Enter the Millenials

I spent the last two weeks this winter learning and exploring the wine industry from the ground up by attending three wine conferences in Northern California. All three events were produced for an audience of winemakers and winery owners so I was able to get a feel for the industry from their view. There was the Direct to Consumer Wine Symposium (by Free The Grapes and Benson Marketing), the US Wine Consumer Trends (by the Wine Market Council) and the Unified Wine & Grape Symposium (by the American Society for Enology and Viticulture and the California Association of Winegrape Growers).

As I have written, blogged, tweeted and yelled about for many months, even years, the big concern for wine producers and winemakers is how to get their wines into the hands of the consumers. The historic way was to form a nice relationship with a conscientious wine distributor or wholesaler (so last century according to Quinton Jay of Bacchus Capital Management, an investor in wineries). There are still some distributors out there who are real ambassadors but they are fading fast or getting gobbled up by big companies. Thus, one of the biggest questions is once the product is made and the market identified, how to get wine to that market. Well, thanks to the monopoly that the wine, beer and spirit wholesalers enjoy, that will remain a conundrum for a few more years.

The Wine Market Council, along with the help of Nielsen’s Danny Brager, gave the wine-producing audience a lesson on who is consuming wine. A surprise for the audience was the focus on the Millenials (people born between the mid 80s and late 90s) who are quickly becoming an important part of the wine market. They consume wine almost as frequently as Gen Xers and Baby Boomers. Wine producers have long ignored the younger market and this may change, especially considering the Millenials spend more on wine than older generations. Another key statistic is that Millenials are the most curious generation about wine; they want to know as much about each wine they consume as possible.

One of the great problems in the wine industry is the lack of confidence consumers have in the information they get, hence the unusual power of the critics and brands. With the new wine drinking generation, this too will change. To understand how complex the world of wine is, look no further than the Côtes du Rhône region in France. During a recent ski trip, I enjoyed a 2007 Coudoulet de Beaucastel CdR aka Côtes du Rhône (about $30 retail) and a 2008 Saint Cosme CdR ($14). They were similar in some ways but from different soils, and therefore different grapes and different nuances in their flavors. Mourvédre, Grenache blended with a bit of Syrah and Cinsualt for the Coudoulet and only Syrah for the Saint Cosme. The Coudoulet was ripe and rich with hints of spice, black pepper and dark berry fruits. The Saint Cosme had the same aromas but brighter and more intense, and the palate had a longer finish and left your palate begging for more. See my blog at mcsnobbelierwines.blogspot.com for more about these two very diverse Rhône wines.