Millennials Move Wine

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Millennials are helping drive wine sales in the U.S.

According to a 2016 report from the Wine Market Council, 40 percent more Millennials than the overall adult population consume wine through the year. And another report, from USA Today from the same year, revealed that Millennials drank 42 percent of all wine consumed in the U.S.

This is an important generation to court. According the U.S. Census Bureau, there are 83 million Millennials, and they outnumber Baby Boomers.

But they have very defined tastes. Nightclub & Bar spoke to Len Panaggio, managing partner of the New England Restaurant Financial Group in Newport, R.I., who has three Millennial children of his own.

Varietals Matter

While Pinot Noir rules the roost for Millennials, probably because it’s fruity and easy to drink, this generation also enjoys Moscato, which is sweet, Panaggio says. They also like sangria—red and white—which ties in with an interest in cocktails.

According to the Wine Market Council, Pinot Noir is the second favorite red wine with Millennials, with 43 percent reporting drinking it regularly. Their top choice is Merlot (49 percent) and their third is a red blend (37 percent). In white wine, Moscato reigns, with 57 percent of them reporting drinking it regularly, followed by 48 percent who favor Chardonnay and 6 percent who consume “somewhat sweet” rosé.

Millennials are interested in “varietals most of us have never heard of, from places we’ve never been,” Panaggio points out. These include grapes like Furmint from Hungary, which is used to make dessert wine, Royal Tokaji; Moschofilero, a white wine from Greece; and Tannat from Uruguay.

“Even Israel and Lebanon, which have been making wines for years, are starting to come to the marketplace,” he says. “You’re soon going to see wines from China too; they have vineyards everywhere though they’re growing the usual cast of characters in terms of varietals.”

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Millennials, he adds, “don’t want to drink what their parents are drinking; they want something different; they want to experiment.”

Red, White or Rosé?

In general, red wine rules. Brands like Apothic from Gallo are popular, as is The Prisoner, a small brand from Napa Valley that’s garnered a cult following. These are fruity, Panaggio says, like Rhône blends, which are also popular with this age group.

But Millennials also like rosé, which spills over into sparkling rosé, which spills over into Champagne, he points out. “A lot of Millennials are making money and they’re not afraid to spend it. They like the quality image of Champagne.”

Sparkling Moscato, according to the Wine Market Council, is the sparkling gem for Millennials, and 37 percent of them opt for it. Sparkling rosé’s their second choice, and 34 percent drink it regularly. Trailing is Champagne, at 27 percent.

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As a group, he says, Millennials are disrupters, and are opting for the drier rosés that have taken off in the past few years. These, says Panaggio, are a stark contrast to the White Zinfandels consumers previously associated with rosé wine.

Special Diets

Since Millennials are used to requesting exactly what they want to eat—and getting it—that’s translating to their wine drinking habits, too. To address that, many winemakers are starting to produce vegan wines.

This is a great move, Panaggio says, since many wine producers still use isinglass, made from fish bladders, to filter their wine. “Labeling wines vegan is opening up a whole new market for wineries,” he says.

A Picture Speaks a Thousand Words

The labels on The Prisoner’s red and white blends show a dark image of a man in shackles. Millennials are attracted to flashy labels, but they also want stories, Panaggio says.

The Prisoner’s label, he explains, “is a form of rebellion, or disruption, against the typical Napa Valley labels, and it provides a long backstory, but a story, especially if you visit the winery. It’s dark, but that’s okay because as a group, they are flexible.”

But in general, he says, Millennials “want colorful eye-catching labels, some with animals, some with stories, some with a cause.”

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Panaggio points to the example of Yes Way Rosé, which has a story in pictures that’s featured on Instagram, of course. Their social media features the strong brand, showing off “all the colorful swag, Provence appellation, the color, canned wine, paper straws to drink out of cans.” This, he adds, “is what Millennials are looking for. It’s totally a hip wine that fits all their parameters and they have a story.”

Packaging Revolution

The 750ml bottles of wine aren’t going anywhere, but increasingly, Millennials are demanding more options. Panaggio expects we’ll see more in quart-size packages like juice boxes, and more wine in cans and single-serving bottles. This makes wine more accessible for customers planning to drink it on a beach or other venue, Panaggio says.

He points out that bag-in-a-box wine continues to get better and gain acceptance. “These are the types of things Millennials want and the wine industry is responding to it; if they don’t jump on these things they’ll lose market share.”

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