SO MILLENNIALS DON’T DRINK WINE. LET’S NOT BLAME THEM.
A recent article in The New York Times (read here) lamented that Millennials are not drinking wine and what can possibly be done to fix that problem. Oh, the pearl-clutching that must be going on by the massive Death Star of a company that owns The Prisoner, what panic-stricken moans must be emanating from the halls of Bordeaux chateaux, and what flat-out freak out is going down at a winery in Mendoza that peddles mediocre $25 Malbec while they watch Millennials gulp down Sidecars, inhale White Claws, and shotgun craft IPA’s while wine sits in the corner sobbing into its Chablis.
This is the wine industry’s fault, and it must fix it.
Do not get me wrong, most Millennials are abhorrent creatures with palates like a back-alley dumpster. White Claw? F-ing White Claw?!? Here is a tip from a jaded Gen-Xer: Look up “Zima” on your phone. You are drinking Zima in a cooler package. I would give up drinking if Zima was the only booze left on the planet, and if you know me, you likely just fainted reading that. Zima to White Claw is the true “Axis of Evil”. Therefore no one respects you Millennials. That and your obsession with charcuterie boards. The only reason you love charcuterie is because you grew up on Lunchables thanks to your uncaring Boomer parents.
Now that my dragging of Millennials is over, let me go after my true target here in this hit piece: the wine industry. Wine is failing with Millennials because it is too white, too male, and too damn expensive, all the things’ Millennials are not. (The irony of me, a white, male, Gen X sommelier, writing this does not escape me. Please just humor me, m’kay?)
Wine has spent decades making itself an overpriced, elitist drink in this country. Its industry has been outwardly bigoted and judgmental, looked down on its customers, allowed a slim few to decide what was good wine or not, and in general been that annoying dude at a party talking too loudly about how much money he makes or how he is over going to Coachella cause it’s “no longer fire”.
Wine is a glorious combination of art, science, and nature that should be accessible to all. The idea that cheap wine is bad wine needs to go. Cheap is perfectly fine if the wine is made with thought and care, and there are plenty of wines that are exactly that, made with thought and care, and cheap. Cheap is only a bad word if it is describing someone you are bringing home to meet your mom.
Wine needs to get away from the idea of “ratings”. No one drinks wine in a lab wearing a white coat, clasping a score sheet in one hand and a glass in the other. You drink wine with loved ones, people you care about in wonderful settings. Or by yourself binge-watching “Bridgerton”. Either way it is a wonderful thing to drink wine, and this should not be reduced to how many points a bloody wine gets from some tool who claims to be an expert.
Wine was ‘artisanal’ before that was ever a thing. So many winemakers are passionate farmers and artists, making small amounts of wine that gets buried by massive conglomerates making what has become a commodity, not bottled art.
Wine needs to shed its elitist behavior regarding which wines people choose to drink. Particularly what people of color choose to drink. Nobody in the soda business looks down their nose at folks who drink Mr. Pibb. Why be jerks about what anyone chooses to drink when it comes to wine. Every demographic has a certain taste in wine, why is it that only certain groups get blasted for the choices they make?
I like to use this analogy: barely anyone drives the same kind of car after say ten years of driving than they did as a teenager. Their economic situation tends to improve, their lives change and what they want in a car does as well. Wine is a lot the same way, as one changes and they try more wines, what they like and drink changes as well.
What I mean by all of this is that the wine business must think of the long game, and not over the tip of their nose.
There needs to be more education, passion, and care coming from the wine industry. Education is not education if the knowledge feels guarded by teachers looking to lord it over their students and dole it out with a sense of entitlement rather than a joy of teaching to all.
Let me throw in a bit of a plug for Greek wine as an example. At Krasi we only serve Greek wine, and it either baffles guests or they have the idea that all Greek wine is pine flavored swill. It is our job to teach guests how glorious Greek wine is and being stuck up jerks about it will not work. We are warm, accommodating, and will pour a hundred tastes of wines until a guest is pleased. That is passion and care. We know Greek wine is brilliant but a bit scary, and we do everything possible to make it easy for all. If our little corner of the wine world can do it, everyone else can too.
Wine, when first created was entirely about joy and inclusion. It is critical it gets back to those roots, or it will die off. Because if you think Millennials won’t drink wine, wait until you see what Gen Zers guzzle down. Now that truly scares me.