Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Millennials: The Next Generation

Most of my posts tend to be reviews of events I was fortunate enough to attend or wines I was able to taste. Today I hope you will allow me to diverge just a little bit to discuss a subject that has me in a tizzy...that’s right, a tizzy!

The subject of this post is all about the negative reputation of young wine drinkers. Here in Sonoma County there are a multitude of events where participants purchase an all-access pass to participating wineries. Right now we are in the middle of the Wine Road Barrel Tasting event. Taking place over two weekends, March 2-4 and March 9-11, this event features the chance to visit plenty of wineries, taste barrel samples, and even purchase those future releases. Each of the two years I have been around this event, the potential over-consumption by some participants has stirred controversy.

In a recent blog post by Peg Melnik on the local Press Democrat, the “largest newspaper between San Francisco and the Oregon border”, the behavior of young wine drinkers participating in Barrel Tasting was addressed. Criticism over their arrival to wineries in buses with a non-wine beverage in their glass was central to the article. Additionally, the co-owner of Armida Winery was interviewed and complained over the large number of young wine drinkers participating because it deterred more “serious wine buyers” from stopping by the winery. In contrast to 500-600 participants last year, Armida saw close to 1000 participants this year, noting the surge in younger visitors. As a blog dedicated to the 20-30 something audience, I feel a bit of an obligation to address these criticisms and the overall opinion of the Millennial consumer. 

Not being present at this particular winery, I can’t argue that a group of young wine drinkers got off a bus with something other than wine in their glass. But it is frustrating to see so much emphasis put on what is arguably a small percentage of the participants at this amazing event. There are far more participants, both young and old, who appreciate the opportunity to try a large number of world class wines in an easy format like Barrel Tasting. Focusing on the small number of negative incidents is a misrepresentation of the event and of young wine drinkers. Furthermore, negative incidents like this are just as likely to be caused by a group of older wine consumers who have more disposable income to rent limos and buses, thus not having to be concerned with their intake.

It is a shame that seeing 400-500 more participants at the winery this year was such a burden. Perhaps the sales this year were lower, I wasn’t there so I don’t know, but to not see the additional 500 visitors as anything but a blessing in this economy astounds me. Why not try and make these new, younger visitors “serious wine buyers” instead of shunning them? Why not focus on giving them an experience they will enjoy? And why not treat them with a little respect that will make them want to come back? The reality is the millennial generation IS the next generation of wine buyers and contrary to popular belief, they do have disposable income. Millennials want to feel important and expand their knowledge base...if you can do these two things; you are on your way to securing your future.

So why is this important to discuss and why bring more attention to this blog post? Well, there are really two reasons. First, I am concerned that the Wine Road Barrel Tasting event is being misrepresented.  There will, of course, be a few “sour grapes” of all ages, in an event that attracts 20,000 attendees from all over the country. To focus only on those few is not fair to the event and may actually deter more people from going than the crowds. Second, to focus only on the Millennial subset of those sour grapes is a misrepresentation of a large and growing demographic of wine consumers. From reading her post about last year’s event, it is clear Ms. Melnik is not fond of the Millennial generation as legitimate wine consumers. I urge you all to not let this characterization be proved correct. Continue to be good stewards of the wine industry and show everyone, including Ms. Melnik, why Millennials truly are the future of the wine industry.




  1. With so many wineries out there, I find it astonishing that any of them would attempt to ostracize their next generation of customers. Sure, some aren't pleasant, but I've seen just as many unpleasant people at wineries who are twice (or thrice) my age as well.

  2. drunkards are drunkards of any age.

  3. I suspect the article was written to generate comments and controversy, i.e. trolling. I manage a tasting room and see bad behavior from all ages, yet it doesn't make me want to block any particular demographic group from my tasting room. I especially enjoy seeing eager Millennials (my generation) come in because it's a chance to create a special experience for them.

  4. Great post Andrew, and Beau nailed it, as I posted in my comments. The PD had two great articles, one by Virginie Boone, the only real wine writer the PD has. Pegs blog did the same thing last year with a frat party analogy, but nothing factual.

    Your post nails its. I'd like to also share my post today, as well as the many happy people who posted this year and last.

    120+ wineries, 18-20k people from 47 states, 6 days. So we have like .00001 % incidents. Sure lets focus on that instead of the hundreds of positive stories. Like I said in my first article "stop the whining".



  5. As the owner of a Micro-Winery in Santa Rosa I love the enthusiasm of the 20-30 something crowd. They tend to be more adventurous wine drinkers, trying varietals that veer away from the mainstream. They ask questions, are open minded and not bogged down with the dogma of their forefathers... while this behavior is not exclusive to the younger generation (there are a lot of us old farts that are adventurous too), they are our future and will keep the wine industry on its toes.

  6. Nice post - I agree with Beau's comments. Wineries appreciate all customers that are interested in their wines - age does not matter.

  7. In February I went on a limo wine tour in the Willamette Valley with a group of 20 - 30 somethings. It was very interesting to see the tasting room staff almost wince as we walked in, however, their tenor quickly changed when they realized we cared about the wine...and in fact, many of us work in the food and wine industry.

    In this case, the initial expectation was that we would be drunk, loud, and not interested in the craft of wine-making -- and I felt that treatment right off the bat. Had I not given each tasting room a chance to recover, I would have been a turned-off consumer with 50 years of buying ahead of me.

    I will say that I've observed this type of offensive behavior a few times at the "all you can drink" wine events, particularly when a bus or limo is involved, and I certainly judge the offending parties. Some of them are 22, some are 42.

  8. I have worked in wineries with this passport style wine weekends and while it is always good to present a great experience, smaller tasting rooms can become overwhelmed. In my 6 years or so experience I have found that most people in large groups don't buy wine and do deter the casual taster who might have been interested. It's hard to present an "Experience" When you have 50+ people in your 10 ft bar tasting room. Even at larger wineries in Sonoma it can turn into a zoo. Not saying that you can't have a successful event, but I think that they should limit the tickets so that it is more manageable. Perhaps charge more money so that "Real wine enthusiasts" will taste and not drink to oblivion. Just my 2 cents

  9. Don't agree Mark. Andrew Healy and I went all over Saturday with zero crowds and wait everywhere we went. Its simply a matter of planning.Ticket prices were raised this year. It worked out fine. The event is great, one of best in industry.

  10. Mark - I would agree that the experience will be different for a wine consumer on a weekend like Barrel Tasting than on any given weekend in the tasting room. But shouldn't a winery still want to present a positive experience with friendly and welcome staff to get those people to come back on those other weekends. If I don't feel welcome on a passport style weekend I have no incentive to visit the winery again on a non-event weekend.

  11. Working with Windsor Vineyards just off the Plaza in Healdsburg, I was stoked to see such a younger crowd in our tasting room for this event. Everyone was well-behaved and generally interested in the wine and tasting room experience. Not one incident.