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An Open Letter to Those Who Write Open Letters to Millennials

May 23, 2011 The Press 3 Comments

(the following is a binary code joke, in case you didn’t know)

Hi Internet. How have you been?

011001 1100111110 00111 1000101.

That’s good, glad to hear about the traffic. You have been so busy; I just don’t know how you keep up with it all! You look great by the way! I wish I had your bandwidth!

001 1010 0111001

No seriously, I do!

0011 1010.

Oh me? Yeah not bad, thanks for asking. Internet, can I ask you a question?


Ok, well it’s about the conversation regarding Millennials I’ve been seeing on some of your sites.

100 11010001 1100001 10101!

Yeah, I know right? Totally over doing it. I just wish people would be more realistic about it, you know what I mean?

0011000111 1001 10101!

Right! Exactly!

Millennials, oh how I am starting to loathe that word. These young adults born in the 80’s are said to be a hip group who love skinny jeans, ironic mustaches, excessive tweeting, and are prone to think that they really are the future and that they will change the World.

Born in 1983, at 27, I am right in the middle of this trend-setting crowd, an expert “Millennial” if you will. So if it would be pompous, and it would, to speak for them, please allow me to speak as one.

I have read many articles both positive and negative discussing Millennials and our impact on wine. The wine community seems obsessed with Millennials, with some hailing us as the saviors of wine and others denouncing us as disrespectful know-it-all techy brats. Regardless of the angle, what seems to be developing or perpetuated at least is an “us and them” mentality.  That the adults are out of touch and the kids just don’t know where to start. I don’t buy it.

I have shared glasses with some of the great thinkers of California wine (here, here, and here) and many had thirty or forty years on me. While we might relate to wine in different ways, I felt no divide between their passion and my own. It seems that it is us who create these imaginary divides, an opportunity the PR vultures are trying to capitalize on  by promoting wines aimed at the sub-thirty-five crowd.

So, for a moment, let me discuss some mistaken assumptions made by those trying to sell wine to Millennials as a separate group:

1. “We need to get them to stop drinking beer and start drinking more wine.”

The problem with this:

A. Young people are poor. Between the ages of 21-25/26, most of this demographic is either in school, fresh out of school, or in the process of starting their career. On a tight budget, a six pack of beer can be had for less than $6 and the good stuff for less than $10. For $6 in wine, you are usually (usually I say, don’t get all Chilean bargains on me) drinking the stuff that makes new wine drinkers hate it in the first place. On a budget, you don’t spend $15-30 on a bottle of wine, which is the price range of many of the wineries I see gripping about this. It’s the whole Marie Antoinette “let them eat cake” thing. The cake is expensive, where is my Cup-O-Noodles?

B. Beer is awesome! We should encourage more craft beer consumption. My hop-head friends are way more likely to get into the whole wine thing than the average Budweiser drinker is. It’s about quality. If they get craft beer, it isn’t a stretch for them to get wine.

The solution:

Patience. The struggling student of today quickly turns into a successful young adult of tomorrow and these are the people I see increasingly filling tasting rooms (and breweries as well). Be a conduit for education, let them know you are there, but be reasonable in your expectations.  Even if they don’t buy much wine at your tasting rooms, just be glad they are there at all, and not passed out from a game of beer-pong, which they maybe, later that day.

2. “Millennials like flashy, hip, street art stuff. Let’s focus-group some label designs that will really appeal to the kiddos”.

The problem with this:

OK, it’s kind of true. I admit, I am a big fan of creative label design (Orin Swift, Black Sheep Finds, and everything by Proof). A well-designed label will grab my attention, but not if it’s trying too hard or more importantly what’s in the bottle is not worth drinking. Flashy labels get you to buy a wine once, they do not create repeat consumers, if the quality is not there (this means you Coors and your special cans, as well as you GALLO and your Bear Flag fake Millennial project).

The solution:

Be honest. Not every winery is ultra-hip, some are classic and classy, or just plain brilliant (this means you Ridge, Tablas Creek, Zaca Mesa, not saying you are not hip of course). Embrace who you are, not who you think you should be. For some of you, who you are is disingenuous and snobbish, but that is another topic. Pandering to the lowest common denominator will not work if you want long term customers.

3. ” Millennials love Twitter, so we need to be all up on that.”

The problem with this:

EVERYBODY LOVES TWITTER! I follow around 110 people on Twitter; average age is probably 30-40. I still consider them all peers, colleagues even. Social Media isn’t a youth movement anymore; it is a societal one.

The solution:

Have the right motives. Wineries should be involved with Social Media, not just to engage Millennials, but to engage the millions of people of all ages using it. It is a powerful tool when used properly.

I am a Millennial, but it is not a “title” I embrace. If you want to chase me away from your products, then keep marketing to me as a Millennial, as if I need to be walked through the steps of wine and patted on the head when I understand that “wine legs” really aren’t all that important. If you want to win me over, tell me honest things about your vineyards, your people, and why your bottle deserves a place at my next Skinny Jeans & Ironic Mustache Party (August 6th-7th). Otherwise, thank you but no thank you, you can keep your cheap flashy wines.

Millennials are not one huddled mass of consumers, that if you just whisper the right words in their ears and flash the appropriate gang signs to on your iPad Gang Sign Generator App, will come flooding into your establishments, drink up your products, and then wash over Yelp, Twitter, Facebook, and everything else with overwhelming praise and acceptance. We will not.

Millennials, we too need to get off our high horse. Just because Arcade Fire won a Grammy, doesn’t mean the world is coming up Indie. Just because we think we are changing the world, doesn’t mean  we are the only ones who exists on it. We must respect who got us here, the Dick Graffs, the Paul Drapers, and the Robert Mondavis, and yes the Parkers and Heimoffs too.  We owe a lot to those who cut the trails we now all roam.

At the end of all the chatter and hype, we are in this together, one giant group of geeky wine fans, and that is pretty special.


Mr. Millennial (if you must put a label on me, which I don’t agree with but, whatever)

Tomorrow and for the rest of the week, we will give voice to other actual twenty and thirty somethings and see what they have to say about wine scores, what catches their eye, and their favorite moments from Glee! Just kidding, we won’t discuss what catches their eye.

Currently there are "3 comments" on this Article:

  1. […] you know what I think and say (too much of both), but what are actual young wine consumers thinking and saying? I thought, ‘hey Wayne, why […]

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