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Wine Club Newsletter - March 2024

Attracting Younger Wine Drinkers


The big headwind facing wineries around the world is what many see as the industry’s inability to attract younger drinkers. Story after story was written about how wineries can attract younger customers. While strategies for attracting Millenials and Gen-Zers to wine vary, one thing is certain, the industry needs a greater market share for those 21 to 40 years if it wants to thrive in the future.

The Wine Spectator asked young wine professionals across the country for their ideas and the strategies that they themselves use to make wine more attractive to younger diners.

 

Wine Spectator: What can the wine industry do to better appeal to younger drinkers? And how are you encouraging younger diners to order wine?

 

Summer Knoop, owner and wine director of Award of Excellence winner Cafe Mamo, Grand Rapids, Mich.

When I was young and first getting into wine, the things that kept me away from ordering bottles were the feeling of pretension when looking at a wine list and thinking the staff would judge me based on what I picked. Plus, I was flat broke, so the idea of spending $40 on a bottle of wine in a restaurant was daunting, especially considering I might not even like it!

I see this still with young guests that come into Café Mamo, so we offer half off bottles at happy hour just to ease people into the idea of sharing a bottle with the table. From there, our entire philosophy revolves around simplicity and being unpretentious, so our list has bottles that fit every price range from broke college student to avid wine collector.

 

Hugo Bensimon, wine director of Grand Award winner Grill 23, Boston

I think the wine industry should appeal to young customers through the actual label itself. I find that a lot of “natural” wines have gone the direction of sprucing up their wine labels with much less of a classic look and appealing towards the younger demographic. We see it mainly in retail, but a lot of today’s classic wines have had the same label for years. I know a lot of the younger crowd that picks a bottle of wine purely on what the label looks like.

I would love to see some classic wineries, with great wine, update their seemingly outdated labels and reflect a more fun approach towards their wines. I think we have had a strong correlation with the more expensive a bottle of wine is, the more the label needs to seem classic and plain. I would love to see that change.

 

Christopher Gaither, co-owner of Ungrafted, San Francisco

One thing the wine industry lacks is diversity. There are efforts being made to address it, but it is a huge factor in getting more people interested in wine. We must work to appeal to different ethnic, cultural and socioeconomic sectors by being welcoming and creating safe spaces for people to enjoy wine (on their own terms) without feeling judged or intimidated.

 

Tyler Blair, wine director of Khâluna, Minneapolis

When appealing to young generations, the key is to create an experience. Young people want something to remember, something they can discuss. Expensive things are no longer a motivating factor. Keep it intriguing and interesting; however, keep it simple and approachable. It also helps to offer these by the glass so one can experience more, curating specific pairings to complement each dish on our menu.

 

Bill Cox, wine director of Best of Award of Excellence winner, Counter-, Charlotte, N.C.

I have heard a lot of chatter recently about the interest or disinterest of young people regarding wine. I think this is a complex topic that encompasses price points, sustainability, agricultural practices, health concerns and even portion control. Speaking for Counter-, I will say that I take great pride in introducing wine as food, and I think our audience across all age ranges is receptive. When you think about wine as an accompaniment to food, you begin to ask yourself, “Hmm, how will this sauce go with that fruit note or will the acidity change the mouthfeel of this wine?” In this, we have been very blessed to introduce people to experiences they otherwise would not try.

Many people are skeptical of sake, but a beautiful Junmai Daiginjo in tension with a gentle dashi [kombu seaweed stock] or complementing a fried plantain helps guests view the dining experience through a larger lens. With traditional grape cultivars, it is very much the same; we want to shatter your expectation of “I don’t like or only drink XYZ.” Part of this is force-feeding guests their vegetables, so to speak, but more so giving them the context and understanding to appreciate well-made wine.

Seriously, how did brussels sprouts become everyone’s favorite vegetable suddenly, when my parents refused to make them because of childhood trauma from the cruciferous terror. Young or old, peas or Moscato, if presented with a compelling technique and story, people will take interest.

 

Maddy Jimerson, wine director of Casa Tua, Aspen

A lot of young drinkers are intimidated by wine and feel like they need to be an expert to enjoy it. With the exception of Franzia and the slap-the-bag culture, our society has put wine on a pedestal: something for special occasions to be enjoyed only by a select few. To appeal to a younger crowd, this kind of culture surrounding wine needs to change. From marketing to selling wine on the floor, the wine industry as a whole needs to develop an element of approachability and, most importantly, humility.

I believe this can be accomplished by focusing on what’s behind the bottle. What I mean by that is selling the story. Who made it? Where is it from? If we can bring the story to life, then wine becomes more relatable, more approachable and a little less intimidating. I am currently developing a series of short films featuring Italy’s often-forgotten wine regions using this approach. I focus on the story of the producer, through which the audience can learn about the region. Instead of getting into the technicalities of the wine and how it was made, the films highlight the winemaker and his or her experiences. In this way, the audience can learn about the wine through the people who made it.


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