Millennials: I wonder if any generation before us has been so widely studied in the media or so culturally polarizing (and not just because of their near endless parade of duck faces and driving selfies).
Everywhere I look, I see another — often contradictory — article dissecting millennials. They like craft beer, except when they don’t. They eat more fast food, but are more health conscious (after all, how much talk was there about veganism 30 years ago?). They’re more aggressive professionally, yet prioritize their personal lifestyles over their careers.
But regardless of what you believe about millennials, one thing is certain: they’re changing the way things work. And in no area is this truer than wine culture.
From the way it’s packaged to the way it’s perceived, wine is being turned upside down by the millennial generation. And true to their reputation, millennials won’t stop until their wine is exactly the way they want it.
Wine and Family Ties
For decades, wine has been considered the bastion of older, more affluent — and more sophisticated — drinkers.
But according to a report by Wine Intelligence, an international team of wine market researchers and strategy consultants, millennials now make up approximately 30 percent of the wine-drinking population in America. And as more millennials reach legal drinking age, they’re inching ever closer to overtaking the largest group of drinkers: the over-55 set.
But it’s not just early adoption that’s setting millennial wine drinking habits apart from those of their predecessors. The difference seems to go as deep as their very motivations.
Older drinkers have characteristically shown strong correlations between high income and education levels and high-frequency wine drinking behaviors, perpetuating wine’s long-lasting reputation for being an “elite” drink.
Millennial wine culture, however, seems to be developing independently of such socioeconomic factors. Instead, their drinking habits appear to be more closely related to the drinking habits of their parents. Those who came from wine-drinking households tend to adopt high-frequency wine drinking behaviors, regardless of income, education, or age.
Although the reason for this shift is not entirely clear, it’s having huge implications for the way wine is marketed and consumed.
Seriously, Wine in a Can?
Yes, you read that right: wine in a can.
Millennials are perceived as rebellious and adventurous consumers, more likely to wander around a parking lot noshing on food truck fare than to seek out seven-course meals with carefully curated wine pairings.
One solution that appeals to this wanderlust and hunger for adventure? Wine in super-portable packages, such as cans.
Union Wine in Oregon offers both a Pinot Grigio and a Pinot Noir in cans. Denver-based Infinite Monkey Theorem, touted as “an urban winery,” offers a wide variety from Merlot to Moscato in cans. And Friends Fun Wine offers thin, 8.4-ounce cans — about the size of a Red Bull — in low-ABV varieties, including their new line of coffee-flavored wines.
Even Francis Ford Coppola’s winery is offering the effervescent Sofia Blanc de Blancs blend in both bottles and four-packs of miniature, bright pink cans (that come with straws, no less).
But wine’s new look doesn’t end there.
We now have wine in a purse from the Volére Couture collection, a series of several varietals in handbag-shaped boxes that hold the equivalent of three bottles each.
There’s also wine in individual, stackable glasses, advertised as shatterproof for the adventurous, or clumsy, consumer — now available in mixed batches through Giuliana Rancic’s new Xo, G line. Wine in pouches, like adult Capri Sun, but made of BPA-free plastic instead of polyester and aluminum. Wine in biodegradable Tetra-Pak cartons. Even wine in massive, 3-liter cubes, Target’s answer to the Franzia craze.
Even mass wine distribution has changed: companies such as Free Flow Wines are now offering hundreds of well-known varietals in kegs, allowing restaurants and bars to pour wine from a tap.
There are now more ways to drink wine than there are even for beer, previously the go-to portable potable for traveling drinkers nationwide — and wine’s takeover of beer territory is only beginning.
The New Drink of the Everyman (and Woman)
Beer’s status as the most frequently consumed “adult beverage” among the nearly 65% of Americans who say they drink is safe — for now.
But with the upsurge in popularity of craft beers and elite beer-only bars — and the corresponding increase of “beer snobs” in the world — it might not be long before wine becomes the more approachable option for young people.
This could explain why wine sellers increasingly direct their marketing to younger generations, who are believed to value stories and authenticity over hype and pretension.
Rather than rolling hills and stodgy serif fonts, more wine packaging is now showcasing abstract artwork and creative — even occasionally silly — imagery, such as wine in straitjackets and DIY wine bottles in the vein of Mr. Potato Head.
And millennial interest in the story behind the wine — rather than any connoisseur’s opinion — has opened up the market for smaller scale, “mom and pop” wineries.
Rather then showcasing amazing reviews, wine distributors are highlighting where a wine came from, who made it, and how it differs from the others on the market. The result is a market more open to experimentation, and a whole host of new varieties to choose from.
Beer Before Wine
If you’re thinking that all of this sounds awfully familiar, you’re right. Wine’s current trajectory is very similar to that taken by beer just a few decades ago, when the former kings of brew were dethroned by a host of upstarts eager to make their name among drinkers.
Someday, we may see those paths come full circle — leaving the clichés of white-glove wine and blue-collar beer firmly intact in the drinking habits of generations to come.
For now, however, wine is in a state of flux, caught between many generations with differing tastes and fighting to always be new, creative, and authentic.
And I, personally, hope it stays that way.
Feeling thirsty? Check out one of these Rewards Network wine bars, or search for one in your neighborhood!
The Flight Path Wine Bar and Bistro, San Diego, CA
Pierre Loti, New York City, NY
D Vine Wine Bar & Bistro, Chandler, AZ
Apothecary Cafe & Wine Bar, Austin, TX
V Wine Room, West Hollywood, CA
Remember that you must be at least 21 years old to drink in the USA and to always drink responsibly. This information is intended for informational purposes only, and not to promote the consumption of alcohol.