There’s a lot of Internet buzz these days about the effects the millennial generation is having on wine. Much of it is quite breathless and reminds me of the journalistic cliché in which the reporter intones at the end of his story, “One thing’s certain – things will never be the same again.” Of course they won’t. Are millennials drinking more wine at an earlier age than their baby boomer parents? Yes. Are they trying different wines than their parents did at that age? Yes. Are they learning about and communicating about wine differently than their parents did? Of course. They are a product of their age, an age their boomer parents made possible, an age this millennial generation appears to be seizing to full advantage. More power to them.
I’ll have more to say about this subject in my next post. This is a column I did for The Washington Post Food section, published October 23, in a week when the paper’s Lifestyle reporting focused on ways millennials are changing Washington D.C. After I submitted it but before it was published, I ate at Vin de Chez with Jancis Robinson, who was in town for the launch of the World Atlas of Wine, 7th Edition. There were no millennials at our table, though Uber-Millennial wine blogger David White happened by. He later published an interview with Jancis.
The District’s most interesting new wine venue is Vin de Chez, a pop-up bar in the parking lot of Union Kitchen, a shared commercial space in Northeast. It’s the creation of Liz Bird and Tom Madrecki, two 20-somethings intent on proving that wine can be taken seriously yet still be fun. It also gives me the perfect excuse to discuss millennials and wine; after all, baby boomers tend not to drink wine in parking lots.
So what do millennials drink? Madrecki, who runs a private supper club called Chez le Commis out of his Clarendon apartment, fashioned Vin de Chez’s wine list to feature natural wines, primarily European bottlings from small family producers that use a minimalist approach and often flout the bureaucratic rules that dictate how wine should be made. It’s an eclectic, slightly subversive list with a decidedly anti-authoritarian bent. You are more likely to read about these labels in obscure wine blogs than in magazines such as Wine Advocate and Wine Spectator.
Millennials have reached legal drinking age at a time when more wines from more countries are available than ever before. So it’s not surprising that their tastes are adventurous as they explore and form their own preferences. Trousseau gris is a trendy favorite; their parents probably hadn’t heard of it at that age, as they were being locked into preferences for cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay. Washington area millennials are also poised to enjoy the golden age of Virginia and Maryland winemaking, whereas their skeptical parents recall sampling the local product when it was more vinegar than vin.
Bird’s sentiments echo findings of market researchers who have surveyed millennials about their drinking habits. According to the Wine Market Council, about 39 million U.S. adults drink wine several times a week. Millennials make up 29 percent of that group, while 39 percent are baby boomers.
Millennials are more likely to spend more than $20 on a bottle, although their total spending on wine is considerably lower than that of boomers, says John Gillespie of Wine Opinions, a market research company in California.
Millennials came of age in the Internet era, scanning photos of wine labels into smartphone apps such as Delectable and Vivino and sharing their tasting notes with friends over social media. They tend to trust a recommendation from a friend (even a virtual one on Facebook) more than a retailer’s suggestion, and they are more likely than their elders to be influenced by a wine’s colorful label or catchy name, according to a study done by researchers at Sonoma State University. They don’t pay much attention to wine reviews in magazines or newspapers, leading to end-of-the-road predictions for wine critics such as Robert Parker and others. Yet they do apparently trust shelf-talkers, those little cards you see in wine stores that are based on published reviews.
“Millennials are more adventurous and more willing to try new things — if presented to them properly,” Tom Madrecki says. A new thing might be an inexpensive wine with a pretty label, but it could also be a higher-end wine with a story. Just take the pretentiousness out of the occasion. Like, maybe in a parking lot.