Growing Wine Culture

We write about, and talk about, how millennials are the biggest wine market in the United States at the moment, we present it to every partner we work with, and we warn everyone who chooses to ignore it. Despite absolutely hating the term “millennial” as a vague brush used to paint everyone between the ages of 21–38, or as it is more appropriately coined as a term for technological aptitude, it serves a purpose. And its purpose is to make a point, that wine culture is shifting, it is changing, and it will be different.

Lets call them for what they are, younger wine drinkers. Within that realm we have a varied range of backgrounds, social and economic levels, and even interest in wine. Whatever we call them, we have to see that this is a generation that is genuinely curious about wine. But what made them that way? Their parents drank a lot of it, and so did their grandparents. Yet the do not have anywhere near the disposable income of their previous generations and wine is considered a luxury good. If we can answer that question, we change an industry.

Influence the influencers

Don’t you just hate it when someone on Twitter calls them self an influencer? Its amazing how much bullshit there is out there, but influence is a business now. Influence is a job title. Influence is a driver of growth. They gather a following on social media, they push your agenda for a price. Sure, if that is how you want to do it, then go ahead. Its a great way to get the ball rolling.

To be truly influential, you have to understand how people work. Think about the generation at hand, and how influence works. We got a taste of how something something so small as a line in a movie could turn people sour on a grape variety in the 2000s thanks to Sideways. With one line sales of Merlot flatlined for years. In 2012 a documentary about a group of highly competitive, driven, passionate young men striving to reach the highest level of Sommelier certification (called Somm, incase you are yet to see it) made people nuts about wine and young wine drinkers flocked to get their WSET, or become certified Somms. It turned the humble sommelier, guardian of the wine list, keeper of knowledge, delighter of taste buds, into a rockstar overnight. People are influenced by what they see as incredible, or aspirational, and in the case of becoming a sommelier, finding their niche in this crazy world.

Finding these outlets can be difficult, but not impossible. Shaping the culture this way, how people are influenced, how they connect with stories, how and what they aspire to, are they keys to understanding how we can use influencers to grow wine culture.

Icons are different

Robert Parker was perhaps the most influential person on wine culture of the last 40 years, but that influence is changing. While RP will be noted next to wine ratings for decades, younger drinkers are moving away from ratings altogether.

The rise of Vice Media is an interesting case, as the skater magazine has grown into a media empire and created new stars. Amongst them Action Bronson and his show F*** Thats Delicious. Action goes around the world eating, drinking, and rapping. He groans with pleasure about the delights, appreciative of the culture, exposing his audience to a whole new world of good, honest, real people. He introduces them to the people they might actually meet if they were to go there, and wander off the beaten path. He loves his wine, and he drinks everything from the everyday to the once in a lifetime wine.

What people like Action Bronson do is make wine a part of the everyday, something that has not been a solid part of American wine culture. Those with an interest in wine culture should stand up and take notice. Everyday heroes, exploring a wide world available to this generation, making wine a part of their everyday life. It makes wine accessible, it shows that wine is not all about pairing with food, but also about pairing with occasions, sharing with people, and making memories. Its about making wine a part of their culture, a part of their life, and not just a premium drink they share with their parents on special occasions.

Becoming a part of the culture, then driving it

Great brands, and products, are cultural drivers. They shift things, make people live in a different manner. Think about Apple and the iPod, and the iPhone. Then think about Apple TAM, or Pippin, or even the Watch. A great brand alone cannot shake a culture, it has to have a great product. The brand can become a part of the culture, and coupled with a great product can be a driving force of culture.

Wine has to become a part of the culture of younger drinkers, and to a certain extent it is. It is a part of their lives, and younger drinkers see wine as a whole different animal. What many in the industry see as “gaps” in their knowledge, we should really view as opportunity. For those between 21–35 years old, wine is more than a luxury item, but a passport to a wider world. What drives them is the desire to feel unique, to feel special, and feel like they want to share those experiences with their peers. Wine can be a part of that culture, but a great wine, or better yet a great winery, can really make a difference in their lives. Hello, Rose anyone?

This is because wine is better positioned than any other beverage to make the consumer feel special. Winemakers, just because of what they do, have amazing stories to tell, they come for amazing places, their wine is made in picturesque views. Every wine is a unique experience, but nobody ever bothered to make that a selling point. Instead we made wine feel like a school exam, testing people’s knowledge rather than bringing them on a journey. Thats a fault of the industry, and its poor product management.

So how do we grow wine culture?

Growing wine culture is in fact two issues in one. We have to grow the culture in a way that it reflects the culture of the younger drinkers who make up that massive share of the wine market. But we also have to help these young wine drinkers grow the wine culture they have created, engaging with more cultural icons from brands to influencers. This new generation is going to change a lot about wine, how it is consumed, and how they interact with it. The industry needs to let their vines follow.