BY: CHRISTINA MULHERIN
Wine drinking has often been associated with wealthier, middle-aged folks, maybe because of how it’s represented in pop culture.
For example, the affluent business men and women of long-running television drama Mad Men always seem to be sipping on a nice glass of red. But now it’s not uncommon to spot a few 20-somethings walking up to the counter at the LCBO clutching one (or two) bottles of the stuff. Kerri Dawson, vice president of marketing at LCBO says that of the 3.4 million millennials in Ontario, 2.6 million consume alcohol. Nearly $1.5 billion worth of wine was sold in Ontario last year according to the LCBO’s annual report. The Wine Market Council says that nearly half (42 per cent) of all wine sold in the U.S. in 2015 was to 20 to 30 year olds. The LCBO says it’s seeing the same trend in Ontario.
Wine bars are popping up all over the city. Midfeild Wine Bar and Tavern on Dundas West in Toronto offers a wide selection of local and imported wines – with new arrivals every week. The bar’s manager, Irene Dongas says it’s a place to come and unwind and see what’s new in the world of wine while enjoying a glass or two. Dongas says there has definitely been a steady increase in young people appealing to wine – especially within the city. She recognized there was a thirst for wine and places that specialized in the beverage, which motivated her to open Midfield. So why are millennials so interested in sipping on a beverage that could quite possibly be older than they are?
Dongas says younger clients are more curious and adventurous when it comes to wine. They want to try new and interesting wines of all kinds whereas the older crowd is more inclined to order a classic, more traditional wine.
“The clientele who is coming in to drink wine is growing and is evolving. When we first opened it was an older clientele, but we’re seeing more and more young people coming in who are curious, and who want to try the next new and cool and weird thing.”
Tim Reed Manessy, who teaches the wine specialist certificate course at George Brown College, agrees.
“Millennials are more open-minded. Older generations grew up in a wine climate that was more conventional, more narrow. They’re stuck in the belief that a wine should be in a certain way. It seems that people over the age of 35 now are less likely to be interested in a broad range of styles, from more countries around the world, from more grape varieties,” he explains. “[Millennials are] less likely to be entrenched in a handful of ‘traditional styles’ that an older generation can’t seem to get away from.”
Reed Manessy began taking interest in wine in his early 20s when he was working in restaurants and decided he wanted to develop a greater appreciation for the food and beverages he was serving – particularly wine. After growing his knowledge and passion for wine he began sharing his wisdom through teaching.
“I think what’s changing is that we, as a culture, are becoming more interested in wine and that change is driven by the millennial generation.”
“[My friends and I] all kind of started off on stuff like Girl’s Night Out or Wild Vines which is the really fruity, sugary wines and I find that I’m now wanting to try different stuff,” 19-year-old Ashley Gardner says.
“It was sort of the trendy thing to do but then I actually ended up really liking wine so now I drink it regularly. I’m not one of those people that come home and has a glass of wine every evening, it’s just occasionally when I feel like it’s needed and I want to just unwind,” says Gardner.
Wine companies are taking note of their new, younger audience and they are not wasting any time.
Kelly Schweitzer, the editorial assistant at VINES, a Canadian wine magazine, says they are seeing a marketing push from producers to get their wines into the hands of the millennial generation.
“Many brands, such as Lost Inhibitions from Church & State Wines, Fresh from Diamond Estates, and Girls’ Night out from Colio Estate Wines, are designing creative, contemporary and fun packaging to catch the eye and interest of new consumers, many whom will be found in this younger demographic,” Schweitzer says.
Reed Manessy says he spends a lot of time in his classes talking about wine as an agricultural product and an art form versus a simple alcoholic beverage. When it comes to targeted advertising, that falls into the concept of wine with the goal of inebriation. While trying to appeal to as broad of an audience as possible based on price, package and profile, many of these products are targeted towards young people, specifically millennials.
At every price point you can see by the labels the crowd they are going for. This happened in the early to mid ’90s when Australia became the largest wine supplier to Ontario, and North America in general, and that’s exactly what they were going for. Advertising low calorie wines, putting cute animals or risqué logos or names on bright colourful labels.
“Frankly, these wines are not particularly interesting because that’s not relevant to the type of marketing they’re doing. The wine inside the bottle is as cheaply and commercially made as possible to appeal to the broadest pallet profile possible.”
These wines are typically mass-produced in big factories, he explains, and tend to be very watered down and high in sugar – essentially more of a juice.
“People of all ages are buying into these brands, but the narrative these wines offer is targeted to drawing millennials in, and letting them experience wine under a different light than what their parents and grandparents did. They make statements of personalities and lifestyles that are free of pretension, making wine massively more approachable and relatable,” says Schweitzer.
Schweitzer says the challenge now for marketers is to get this generation to become brand loyal. “Millennials are more experimental than generations before them and are keen to try different producers and regions rather than stick to the tried and true like their parents might have.”
Culture and Accessibility
The reality is that North American culture is not particularly predisposed to the consumption of wine. If you come from a European background your parents may serve wine with meals on a regular basis more than other North American families. “It’s not really part of our culture here,” says Reed Manessy.
This is the case for 20-year-old St. Catharine’s, Ont. resident Jacob Campbell who says his family often serves wine with most meals because it’s part of their British culture.
“My parents definitely had a major influence on me when it comes to wine drinking. We always had multiple bottles of really good, imported wine in the cellar,” says Campbell. “Despite being exposed to all these wines from all over the world, I usually like to stay local. Living only about an hour away from all the vineyards in Niagara makes that easy. I love buying local and this is just another way of doing that.”
Possibly, millennials are drinking more wine because it is more accessible than ever.
“The Internet makes it possible for wineries and distributors to put themselves directly in front of the millennial generation, who are more connected to social media and attuned to what they’re consuming more than any other demographic,” says Schweitzer.
Dongas says different people who are big on social media write about different wines, people post about it or make podcasts about it and it’s definitely the younger generation that tunes in to those things and they are the first people to come up and ask about new wines.
“The natural wine movement is definitely being led by a young, curious audience,” says Madeleine Hayles, one of Midfield’s employees.
“Things like orange wines, [organic] wines I feel are almost a bit trendy so it’s just sort of a more natural connection,” says Hayles.
“Millennials are very active on social media and looking for the next big thing,” adds Dongas.
This is a reflection of how conscious Generation Y is about knowing where the things they eat and drink come from, what’s in it and how it’s made.
“[They] are looking for something that connects us to a place where we are interested in the ingredients.”
Daniel Speck, who co-owns the Henry of Pelham winery in St. Catharines, Ont. alongside his two brothers, says millennials are looking to purchase more authentic products, and the same goes for wine.
“They’re drinking the beverages that their grandparents would have. It’s really tapping into that sort of hand-crafted, movement.”
Craft beer, for example, is incredibly popular among 20-to-30 year olds. It’s that same interest in having something honestly and carefully made with quality.
“Once you get interested, you realize that wine isn’t just a physical experience, it’s an intellectual experience,” says Reed Manessy. “And I think that’s what creates a deeper appreciation for the beverage, more so than perhaps other beverages.
“If intoxication is your goal, there are cheaper ways to do it. We are looking for something more than a simple alcoholic beverage, we want an experience, a story, we want something that comes from a place.”
Curiosity-driven Generation Y-ers are taking over the wine scene, one sip at a time. And although the wine elite may not agree that the wines millennials like and choose to drink are good wines, it doesn’t mean they shouldn’t enjoy it. Wine is becoming more accessible to all, regardless of background, age or knowledge.
“This is one of the walls that millennials are breaking down. Wine is not supposed to be pretentious. It’s not supposed to be an intellectual experience reserved for the academic elite,” says Menassy. “Everyone deserves to have a glass of wine as much as the next person and no one should be dictating what’s good and what’s bad.”