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When you imagine a very millennial party, what comes to mind? Bright lights, Y2K fashion, loud bass, experimental cuisine combinations, and so much more. You might be led to believe that the beverages flowing around the room might be vodkas, tequilas, and beers. But if you look beyond the beer pong tables, you will actually find millennials today sipping their seltzers and swirling their wine. How did wine become the millennial drink?
Did you know that millennials are meant to resuscitate and carry on the wine culture around the world? Rob McMillan, executive vice president and founder of Silicon Valley Bank Wine Division, was busy preparing the 2021 State of the Wine Industry Report. He noticed Generation Z (ages 21-23) consumed 2.1 percent of the wine in 2019 and 3 percent in 2020; Millennials (ages 24-39) consumed 18 percent in 2019 and 20.1 percent in 2020; Generation X (ages 40-55) consumed 32.9 percent in 2019 and 34.9 percent in 2020; Boomers (ages 56-74) consumed 40.8 percent in 2019 and 36.7 percent in 2020, and older generations (75+) drank 6 percent in 2019 and 5.3 percent in 2020.
For time immemorial, wine has been marketed exclusively to an elite audience. They also happen to fall in the older demographics with enough resources to invest in tasting, sourcing and collecting wine from around the world. This made wine look like an inaccessible drink to the millennials. With wine comes the pressure to study and understand it rather than enjoy it. “True” wine enthusiasts were people who understood and recalled grape varietals, wine regions, and industry terms like the back of their hands. Say that to the Costco wine in a box sipping millennial!
The wine was never marketed to millennial audiences. This gap was perfectly picked up by seltzers and natural wines. They spoke the millennial’s language and made their way into social gatherings and events. They became approachable beverages that are ready to accommodate enthusiasts on any level. That wasn’t the case with wine for a really long time. But wine is catching up too!
The COVID-19 pandemic catalyzed the love for wines amongst millennials. Of the many events being hosted on video conferencing platforms, virtual wine tastings soared high. Not only did these events make wine more accessible, but they also generated a sense of belonging. This was essential as people were locked away from people for a long time. These tastings introduced millennials to newer alternatives and flavors. Many apps today focus on educating the end consumer about the wines they prefer. One such app, Vivino, has 47 million users making it the most-used wine app in the world. Virtual tastings have migrated to Instagram and other social platforms. Traditional wineries now want to speak the millennial language, and it is one of the greatest things to ever happen to the wine industry.
Traditional winemakers are producing one budget premium beverage for every high-end wine produced. More traditional players in the market want to tweak their packaging in a way that appeals to millennial audiences. These budget wines have become the gateway for this audience to enter the wine world. They soon experiment with tastes and flavors and go on to try legacy wines. This journey is essential to the wine trade as a whole. The beauty of the millennial audience is that they love their boxed wine just as much as they love their bubbly. This maintains the balance for producers, retailers, and consumers alike.
This new turn towards wine has motivated millennials to enter the trade as producers too. The old wine world is seeing a steady influx of young winemakers come in with a strong vision and an even stronger promotional plan. Health and sustainability are other big forays when it comes to leaning towards wine. Wines are being liked also for their health benefits by millennials. The antioxidants and plant compounds are good for the body when in moderation.
Millennials, as well as Gen Z, prefer products that speak to them as well as their belief system. Wineries will soon have to shift gears if they want to sell more to this newfound consumer with disposable income. They will have to bring to light their stories, vision, mission, commitments to global issues like climate change, sustainable living, racism, labor, and so much more. Wines will have to make their way not just into social gatherings but also into the millennial lifestyle. Only then will it be able to retain the ever-ephemeral millennial audiences.
Article by Prithvi Nagpal, Editor & Sommelier, Beverage Trade Network