If you read Lettie Teague’s recent WSJ column entry, titled How Millennials Are Changing Wine, you will find some interesting data suggesting that Millennials are not, in fact, changing wine nearly as much as many of us think that they are.
First, you’ll have to wade through polemics such as the opening quote from New York sommelier Jason Jacobeit, who decries his generation’s focus on feeling connected to a brand when it comes to purchasing wine: “A lot of mediocre wine is being sold on the basis of a story.”
I’ve got news for you, Jason: “a lot” is too subjective a term (a lot of money to me, for example, isn’t a lot of money to Bill Gates), and “mediocre” even more so, but based on what we know from real wine sales numbers, a lot of wine that we might generously call “so-so” or “mind-numbingly-boring” is sold to every generation of wine drinkers, in volumes that far eclipse what we might collectively think of as higher quality – or at least more interesting – vino.
Back to Teague’s WSJ piece: I’d also advise you to skip the latter section of the article, in which Lettie recounts a tasting with a “mini-focus group” of millennial wine drinkers. Given that this group consisted of “two men and two women ranging in age from 25 to 32,” it’s laughably dangerous from a statistical standpoint to draw any conclusions whatsoever on millennial wine drinking habits from the results of their conversation.
The real meat of the WSJ article lies in the sneak peek that it gives to an August Wine Opinions study of 2,634 wine drinkers, spanning in age groups from Millennial to Gen X to Baby Boomer. Through that study’s results, we get some fascinating insights into how U.S. wine drinkers actually approach buying their wine…
Here’s the ripe-from-the-vine, bursting-with-sugary-flavor, juiciest tidbit (emphasis is mine):
“…only 17% of millennials care what a wine columnist like me says. In fact, just 22% subscribe to a print wine magazine or newsletter—that’s about half the percentage of Gen Xers (41%). All three generations, however, surf the Web for wine information. Interestingly, baby boomers and Gen Xers went online even more than millennials, with 65% of Gen Xers looking on the Web, versus 61% of boomers and 50% of millennials.”
My first reaction to this was something along the lines of HOLY. F*CK!
Consider the take-aways:
- While less than a quarter of wine-loving Millennials give a rat’s tush about wine columns, newsletters, or glossies, half of them go to the web for their vino info.
- More than half of Gen X and Baby Boomer wine drinkers hit the web for wine info. While not to be ignored, Gen X is often thought to be a bit less important than the presumably larger generations that book-end it; the 61% of Boomers and 50% of Millennials are very large numbers in wine-buying terms.
Another interesting tidbit that Teague quotes from the upcoming Wine Opinions data that should have many of us wine-types putting down their glasses and putting on their thinking caps (again, emphasis is mine):
“…when asked if they would buy a bottle they’d never tried or a new wine by the glass, 86% of millennials said that they would; 72% of baby boomers said they would, too.”
In general, experience has shown me that the wine biz has been operating under the premise that Millennials will try almost anything, while Boomers are more the cash-cow-buy-the-same-thing-by-the-case-over-and-over-and-over-again type. But either that view is wrong, or it was once true but is now becoming wrong.
If Boomers are potentially changing their tried-and-true wine buying habits and converging on the gimmie-something-new-dammit style that has been attributed to Millennials, then we need to seriously consider that it’s not “millennial” to be willing to try something new and unfamiliar when it comes to wine.
The (over?) confidence of Millennials in their buying habits perhaps comes not from a generational bent, but from the convenience of having instant access to almost the entire summary of human knowledge via any cell phone with a data access Internet plan. Which is the exact same service that’s available to Gen X and Baby Boomer wine drinkers.
Are Millennials changing the wine world? Maybe, but I think it’s less a case of who they are and more a case of their willingness to be the first to adopt a new way of looking at the world: skeptical and cocky, because it’s so easy to call any seller, brand, or personality out on their bullshit, and/or to gain detailed information on even the most obscure wine purchase options, so long as they have a functioning cell signal.
It’s a way of approaching buying anything that is being adopted in droves by those of us who are older than Millennials and are happy to line up behind their lead (thanks, guys!). Bottom line: Millennials may have just been the first to utilize the available tools to drive wine purchasing trends that are actually much more universal, and more popular than the wine biz has yet realized (dear up-and-coming wine regions: you ought to be sending them Thank You cards… just sayin’…).
Free your information, and your ass – wallet and all – will follow!
26 thoughts on “Millennials Aren’t Changing Wine – Access To Information Is”
I have been making and selling wine commercially for 40 years (time fly’s when your havin fun) and I think you have hit the nail on the head here. Wine drinkers (consumers in general) are more interested in what goes in their mouth these days. Although it goes in waives and even the most conscious throw caution to the wind and eat a hot dog once in a while. At this point I don’t think it’s a generational difference, I think it is an overall consciousness. We all want more honesty in our products. Not an easy thing to sort our in this day and age but technology is helping. We just have to remember that every form of information can be manipulated. Bottom line…… In Vino Veritas.
Explore and drink what you like!!
Thanks, Jim. Cheers!
Wonderful takeaways. This article has been bugging me since it came out. I do still notice the old generational trends in my clients, friends and family, but I think (
Thanks, Alison – I’m sure there are legitimate generational shopping and consumption differences. Easy access to information just ain’t one of them. :)
My comment seems to have gotten cut off, but I contend that a lot of this is regional. The south- where many of my friends and family are still located- is significantly slower to adopt change than many places. However most of my clients are here in DC, and I’m still seeing these generational trends, though folks seem to be a bit more quick to learn, change, and adapt their wine purchasing and drinking habits. To be fair, my friends and family have learned that calling or texting me with wine questions or menus is easier and more accurate than installing an app or doing actual research, so perhaps my own (slightly larger) focus group is skewed!
Tanks, Allison, sorry about the comments problems!
I think we’re talking about general trends here, so it wouldn’t surprise me if there are significant differences in subsets (statistically, we’d expect to see larger swings in smaller data sets).
Hey, dude, wassup? Thought provoking piece. I hardly look to her for advice, but I have to agree that Ms. Teague has scooped some observations that really are self-evident to people on the front lines – i.e. people who are in wine sales (wineries, distributors, retailers, sommeliers, etc.). That is to say: Millennials are people, just like Xers and Boomers. They all tend to be suckers for the same type of branding campaigns, but obviously different ones designed for different times. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss, etc.
And it’s true: Boomers ain’t stupid. We have iPhones and know how to look up things on the internet, too (imagine that). The only thing we still have trouble with is hooking up new fangled hardware, but that’s what interns and grandkids are for.
But I do have to say that I agree with Jason Jacobite as well, that a lot of lousy wine is sold on the basis of a “good story.” Just because you have one doesn’t mean you know a bunghole from a bottle. Ultimately, a newish consumer learns how to develop good taste the same way all generations learn – by letting curiosity be their guide, trying this and that, and being open to newness.
Still, I think Xers and Boomers have this to be thankful for Millennials: the latter group has, indeed, opened up the market for wines sold on the basis of leaner, dryer, earthier sensory qualities, and they have been steadily pushing prior generations towards that taste in the process. Oh, many of the fuddy-duddies are still liking their White Zinfandel, cougar-juice Chard and overpriced, overweening Cab. But at least there’s discussion of other wine types, which makes it a very good thing.
The best wines, after all, are truly expressive of places, not predictable types or expectant “varietals,” and at least Millennials have been setting a course in that direction by making a definite impact on the way wines are being grown and made – thus opening the door for wines with a sense of place rather than pigeon holed identities.
Thanks, Randy. How’s life? Trust me, you don’t want to know what’s up with me :).
Great points about the trend of info. generally being positive for lesser-known wines, and wines that are more craft and less commodity. The point about lousy wine, for me, is that a lot of “lousy” wine is sold, period. It’s not just via story; it’s also via big marketing. That wine has its place, and while it’s usually boring, it’s not often of actual poor quality (being free of faults, etc.).
Spot on, Joe. The surprise of this article had nothing to do with demographics. Pick four boomers at random and you would get the same responses about the wines she selected for them. The world of wine is changing…but not because of millennials—it’s changing with millennials.
Thanks, Paul (sorry, your comment got caught as SPAM, presumably because your reputation preceded you into the SPAM filter… ;). I would say that certainly Millennials are part of the changes, just as any generation is. We should *expect* each generation to rebel in some ways against the tastes of their parents; so I’d expect fresher, more EU-styled wines to gain popularity in that demographic, for example. Having said that, I agree that the ease of access to information is potentially a bigger sea-change for the wine biz in the U.S. than any generational/demographic differences. Cheers!
Insightful key takeaways from Lettie’s article. Another interesting trend is the coming together of Millennials and Boomers. These two segments spend a decent amount of time together and there’s been an uptick in advertising showing these two generations sharing more common ground than past parent/child generations. The recent Kia Optima “A Son’s Plan” commercial hit home with me. It will be interesting to see how the Millennials will influence Boomers when it comes to venturing out and trying new wines. I know I’ll be bringing some new wines for my parents to try this Thanksgiving…I’m a mature Millennial (I like to add that qualifier since it’s such a large age range for the segment) who works for Jackson Family Wines. Thanks for the thought provoking post.
Trend-spotting has become modern sport, passing for journalism at times. I can’t wait until the WSJ starts pegging economic trends based on “mini focus groups.”
Short summary: Access to Information is Changing Everything! – Nice piece.
Thanks. See, this is why I need an editor… ;)
Oh, a couple of important points:
1) I’m not picking on Lettie here, I’m just riffing on the takeaways that I thought were the most important; I’m very glad that she was able to provide an early peek at the WO data.
2) I’m also not saying that Millennials aren’t important drivers for change; I feel exactly the opposite, actually. And I am indebted to them in a lot of ways for being fans of this blog, and for opening up my worldview (I am a LOT like them in terms of wine consumption, trying everything, and always felt strange about it until I found my “tribe” among their ranks with respect to how I consume wine, and they helped me feel a sense of belonging in that).
3) I am saying that I think information access has the potential to change the wine biz in terms of consumption patterns more than generational differences do. This is partly a result of the wine industry globally being a few years behind the information curve, as I have pointed out here approximately 80 billion times, or thereabouts.
I thought the most fascinating part of this blog-post was the fact that Baby Boomers are turning to the internet much more often than their Millennial counterparts. After listening to Boomers complain about Millennials being addicted to the internet, I’m starting to believe that the opposite my be closer to the truth.
Gabe – yeah, absolutely agree
If you are a Baby Boomer or Gen X-er thinking of dropping some serious coin on a case of wine (and not just a single sample bottle), then the odds are you will seek out as much reputation and review and ratings information as you can.
That includes hitting the Web . . . ’cause not everyone subscribes to The Wine Advocate and Vinous/International Wine Cellar and Wine Spectator and Wine & Spirits and Wine Enthusiast and Connoisseurs’ Guide to California Wine and California Grapevine and Burghound and Decanter.
Comparing and contrasting reviews — seeking a consensus on wines– reduces cognitive dissonance and later “buyer’s remorse.”
An interesting postscript to this:
Some similar data is available via Wine Business Institute, worth checking out for sure.
I had a few issues with the article (and some of the comments on this page), and most of them stem from “sour grapes” (I guess there is a bit of pun intended there). Take the 29 year old sommelier at Bâtard lamenting the fact that “A lot of mediocre wine is being sold on the basis of a story” and “Mr. Jacobeit said that his peers need to learn to distinguish the difference between ‘being excited about wine and wine that is genuinely exciting.'”
My retort would be “Why?” Does every wine lover need to always be drinking the “best” wines? If someone prefers a more pedestrian Chardonnay from a “lesser” region to a Chassagne-Montrachet, does that make him/her somehow “wrong”?
Could it be that wine “professionals” are becoming increasingly worried that as these trends continue, their own utility will likely wane?
DC – I agree; not that the approach is technically sour grapes, but that we wine wonks are too quick to judge the wine choices of others. If your favorite wine is $6 a bottle, in my view YOU HAVE WON THE GAME. Your own tastes trump everything. If you love Burger King, then awesome; just so long as you don’t delude yourself that the BK burger is of higher quality and craftsmanship than a gourmet, home-cooked burger, etc. We need to remind ourselves that we live at a time when it has never been easier to find a fault-free, technically-sound wine at a low price. Wine geeks might justifiable find those wines boring or not to their liking, and of lower overall quality than their fave wines, but that doesn’t mean that the purchase of those inexpensive, everyday wines is somehow wrong. In fact, if it wasn’t for that market, the fine wine market likely would not even exist.
I certainly appreciate your angle on the matter, your honesty and insights challenging what maybe some of the leading experts in the industry are too quickly to declare “a trend.”
I have also find Lettie Teague’s article insightful at the same time, she is most likely representing a different age group and speaking from the knowledge gained doing what she does, writing about wine.
We are all given a set of info, and I want to thank you both for generating meaningful conclusion that by many’s standards, logical.
It is entirely possible to make a wrong conclusion because we simply are limited to all the information we need to write the perfect article. I would enjoy your article more if you frame it in a way that it is more of the “counter” opinion of yours rather than “who’s right and who’s wrong.” Keeping it objective, based on our observation and conclusion, and there’s no need to down-play anyone.
Thanks, Ed. It’s not my intention to downplay anyone, or state that anyone is wrong (well, apart from maybe the wine biz in general needing to rethink how it caters to Millennial consumers). So, we might just have a writing/stylistic difference here, in which case mine might not be the wine blog for you. :)
Excerpts from WineBusiness.com
(May 12, 2010, 2012):
“The Market for Fine Wine in the United States”
[Fine Wine 2010 Conference in Ribera del Duero (Spain)]
By Graham Holter
Associate Director – Publishing
Wine Intelligence market research firm (United Kingdom)
. . .
According to the data presented by [David] Francke [managing director of California’s Folio Fine Wine Partners], US wine drinking is compressed into a small segment of the population.
SIXTEEN PERCENT OF CORE WINE DRINKERS consume wine once a week or more frequently, which ACCOUNTS FOR AROUND 96 PERCENT OF CONSUMPTION. Thirty-five million adults drink virtually all of the wine sold in America, Francke said.
[Bob’s aside: Corresponds with the “80-20 Rule of Marketing” — 80% of your sales revenue comes from 20% of your customer base. For those more interested in this observed phenomenon, Google these keywords: “Pareto principle” and “Joseph Juran.”]
. . .
Wine Intelligence has studied the US wine market in detail and categorised the wine drinking population — which it measures at 47 million — into profile groups. Two of these segments – “Millennial Treaters” and “Experienced Explorers” — were introduced to conference delegates by Erica Donoho, Wine Intelligence’s country manager for the USA.
“Millennial Treaters,” she said, represent just 6 percent of wine drinkers, but they account for 13 percent of market value.
“They’re a young group, under 30, and they’re exciting market players to look at,” she said. “Wine was introduced to them at a young age and it’s something they’re embracing wholeheartedly. When we ask them lots of questions, one theme that keeps coming up is there’s a pressure — especially among the men in this group — to know more about wine. They’re receptive to information; they want to be marketed to with some instruction.
“They’re really interested in sharing knowledge with friends and family, and it’s an amazing way to target this group. They want to share their experience and their knowledge.
“The social etiquette of wine choosing is becoming increasingly important.”
Typically, such consumers will use the varietal as a major buying cue, but two thirds of them are also influenced by country or region of origin.
[Bob’s aside: The article goes on to discuss “Experienced Explorers,” which as a demographic group accounts for 17 percent of the wine drinking population and 33 percent of the market value.]
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