The wine industry has a problem. The next generations of drinkers just aren't drinking wine like their forebears, with stats from the U.S suggesting that just 20% of millennials are now drinking wine, all pointing to a future 20% downturn for the wine industry.
So how do you address the problem? Marketer, journalist, Wine Communicators of Australia Deputy Chair and millennial Tijana Laganin believes that the way we talk about wine is just alienating the next generations.
How to be cool? We grow up striving to be one of the ‘cool kids’. Popularity paramount. In a way, the beverage industry is no different to the schoolyard; you have the jocks – beer, the goodie two shoes – zero alc and the popular kids – gin and seltzers. But where does wine fit?
We are in denial, but the truth is, as an industry, we have allowed wine to become ‘the bully’. By putting wine on a constant pedestal, we have hindered its popularity - moulding it into something that intimidates and embarrasses others. What makes matters worse is that we just sit there. We encourage it, snickering when someone mispronounces Viognier and gasping when someone thinks Vino Nobile di Montepulciano produces Montepulciano.
And yet, still, we wonder why people select Sauvignon Blanc, despite watching on as the person ordering Grüner Veltliner has a coronary over the umlaut. Does that make us witnesses or accomplices?
This elitist mentality holds back our industry - exhausting finite resources to capture an ageing population whilst their successors are forgotten. If we continue down this path, restaurants will have sommeliers crafting gin and seltzer lists, with wine in the appendix alongside mocktails. All because we didn't instil confidence in the next generation to order something they couldn't pronounce.
With Millennials and Gen Z, we must be wary of an innate defence mechanism. Do not be fooled by their baby faces - when equipped with an iPhone, Gen Z can destroy. One tweet, Instagram or TikTok and an entire reputation can be obliterated! Things have only just recovered from the stigma of the ABC (Anything But Chardonnay) movement.
Studies on the subject (observations of my twenty-four-year-old brother) have revealed that Gen Z experiences a perpetual feeling of being hard done by with the belief the world owes them. It all supports the idea that this is the Age of Entitlement - a volatile combination when paired with an industry bound by tradition and strict regulatory systems.
Fortunately for Australia, our position as a new world wine leader could be deemed 'cool' by Gen Z. In a way, we too, make our own rules - no one dictates what grapes we should use! So why fight them when you can join them?
It is a vicious cycle - intimidation -> sense of inferiority -> hostility. If intimidation is the root of all evils, how do we reduce it? Intimidation is usually attributed to the 'unknown' - and in the world of wine, there are many variables: grapes, regions, vintages - throw in foreign languages made more complex by the industry's jargon. The solution is simple – acknowledge the unknown, then educate to make it known. We forget a majority of the population doesn’t spend their lives studying wine. It is time we gave a little compassion to the twenty-year-old wanting to evolve her palate from Vodka Cruisers. Never underestimate the tool of empathy, nor a Moscato!
As an industry, we should stop chasing ‘cool’ and focus on being liked. Wine isn’t cool; it is timeless. It is the difference between Von Dutch and Chanel – for anyone following the Prime series Von Dutch crashed as quickly as it rose. We do not want to be a Seltzer. If we go back to the definition of ‘popular’ it is “suited to the taste, understanding, or means of the general public rather than specialists or intellectuals”. In other words – an elitist approach removes the entire general public.
Some notable players have picked up on this early, using idioms to establish a sense of familiarity, partnerships with American rappers, and collaborations with gin brands. Wineries are moving away from celeriac and chestnut purée suggestions to chicken twisties. Put yourself in their shoes – what were you eating at twenty-five? My brother lives off mie goreng and Red Rock salt & vinegar chips.
Never underestimate that twenty-year-old; although she may still be on her P-Plates, her twenty thousand Instagram following may sell you a few more cases. Mark Zuckerberg said, 'people influence people. Nothing influences people more than a recommendation from a trusted friend […] A trusted referral is the Holy Grail of advertising'.
The greatest thing about Gen Z? Convert them now, and you have their business for many years to come...
You can read more of Tijana's writing at the Winepilot website.