A generation ago, powerbrokers-in-training attended business school to hone their skills in macroeconomics, financial analysis and supply chain management. These days, many young people entering the world of commerce feel wine savvy is an equally crucial tool. It’s their key to social networking, say students crowding courses like Philippe Newlin’s “SIP Wine” seminar at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs. Yet the first ‘Millennials’the generation born between 1982 and 2000—to reach legal drinking age appear to have a very different perception of the grape from their elders.
A Vinexpo-sponsored survey of one hundred 20-25-year-olds in the U.K., France, Belgium, Japan and 21-25-year-old Americans, finds they perceive wine culture as elitist, are intimidated by its vocabulary and mythos, are fearful of choosing a bad vintage and worry even more about mismatching wine and food. Branding is important to this age group, yet their rebellious nature resists traditional advertising and finds irreverent labels most appealing. Even the palate of this soft drink-raised generation is different: they prefer varietals that are light, fruity and refreshing.
The study also turns up some intriguing differences between countries. Young Americans and Japanese view wine culture as somewhat pompous, and only French and Belgian youth could perceive two different types of winemaking: noble vintages from grand chateaux, and rustic bottles from countryside farmers.
Young people everywhere think prices are too high. But this, wine lovers, is actually the good news: it means the newest generation of wine drinkers is not settling for plonk, but reaching for the quality quaffs. And while these twenty-somethings also say wine lacks a youthful image, this is one place they feel maturity is an asset. For post adolescents, the wine world is a “marker of adulthood” the Vinexpo study tells us, a place to create a new identity that is “refined, educated and cultivated.”
Given the full enrollment at university wine courses and the ardent questions from young people at tastings, Millennials seem determined to become sophisticated oenophiles by age thirty. So while in a few years we’ll have a youthful new crew of tasting companions, we’ll also have a lot more competition for those limited quantity California cult bottles and European premier crus.