Let me start with a declaration: I wish I was born into the millennial generation. These young people are coming of age in an exciting time, with endless possibilities and opportunities ahead of them, just waiting for them to seize the moment and …
Wait a minute. That sounds like the commencement address at my graduation from the College of William & Mary back in … oh, dare I admit it? … 1981. And probably every commencement at every university each year thereafter. And that’s why I cast a skeptical eye on all this hype about how millennials are revolutionizing wine – its production, sales and marketing.
Let me be clear: I am not anti-millennial. (Jealous, yes, anti, no.) I was lightly swiped with the anti-M brush in a blog post by millennial (I assume) Courtney Holmes, though I think we’d agree more than disagree if we had a chance to talk it out.
I am skeptical though, and here’s why: Millennials are a product of their age, an age that their parents helped bring about. So to say they are revolutionizing wine seems to sensationalize a natural evolution. Much of the hype makes baby boomers sound lame, while I think they deserve some of the credit for their kids’ success.
Millennials are adventurous drinkers. They like wines from Croatia, Slovenia, and wines from grape varieties other than cabernet, chardonnay, yadda yadda. But who made these wines available to them? Boomers such as Neal Rosenthal, Terry Theise, Kermit Lynch, Robert Kacher, Joe Dressner and others were scouring the world for great wines long before millennials were old enough to drink. The adventurous palates of today’s millennials are only possible because of their parents’ own thirst for adventure. Same with food – boomers grew up in the age of supermarket tomatoes and shrink-wrapped everything, and they rebelled, creating the farm-to-table movement. (Alice Waters is many things, but she is not a millennial.) Immigration brought Thai, Indian, Ethiopian, Salvadoran and other cuisines to the US – and boomers took their kids to these restaurants. Adventurous palates? Yes, they were raised this way.
Millennials don’t care about point scores. This is the “Robert Parker is passé” argument. Parker is a product of his time, just as millennials are a product of theirs. His time is passing. That doesn’t diminish his accomplishments, though his detractors will relish the opportunity to crow. Millennials supposedly want to “make up their own minds” about wines, but according to at least one study, they tend to avoid retail sales people and trust shelf-talkers, those slips of paper taped to shelves extolling the virtues of a wine on sale. What are shelf-talkers based on? Point scores, more often than not. Perhaps wine is still so varied that we need help finding the good ones among the sea of plonk?
Millennials learn about wine through social media rather than traditional media. Of course they do. To follow on the previous point, instead of trusting a sales person, they’ll trust a recommendation from a friend, even a “virtual” one on Facebook or Twitter or some other platform. As if boomers never followed a rave from a friend down the street.
Social media is where I think the millennial hype gets interesting though: Boomers may have invented the Internet, but millennials are revolutionizing the way we communicate with each other through various social media platforms. My point is that they are revolutionizing communications, not wine. Wineries need to be aware of these new channels if they want to reach this younger audience. That’s why we see more wineries on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram – plus probably other platforms buzzing around that I haven’t cottoned onto yet. That’s why we see QR codes on wine labels, Twitter tastings, and weekend specials or events announced online.
But boomers are using these platforms, too, and not just to sell wine to millennials. Check out Delectable (and if you don’t know what I’m talking about, you’re behind the times) – there seems to be more winemakers on there than millennials.
Millennials read wine blogs rather than wine magazines or wine newspaper columns. Well, not according to those market research studies, just according to bloggers.
So yes, I’m showing my age. And maybe feeling a bit curmudgeonly. The way we think about wine, the way we learn about it, enjoy it, market it, even consume it, is changing along with exciting changes in our entire way of life.