Where Are All the Young Wine Drinkers?
Although we are only in the second month of the year, the wine industry is worried about new data that shows a declining number of young wine drinkers. This topic seems to be a perennial issue—is it as bad as it appears?
In general, the assumption is that young people start drinking beer in high school mostly to have the experience and appear cool. In college, spirits begin to dominate, since students want to become inebriated faster and stay that way.
Then, as students leave college and enter the workforce, other standards typically begin to apply. Inebriation is generally frowned upon and wine begins to be seen as the more mature and responsible drink of choice. At least that’s the way it was. Now, there are many more choices, like hard seltzers, ready-to-drink canned cocktails and even cannabis-infused products. The only wine-related beverage in this category is canned wine.
The renewed concern about the wine industry's lack of younger buyers comes mostly from data published in Rob McMillan's most recent "State of the US Wine Industry" report. In a recent New York Times article, Eric Asimov pointed out that, according to the report, “the only area of growth for American wine was among consumers over 60" and the "biggest growth" was seen "among 70- to 80-year-olds."
That makes sense to me, since this group is more likely to possess the experience and resources to purchase premium and ultra-premium wines, which are the only source of growth in the industry. Asimov argues that the wine industry needs to change its marketing to focus on younger consumers. Perhaps rather than create images of the high life, he writes, the industry should state the health benefits and environmental sustainability of wine.
Some wineries are taking the initiative and exploring social media in a more robust way. According to an article in the North Bay Business Journal, Wente, a legacy winery in California's Livermore Valley, has seen sales rise after redirecting their online exposure from descriptions of wine to publishing family profiles, emphasizing the role of women and highlighting sustainability. A similar reaction occurred when a port producer introduced a game on TikTok and saw sales rise by 63 percent year over year.
Can such efforts make a sizable difference in the wine consumption age gap? We'll have to wait for next year's industry report to see.
Bob McGinn has spent his entire career in the wine industry—forming wine clubs, working in wine sales marketing and engaging in all facets of the winemaking process, including vine management, fermentation and yeast analysis. He has developed wine programs for companies such as Marriott, Sheraton and Smith & Wollensky, and consults with local restaurants. You can read more of McGinn’s work at gulfcoastwinejournal.com.