband's late grandmother did during the depression. It's hard to feel sorry for us all because we can't drink $150 bottles of wine everyday when we have basic necessities that the impoverished here and in other countries don't have. P.S. back then, I drank Sutter Home White Zinfandel when I could afford it.
Well, Miss Millennial, I am glad you are trying to find good values in real wine. As for the sorry _ss state of the economy, don't expect it to get better. Our living standards are going down, and unless you are in science, preferably tech/chem/physics, your job chances are busboy, waiter, and maybe assistant wine person. And the millennials apparently like it like that, because they helped to re-elect an economic Leveler. Level everybody, by moving the higher stratas down, down some more, and everyone down. The levelers in England were the same, in the 1600s (look it up, Cromwell and the Levelers), before the American upstarts came up with the idea that you could move up by granting liberty to all. I know, off topic. But, our Founding Fathers all made their own. Washington made pumpkin ale, Jefferson failed miserably to get vinifera to grow in the humid Virginia lowlands, Franklin, well, he probably was the pre-cursor to the UC Davis sensory analysis classes. But don't expect any economic growth under the Ibama. We are heading to Greece, not to the Liberty Bell. Envy makes for poor economics, and destroys motivation.
Oh, here are some actual wineries, not just brands, to try: Cline, Peachy Canyon, EOS, and of course, Columbia Crest Grand Estate. And don't even wander near Pinot noir. The king and queen of finicky, I don't recommend much P noir under $15. OK, you can try Castle Rock P noirs, but I don't know the east coast pricing. And bravo for drinking Spain, Italy, southern France, Chile, and Argentina. Many good $10 wines. Costco had a 2001 Gran Reserva called Anciana from Valdepenas, for under $10.
But Norcal Calif. wineries (Sonoma & Napa grown grapes) cannot pay their bills by selling $10 wine. Higher minimum wage and mandated benefits here are in the equation driving costs higher, along with expensive, often conflicting, land use and water use regulations. Not to mention that many existing wineries are opposed to newcomers building new buildings and planting new sites in Napa and Sonoma. Another version of denying liberty to someone else, on flimsy grounds, mostly greed and jealousy. And if a $40 wine does not sell well, it is not uncommon, to RAISE the price, not lower it. Welcome to my ego, I think, is on many wine labels.
In the immortal words of Sgt. Hulka, "lighten up, Francis." This is an interesting discussion about wine, and I doubt anyone is coming here to have political screeds shoved down their throat. Quite honestly, 90% of America is fatigued from it, and there are plenty of corners around the interweb tubes better suited for it.
BTW, I'd say the same thing to anyone forcibly interjecting a political screed about Boehner and Wall Street into an interesting and civilized wine discussion
I completely agree with you about being on a budget. However, I think it would be great for you to go see how a small production winery functions vs. a mass production winery (aka $10 wine). Either way, whatever anyone chooses to drink is totally fine and it's awesome to find a bargain.
However, I don't think statements, such as the one below, are fair to the winemakers who spend hours upon hours crafting their small production wine. Those who look like crap at the end of harvest, because they haven't had a day off in weeks and have been sleeping 5 hours a day.
"To those wineries who already offer a REAL entry level wine (priced $10 or less), which you put as much care into growing and making as you do your more elaborate (read: pricier) wines…"
"To those wineries who already offer a REAL entry level wine (priced $10 or less), which you put as much care into growing and making as you do your more elaborate (read: pricier) wines…"
I also take issue with this statement. Wineries can say they put just as much effort into these entry level wines because they are basically by-product of their higher-end wines. What some put down a drain, or cut off in the vineyard, they put in a bottle. That is fine, but no one works as hard to make a $10 bottle as they do a $50 bottle on purpose.
Most of the main points I would make have been made, so I won't go in too deep. It's funny that millennials (which I am one), will be so deeply passionate about organic foods and fair trade $4 coffee, but they have no problem with wines that are made by crews paid minimum wage with little or no benefits, not to mention the environmental impact of those wines.
Shelby, I would highly recommend a winery internship at a small family run winery (for many positive reasons). Meet their families, play with their kids. It's a lot harder to see these winemakers who are making $30 – $70 bottles of wine as anything but parents providing for their families.
Joe, you have to know this last point pretty well by now?
Lastly, I recall this comment from Twitter the other day. @TychoBrahe "Son, I know that not being able to have any gum right now is evidence of brutal tyranny. Briefly, though, lets discuss "child soldiers."
Seems appropriate for this discussion.
Wine at any level, by it's very nature, is a luxury. Kudos to Amy T., Kathy, Joel Goldberg, Robert HP, UC Beau, Ben, Jon Troutman, and others. Good comments all.
Wayne – I do understand and respect that point (as I am sure most frequent readers here would). We might be reading a bit too much into that statement by Shelby, though. There are, for sure, very real and very palpable differences in wines (quality, expression, intent) even at that $10 level. Not everyone here might agree with me on that, but I honestly believe it. There are some producers who put more care into them than others; I know because (without naming names just yet) I have seen both styles with my own eyes (and taste buds). That, to me, is what Shelby was getting at in that statement. Are those wines profound? No way. But some are more authentic expressions of grape and place than others; some are more mass market, “assembled” wines than others. As for the fact that we are dealing with 1st world problems in this discussion, I give you no argument whatsoever there! :)
"Wine at any level, by it's very nature, is a luxury." I think that is an interesting statement, and it sounds really good, but it isn't true. For centuries, wine — at least in Europe — has been an everyday beverage enjoyed at all levels of society, at all price points.
Perhaps this notion, that wine always equals luxury, is exactly where certain wine regions in North America have lost touch with reality. Out here on the East Coast, for instance, an entire generation is passing on California wines because they don't offer value. As Tug Speedwell aptly says above, "California's ludicrous pricing has essentially forced an entire generation to cut their teeth on European wines, and it's highly doubtful that they will ever transition to California wines."
I don't believe Shelby is whining about not being able to afford life's luxuries. I think she's just looking for wine that offers value. She's offering a perspective on why young Americans are finding better value from more obscure regions of the world.
This argument I see in the comments of "go meet a small wine producer" is really neither here nor there. I visit winemakers all over the world and while I am empathetic to their plight, I'm not going to buy a $40 wine simply because I'm moved by their story. There are plenty of winemakers in Italy, Spain, Australia, Greece, Macedonia and elsewhere who are struggling to feed their families and also make wine that offers value.
I've got to second Jason's point here. Fine wine *is* a luxury. Everyday wine is just that – an everyday item.
In the sense that I use the term "luxury", it is in the definition as an added bonus of living, not a requirement. I don't think of the wine I consume regularly as a huge luxury, but there are a lot of people in this world that would. In that sense, it is a luxury good.
OK, what am I going to open tonight?
Wayne – that makes sense to me. Hell, running potable water fits into that category in a lot of ways (not kidding).
Yeah you get the idea. Heck, I sell it for a living so certainly I am not down on wine.
What a thought provoking post. Typically I cringe at any type of self-segregation, whether it is gender bases, racially based or generationally based, but in this case I can see your point: sort of.
Since you are a self-professed wine know it all, surely you understand why finer wines are priced accordingly. Making finer quality wine is time/ labor intensive and as those costs incur the final price for the wine increases. In most wine cultures, drinking “the good stuff” is reserved for relevant occasions. Europeans and South Americans typically drink inexpensive, every day, Vin de Table or Vin de Pays or their national equivalents.
Luxury wines are luxury goods. Historically and currently, the youth of the world can rarely, if ever partake in purchasing their own luxury goods. These are things that are earned as we mature, professionally, personally, and financially. It is intriguing to older generations that the Millennial generation seems to think that they have already earned this level of maturity, when in reality, few of you have. Have patience, I am sure your time will come. You are on track with looking outside the mainstream for more obscure regions and varietals. Be thankful you have those opportunities and a global market to peruse. Your parents did not have that luxury. The world of wine is at your fingertips. Don’t worry that you aren’t able to afford the expensive wines you covet. Keep writing and exploiting your voice and your talent and I am sure you will soon be able to afford to drink a broader selection of wines, and well before your peers!
As for locating unique and affordable wines-just because winemakers fail to market directly toward your generation, doesn’t mean the information isn’t readily available. You seem to conduct valuable research on your own. Wine Enthusiast magazine has a monthly “Ten under $10” list and Food & Wine magazine offers monthly articles on affordable wine along with simple food pairing recommendations.
With warmest regards,
Simone FM Spinner, CWS, CWE,
Professor of Wine Studies, MSU
Thanks Simone. Really well-stated!
Hey Simone —
I definitely understand that making finer quality wine is different than a better value/bargain. As I said in my post, I don't expect these wines to blow me away the same way an older Barolo or an aged Riesling does (both of which I have been very fortunate to taste!). For the time I am happy to drink what is available at my fingertips and feel lucky to have the chance to do so. Funny you mention Wine Enthusiast's "Ten under $10" list — I check it out every month for ideas of new wines to try :)
I applauded Shelby's post because she agrees that she would probably need to pay more to experience more (cf. the last 2 paragraphs). And that neither aged Rieslings nor Nebbiolos should cost $10. In essence she is asking whether the US (or I suppose California in particular) can produce wines of character @ $10-15? There is no divine reason why Napa grapes should cost $3,000-$20,000 ton. Or that land should cost $2million a hectare. Labour is a factor, but it is hardly cheap in Europe! Perhaps those numbers exists because people are willing to pay for the "illusion of luxe" that is brand "Napa", and $30 for a mediocre bottle of wine. In time the cost of land/grapes rises accordingly, and the benefits of this premium accrue to owners of land that started a few generations ago. Any new wineries and/or investment in land will have to bear the burden of this history. And many do struggle to make ends meet. This is a circular problem. We may find that intelligent and well traveled consumers like Shelby, when they continue their journey, will pay for better treatment of labour and sustainability, but not for spin/marketing/ego?
Great thoughts Tai-Ran. I wanted to get consumers as well as producers thinking about the price differences in quality wines from all over the world — Where can you find wines of character for great value? From my experience, I see that these are the regions where millennials are beginning their journeys with wine. Time will show where the journey continues
Wow I just learned I squeaked in as a Millennial at the ripe age of 34! And all I can say is Amen! Well said and well written. Cheers!
@reneewineabit – Lucky you. ;-)
In watching the progression of the great discussion here, I think the CA contingent might be overlooking something important:
Shelby didn't really introduce CA wine into this discussion directly. Somehow part of this has turned into a bit of EU vs CA, which I think might be missing the point. The point to me isn't whether or not CA ought to be emulating low cost EU wines – it shouldn't. But CA producers should probably be thinking about how they'll eventually court this millennial market that will cut its wine-loving teeth on totally different styles of wines. Because eventually, today's younger millennials will have more money to spend on wine, and when they do they might at that point need compelling reasons to take chances on what will to them seem like very different styles of wine from what they "grew up" with.
Very thoughtful comments by Tai-Ran. The "illusion of luxe" I fear will be Napa's eventual downfall. I recently consulted for a group of small, ultra-premium wineries from Napa that were seeking an answer as to why their sales had dried up in a few major metropolitan markets (essentially Chicago, NYC, Boston and DC). As time went on, I realized that no amount of consumption data, market trends, lists of restaurants opening up with all-Euro wine lists in these cities, surveys of prominent merchants and sommeliers could penetrate the stubborn illusion that nothing had changed on the demand side and that it was all the fault of the evil distributors. There was almost a surreal "Emperor Has No Clothes" aspect to the entire thing. I even had one of these producers (everyone would probably know the name of both the winery and the owner were I to mention it) demand that his distributors put a 50% premium on sales to retail, and he only grudgingly accepted ANY retail sales at all. This winery–with over a decade of consistent Parker scores in the mid to high 90s–was dumped by his Chicago and Boston wholesalers.
As best I can tell, ultra-premium Napa producers plan on doing nothing about this and pinning their hopes that the Chinese market will save them; although, there is a lot of evidence that the Chinese–to whom wine is primarily a means of conveying status and class symbolism–are finding blue chip European regions as far more suitable for this role. Should China not come through, and Napa refuse to rebrand and reprice itself, I can see them having to face some rather severe shocks to the demand curve over the next decade. Whether they will allow supply and demand to come back into equilibrium through price adjustments or be content to sit on ever growing piles of back vintages remains to be seen.
As Tai-Ran astutely observed, there is no God given destiny that Napa Valley grapes need to sell for 5K+ a ton. Soon, there may very well be no economic rationale for it either.
Just a few things to add here. This isn't really just about wine as much as the larger forces at work.
1. I see various sad things in Shelby's (well written) post here–not about her, but about the forces at work in topic she brings. I know everyone hates politics especially now, but I can't help but observe that this generation has been raised with a sense of entitlement to go with their discriminating tastes and without a sense of how the economy works. Would that half the energy of this generation that goes into finding coolest route to luxury goods (e.g. wines of distinction) went into looking into why 25% of them are living with their parents, have negative net worth, drown in debt, have a multi-generational low job market, and far too often resort to underemployment. It all seems very sad that such little attention is paid to "the man behind the curtain." I think it's time they wise up and realize this joke is, ahem, on them.
2. I found a book on this topic that I love and recommend to people in the industry especially: A Toast to Bargain Wines: How Innovators, Iconoclasts, and Winemaking Revolutionaries Are Changing the Way the World Drinks (2011) by George Taber .
A couple big takeaways you can get from this book are: a) the Sub $10 buyers have NEVER had it this good for quality (Shelby, you'll love it if you haven't read it yet) and b) the desire for a bargain is not a uniquely Millennial pursuit but a HUMAN one that spans all ages.
3. This "Millennial Madness" that this industry is suffering from needs to be stamped out because, I think it's largely based on falsehoods, fear, and misunderstanding. Consider a chart I'll give, pulled from the Census data for generation sizes by SINGLE YEAR. https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0ApJE…
A couple things emerge: a) the sky's not falling in the core market. The largest groups of baby boomers have 13 or so more years before retirement. b) the actual sizes of the generational waves are much smaller than they are commonly perpetrated to be in articles that group people into age blocks "generationally."
In conclusion, if we really want to court the Millennial consumer, howsabout we create quality jobs for them so they can build wealth? The bad news is we're failing miserably at that. The good news is there's still time on the clock and we're not in the Euro-miasma yet where youth un- and underemployment is vastly worse than ours here in the US.
Thought-provoking stuff, Nick! I agree with you on Taber's book – well-stated there. Regarding he sense of entitlement, we need to understand that people are going to vote with their wallets regardless of what they do/don't know about the workings and economics of making wine in one region v.s another. We could easily turn that argument around and say that Millennials will have certain buying habits, it will take much larger forces at work before that changes, so what should the wine biz in America do about it? What actions should/will they take to eventually win over those consumers? As for the core market – no arguments there; but we also cannot overlook the fact that the change *will* happen (which I think too many wine producers are doing right now). This industry needs to plan for the exit of Boomers and the entrance of Millennials, the gradual shift that is inevitable. It's clear there will be no enormous overnight sea-change, but it's also clear I think that the youngest generation of wine lovers is approaching wine differently than what the current core of the market is used to.
I've had the pleasure of drinking some better wines (thanks to friends who've excelled at the whole "earning a living" thing), but I've also had the pleasure of drinking some very fine and very inexpensive wines too! Finding a bargain bottle that pleases my taste buds is a great joy of my life, like discovering a new band, finding a backstreet bistro or winning an eBay item with my opening bid! Frankly, I enjoy the surprise and satisfaction of finding an undiscovered winemaker or a forgotten vintage much more than drinking an expensive bottle that MUST excel or be written off as a waste of time and money! Of course, the path I've chosen means I run into my share of near hits, near misses and outright insults to the palate! Still, I believe the wines are out there and I'm determined to find them! If you'd like to share my occasional discoveries, please follow me on Twitter @cheapvino. Every wine I post is less than $11 and rated better than 90 points!
Peter – you had me up until the points! :-)
Is it my using a "standard" sort of 100 point scale or just rating in general? I'll admit, I'm still a sucker for empiricism.
Peter – I'm just not a fan of trying to stick a number on a wine.
I can understand that and if there were fewer wines out there or if I had more money to spend on wine I might not be inclined to use a numerical rating either but sometimes I feel as though I need a measure of relative pleasure. Plus, being entirely untrained in the finer points of wine, I need a way to compensate for my lack of (taste) memory. I actually don't know how you guys do it – comparing vintages, blends, vineyards and vintners over time! It is remarkable to me! I'd say I aspire to it but I fear I may not have the equipment necessary.
I suppose when we come right down to it, I'm just giving myself a scale not unlike your A+, A, B+, B, etc. If I dropped the 9 from 91 I could establish a personal 1 thru 4 scale. I've never scored a wine less than 90 or above 94. If it doesn't please me, I pretty much finish the bottle and say no more of it.
Well, back to tasting and learning. Maybe someday we'll agree on a mmmm to mmmmmmmm scale. ; )
Peter – I like the mmmm to mmmmmmmm idea :)
Not to beat this to death but you made me think about how sheep-like I was to automatically think in terms of 1 – 100 rating system (like a wine has ever gotten a 1). I guess any kind of rating system tries to add a measure of subjective enthusiasm – a measure of how big a smile I have after the third sip. : ))) Okay, that looks too much like a beard.
Peter, if the system works for you then great. So long as it doesn’t prevent you from experiencing wine. I mean, I drink a crap-ton of B-rated wines, because they’re wines that I just *like*, and in my view that ought to trump any rating. Cheers!
Crap-ton of b-wines. Noted. ; )
Cheap wines are simply fast food wines with loads of chemicals. Not really wine at all. It is very expensive to make a great wine… a real wine, a wine that is unfiltered and with enough years in neutral barrels to enhance structure and flavor. What you taste in cheap wines is really the fungicides and the other loads of chemicals and flavor enhancers (and color) required to get the junk out to market fast.
Intellectual – I think that’s true for a lot of inexpensive wine that is made, but it’s not true for *all* of it (which is part of the point that Shelby is making here).
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