Gradually but noticeably, wine is being marketed differently in America.
The Millennial Generation has become the second-largest wine-consuming group in the country, right behind the Baby Boomers, and the industry has taken notice. Sometimes referred to as Generation Y or Generation Next, this crowd can be roughly defined as the 21- to 35-year-old demographic (you know, the bunch raised on iPods and Facebook), and they are experiencing wine in a totally different way than their parents do.
For one thing, Millennials expect drinking to be fun. This assumption separates them starkly from their elders, who accepted wine on the terms it was offered—serious, even scholarly, full of technical jargon. Young imbibers today want to know how wine fits into their social and recreational lives, rather than obsessing about when the grapes were harvested, how the juice was vinified or which critic rated it 93 points.
Consider Mutineer Magazine, published by 28-year-old Alan Kropf. It focuses on beer and spirits as well as wine, and its mission is “to share the modern fine-beverage experience with the Millennial Generation.” Rather than running didactic reviews, the pages are more likely to feature pieces on personalities such as video blogger Gary Vaynerchuk, founder of Wine Library TV; Randall Grahm, author and founder of Bonny Doon Vineyard; and rocker-turned-winemaker Maynard James Keenan. Mutineer also sponsors a series of traveling conferences called Wine Circuses around the country, consisting of three-hour seminars that discuss millennial culture and its impact on the wine business.
One of the speakers at the Wine Circuses is Tyler Balliet, founder of Second Glass (below right), an enthusiasts’ group best known for so-called Wine Riots—relaxed, casual tastings held in major cities. Instead of taking notes, participants are encouraged to download a mobile app and record their impressions on their smartphones. The events include a DJ spinning what is described as a “killer soundtrack,” and towards the end of the evening, attendees can get a temporary tattoo and pose in a photo booth. Following the first-ever of these in Brooklyn, The New York Times headlined its review: “Wine Riot Attracts Non-Snobby Sippers.”
According to industry insiders, the booming success of the Australian “critter labels,” such as Yellow Tail and Little Penguin, can be attributed to their popularity among the 21-30 age group. With bright colors and cartoonish depictions of exotic animals, these bottles appear to be as far removed as possible from the wines favored by the parents of Gen Y. In addition, the flavor profiles appeal to novice wine drinkers; off-dry, filled with forward fruit and low in tannin, they provide an easy introduction.
It’s no surprise that brands are being created specifically with this audience in mind. One example is HobNob, created by W.J. Deutsch & Sons with the intent of “taking the pretension out of wine,” in the words of one executive. HobNob is imported from France, but you won’t find that information on the bottle, nor will you see a line drawing of a château—just a clean and eye-catching geometric design. As one might expect, the marketing campaign includes a heavy dose of social media, along with an interactive website and an iPhone app.
Millennials appear to be extremely sensitive to pandering, and companies are cautiously trying not to step over the line when soliciting their business. But at the same time, Gen Y-ers’ spirit of adventure and willingness to try new things (independent of third-party reviews) is electrifying the wine world. Interested onlookers want to know what the young crowd is pouring, and it’s certainly not your father’s Lafite.