It hasn’t been too long since I touched on this subject but after the recent Wall Street Journal article and ensuing comments it seemed like a good time to get back into the fold. Much of it harkens to a post I wrote back in 2013, and again in April of this year, that millennials are looking for more of a story and relationship than they are just a good product. The main problem was, and largely still is, our spending power.
For some of the larger guys and gals in the wine game this “dilemma” is a serious one. Wine lovers new and old are already ditching standard marketing techniques such as professional ratings and reviews. Having a catchy label works, sort of, but more importantly this phrase (or some iteration therein) is starting to become irrelevant:
Sourced from premier vineyards within *insert appellation here* this wine yadda yadda yadda boring back label tasting notes.
Saying you use “premier vineyards” with nothing to back it up is like saying you’re cool. Cool kids don’t tell other people their cool. Only douchebags do that. If you tell me this came from such and such a block from the Hyde Vineyard in Carneros THEN I get it. Saying “we source this from premier vineyards” without any specificity tell the customer that those grapes could have come from anywhere. In other words: it tells them nothing at all. What I am trying to get at is that the wine has to be real and relatable. By “real” I don’t mean tangible, more like “keep it real” or to not be fake; be yourself1. Word.
In my post earlier this year I talked quite a bit about being authentic. I cannot tell you how important that is in this day in age. Whether you are a millennial or not it is a characteristic that can stick with you. The authenticity just needs to be backed up with quality and, in the case of use millennials, a reasonable price point. It isn’t that we don’t want to understand why DRC defines Burgundy, its just that we can’t afford to do so in most cases. It isn’t that we don’t want Grand Cru Champagne, awesome vintage ports, Napa Cult Cabs or Barolos; we want to but are limited in our means to acquire them. As the WSJ article points out, it will still be a few years before we start to have the spending power that prior generations have2. The hitch is that is largely because we are the biggest generation to date, not necessarily because we have an immense amount of disposable income.
So what is the continued dilemma?
The dilemma is that we as a generation are a moving target. It is likely that we always will be, so how does a company adapt? You have to be fluid and turn on a dime so that you can fight fire with fire. If you stay hum-drum and consistent for too long you get boring and we lose focus. You also can’t expect that us millennials are going to buy a bottle of wine that costs hundreds or thousands of dollars just because of prestige. It is fine that Somms and producers want us to be excited about iconic producers, vineyards and vintages but we still need the story. The reason I mentioned DRC above was because my grandfather was a Francophile, especially when it came to Burgundy. I feel that I have an understanding of why wines like that from that region are important or cool or awesome (or all/none of the above).
What I don’t like about some of the statements in the article is that some of these beverage directors aren’t thrilled that millennials are distinguishing the differing between, “being excited about wine and wine that is genuinely exciting3.” The fact is that we are drinking wine and learning, even if that means starting with Slovenian Chardonnay.
The reason there is a gap in wine knowledge is that more people are consuming wine than ever before which leads to a lot of newbies who are trying to learn more about what they enjoy. WHICH IS AWESOME I MIGHT ADD! If you think for one second that is a bad thing please GTFO of the wine industry because you are missing the entire point.
The fact that people are easing into different and sometimes obscure wines doesn’t mean they won’t order that high-ticket bottle someday. It just means they have to work their way to it because they aren’t about to drop that kind of cash on something they aren’t sure they are going to enjoy (especially if there is no story to connect to). Beyond just the flavors and aromas we want the story to build a relationship with the goods we are consuming.
Being heavy on social media because “that’s what millennials do,” having a catch phrase and engaging influencers will help or it might not. Hopefully it will lead to success but if you have a millennial brain like mine that isn’t enough and I can see right through your trending marketing techniques.
In the end, the idea that first-growths and grand crus will be made obsolete is a drastic one. I do agree that there is quite a bit of wine education that has to happen before my millennial generation really becomes a force to be reckoned with. Then again how much did you know in your 20s or early 30s? Probably everything right? Does that mean the cult cabs, first growths and grand crus will remain the kings/queens of the mountain? Hell to the no. It means those now top-end producers are going to have to learn to take the vino off of the revered pedestal and make it relatable. If they don’t the ship will start taking on water and you will see a decline in those categories as more people opt for a product they can connect to.
Your move wine industry.
I find myself torn between the budget-friendly, cool, obscure producers and the old guard that command the ticket price. As it stands right now I default to the former because my wallet is empty 90% of the time. Does that mean I don’t splurge from time to time? Nope, I sure do and my wallet quickly catches fire as a result but man is it worth it.
The reason this dilemma keeps popping up is because the big players in the wine game stand to lose quite a bit of ground if they don’t adapt. Look at Budweiser’s anti-craft beer add that aired this year; they were shaking in their boots apparently and failed miserably at proving a point (though it did spawn an awesome parody video). Some are fairing betters than others in terms of authenticity and awesomeness. Others are paying marketing firms to make up their stories or forming partnerships with celebrities to try and stay relevant; I would certainly peg either as a flash in the pan.
Whether the company is big, medium, small or anywhere in between the story and why that company exists is what matters. The awesome product they produce is a bonus. Far too often companies ignore that fact and end up constantly battling market trends rather than creating them. There is only one way to capture the millennial crowd and that is through authenticity and purposeful production.
Authentic, craft productions are the future. And may God strike me down were it to be otherwise.
1 – “Keep It Real.” Urban Dictionary. Web. 11 Nov. 2015.
2 & 3 – Teague, Lettie. “How Millennials Are Changing Wine.” WSJ. 5 Nov. 2015. Web. 11 Nov. 2015.3 – WSJ article