Why Gen Zs and Millennials should be picking up their wine glasses

Encouraging young wine drinkers to be proud of their knowledge!


My first job in the wine industry was to host wine tastings. At the time I was 21, which could make things a bit unusual. Although I was qualified and clearly knew the wines well, there would often be a moment towards the end, once participants had worked their way through a couple of glasses, that I would be asked how old I was. I never minded, knowing that it was abnormal for a ‘wine expert’ (my then job title) to be so young. What it did do was highlight the fact that I would usually have to move up one or two generations if I wanted to talk about my love for wine. 

A couple of years later, I am being asked this question less and less – I’m not sure if that is assuring or saddening either… I’ll buy some moisturiser. Yet, the point still stands that I tend to be the youngest in the tasting or in a meeting within the field. Hence my growing concern: where are all the young winos? We need them both as consumers and to be working within the industry in order to sustain it. And yet, not only are there few of us working in wine, but there are also declining numbers of young people drinking it. 

Reasons behind this lack of interest in the world of wine are multifaceted and personal, although we can outline some of the most prominent. Firstly, millennials are the first ever generation to have comparatively less money than their parents had at the same point in their lives. As a result, their relationship with money is somewhat complex. Whilst they tend to be more wary of spending the income that they do have frivolously, they are also more likely to opt for experiential rewards over those that are financial. This inclination is evident within studies of the current ‘great resignation’, where younger workers are demanding improvements in their non-wage incentives to remain in their positions.

Hannah Crosbie, founder of The Dalston Wine Club, which holds events tailored to the next generation of drinkers, touches on how this can become a barricade for entrance into the wine world if it is not managed; “If you want to get into wine, anyone will tell you that you have to ‘taste, taste, taste’! Not only do you have to taste lots of different things, but also lots of different things in tandem... Unless your parents have a massive cellar, or you’re privy to trade tastings, those opportunities just aren’t there”. 

As can be imagined, tasting endless bottles is certainly not an inexpensive requirement. For a demographic that is spend-shy, this can deter potential industry workers and engaged consumers from reaching for the wine glass. “That was the idea behind The Dalston Wine Club; providing opportunities for young people to critically taste in a very non-intimidating environment”, says Hannah, who has tapped into both the cost issues that young people face when entering the world of wine - a ticket to The Dalston Wine Club events costs around what you would expect to spend on a single bottle of wine - as well as providing a welcoming and fun experience that Millennials and Gen Zs value so highly.

As hinted above, the exclusive nature of the wine community is also a barrier for young people who might have a spark of interest in the drink. Hannah points out, “the language that we use to talk about wine is incredibly esoteric. It discourages older people too. There is an assumption that, as you get older, you naturally start knowing about wine. I think that we need to break it down ever so slightly and talk about wine in a bit more of a relatable way”. There are certainly spaces where these communication styles are being re-thought; publications (you’re reading one now), inclusive wine bars and shops, together with other welcoming experiences.

The preference of younger age groups toward lifestyle aspirations, if harnessed correctly, should be advantageous for the wine industry more than any other, as it is known for such benefits. This is particularly true when the potential engagement levels of the consumer are so high, a silver-lining-like side effect of the second reason that young people are not gravitating towards the world of wine: they are drinking less than previous generations. Once again, reasons for their lower inclination towards drinking regularly and/or heavily are numerous, and may include higher education levels around a balanced diet, as well as the rise of the wellness trend. 

The fact is, Millennials and Gen Zs generally have less interest in getting drunk. Whilst this might seem doom-worthy to an industry that survives off the purchase of alcoholic drinks, it can be interpreted more optimistically. Non-bulk wine requires a highly engaged customer, not one that is simply going to weigh the ABV% to cost ratio of their prospective bottle, or who attends a tasting for the sole purpose of sloshing as much of the wine down their throat as possible. In order to appeal to the consumer, wine that is not made in huge quantities, which is thus more expensive and less well-known, must captivate its customer, not only through taste, but with the story behind the bottle and the conditions in which it was produced. With these age groups being less absorbed by the effects of alcohol, they are more likely to actually pay attention to what is in their glass and evolve their interest in the topic.

Additionally, having grown up in a world where they can buy anything with just the tap of a finger, Gen Zs and millennials have learned to appreciate the values behind a brand, as well as the product that they see immediately before them. According to consumer behaviours, young people will actively seek out product alternatives in favour of brands that value sustainability and social equity. Holly Willcocks, co-founder and in-house sommelier of Half Cut Market, a ‘corner shop with a conscience’ in Islington, has noticed this trend; “definitely the younger generation of consumers, like the millennial age group, care more about where their products come from, versus just the convenience. They are happy to spend more for transparency. We vote with our money”. 

It makes sense, when you consider that people at this age have witnessed the injustices of capitalism since childhood, most notably the impacts on climate change and labour crises. In terms of the wine industry, this is excellent news for small producers and those with sustainability credentials. Where in the past their higher price point was a deterrent to the customer, they now have access to a customer base who not only understand why their wines are more expensive but are also willing to pay more for the greater ethical standing. 

A consequence of new consumer priorities may lead to a drop in the number of bottles sold, due to less volume consumed, but a desire for ethical and transparent brands will likely result in a higher average spend per bottle, curbing any disastrous outcomes. 

An area that is already benefiting from this reality is natural wine, which has been seeing a rise in popularity for a few years. Half Cut Market stocks a “very small, concise collection, which is very curated” and though not all is natural wine, Holly certainly has a penchant for the stuff! Holly tells me why she feels drawn towards it.

“Natural wine producers tend to be these smaller, often family-led, domaines… it is about the love and attention that you give every single grape. That is what matters for me, rather than just a pure, natural wine, it is about paying attention and caring. We are able to be on the ground everyday, talking to people, relaying those stories. [Half Cut Market] has its own story, too. It is myself, my partner and two of our friends. We are our own little family vineyard!”

It is businesses such as this that are changing the way in which people talk about wine, whilst creating friendly spaces through which young groups can explore the subject. The use of storytelling when communicating about a bottle allows an engaged consumer to connect with it on a more personal level. This air of informality and community is very enticing to Millennials and Gen Zs. Moreover, the impact of having young people at the face of such brands cannot be underestimated. Both Hannah and Holly made references to not feeling like they fully blend into the industry.

Holly comments “it is not a world that I ever thought I would be in. It is not something I expected for myself, because it does feel quite stuffy-old-man! But, it is not. It is just about paying attention to the bits that excite people”. 

Hannah speaks of the importance of representation; “the reason that I didn’t get into wine straight away is because I literally didn’t see anyone in the wine industry that I could relate to. I suppose now, hopefully, I am that person for a few people”. Like attracts like and so it is imperative that the industry sees and supports these Millennials and Gen Zs who are excelling at the front of their own businesses, repositioning the wine world in a way that best suits their demographic. There is tremendous opportunity for the industry within younger generations; their interest just needs igniting.

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