CHEERS

The Ris­ing Tide of Mil­len­ni­als and Wine

Times of the Islands - - Departments - BY GINA BIRCH Gina Birch is a reg­u­lar con­trib­u­tor, a lover of good food and drink, and a well-known me­dia per­son­al­ity in South­west Florida.

Not since the baby boomers has there been so much con­sumer buzz about a gen­er­a­tion. Born roughly be­tween 1980 and 2000, num­ber­ing about 92 mil­lion, mil­len­ni­als are the largest gen­er­a­tion in his­tory, ac­cord­ing to the U.S. Census Bureau. The Wine Mar­ket Coun­cil projects th­ese 16- to 36-year-olds to be the next sub­stan­tial con­sumer seg­ment for the wine industry, and their im­pact is al­ready be­ing felt. Mil­len­ni­als are gen­er­ally cat­e­go­rized as ad­ven­tur­ous, look­ing for au­then­tic­ity and on the hunt for good deals.

Blaine East, owner of Paradise Wine in Naples, says that quest gave birth to a new la­bel from the es­teemed Fisher Vine­yards in Napa Val­ley: Unity. As the younger gen­er­a­tion of the Fisher fam­ily came into the busi­ness, they wanted to make qual­ity wines that their peers could af­ford, and they’ve hit the nail on the he ad.

You can smell the fruit in the 2013 Unity caber­net sau­vi­gnon from the time it comes out of the bot­tle un­til it hits the glass. With mod­er­ate tan­nins and some herbal notes, this wine is warm and juicy with dark cherry, plums and co­coa. Com­ing in at un­der $50, it’s a good value and one that could sit for a few years.

Lisa Peju, brand am­bas­sador for Peju Wines in Cal­i­for­nia, has a sim­i­lar story. As kids, she and her sis­ter be­gan ex­per­i­ment­ing at the din­ner ta­ble blend­ing the fam­ily’s red and white wines to­gether for some­thing softer and more ap­proach­able to suit their younger palates. Even­tu­ally bot­tled as Tess, the re­sult was, as Peju de­scribes it, “like a heavy rosé or a re­fresh­ing red wine that is lighter in style … no one makes any­thing like it.”

In the $20 range, the cur­rent re­lease is a silky blend of caber­net sau­vi­gnon, mer­lot, zin­fan­del, caber­net franc, sau­vi­gnon blanc, chardon­nay and petit ver­dot. It smells flo­ral and is full of

fresh straw­berry and rasp­berry fla­vors, a per­fect sum­mer wine.

Tess was just the be­gin­ning for the sis­ters who have ac­quired a new win­ery in Carneros, Cal­i­for­nia, and will be mak­ing what Peju calls, “some fun blends,” adding, “The younger gen­er­a­tion is go­ing away from that overly ex­tracted wine.”

How does South­west Florida, a mar­ket in­fa­mous for its num­ber of re­tirees, fit into the mil­len­nial-ver­sus-wine pic­ture?

Liset Ze­laya, som­me­lier at Sea Salt in Naples, says, “Our typ­i­cal clients tend to be a lit­tle older, but their chil­dren are com­ing in with them, and they are the ones we see look­ing for some­thing dif­fer­ent, some­thing more value ori­ented, more nat­u­ral, what’s new and hot on the mar­ket.”

From the re­tail per­spec­tive, East sees his older cus­tomers as the ones who are en­cour­ag­ing the younger gen­er­a­tion to try wine. He says, “The sons and daugh­ters of par­ents come in and they all say, ‘Let’s share a bot­tle to­gether.’ It’s a way to con­nect.”

Mil­len­ni­als are all about con­nec­tion. They use Face­book for shar­ing the wine they drink, ex­cited to be the first to post a cool find. Peju says, “I’ve no­ticed younger gen­er­a­tions want what their friends are hav­ing more than what a critic or one per­son says. They want to be able to tell their friends I’ve had this, and say I found this first.”

And one more thing, she adds, “They want things their par­ents didn’t be­cause it’s way cooler au­to­mat­i­cally.” Michelle Ren­zulli, 26, from Es­tero echoes that sen­ti­ment, say­ing, “I don’t want the chardon­nay my mom drinks.”

But when this col­lec­tive group does want a chardon­nay, they want one with a great story, us­ing the buzz­words “gen­uine” and “au­then­tic.” They also tend to sup­port brands that have a cause be­hind them or whose philoso­phies align with their own.

So far, mil­len­ni­als aren’t chang­ing the way Emile Mourad, owner of the Grape Base in Es­tero, buys his wines. He spec­u­lates their im­pact may be more pro­nounced in big­ger cities, a trend (like many) in which South­west Florida is lag­ging be­hind.

As for the restau­rant scene, Ze­laya says there has in­deed been a bit of a shift in her buy­ing. In­stead of a heavy con­cen­tra­tion of more tra­di­tional grapes and re­gions, she is bring­ing in more ob­scure va­ri­etals from lesser-known ar­eas, to fit her ever-chang­ing menu. “It’s ex­cit­ing for me be­cause it gives me the op­por­tu­nity to keep try­ing and search­ing out new pro­duc­ers,” she says. “It’s fun for me to work with them [mil­len­ni­als].”

Not a mil­len­nial and won­der­ing how this will af­fect you? The well-es­tab­lished, tra­di­tional winer­ies won’t be go­ing any­where, but the doors will be open­ing for smaller pro­duc­ers to get their wines to you through bou­tique dis­trib­u­tors. The de­mand will bring more af­ford­able and eclec­tic se­lec­tions to the doorsteps of wine lovers who have been craving more with­out trav­el­ing for the discovery—a win-win for ev­ery­one. Cheers!

MIL­LEN­NI­ALS USE FACE­BOOK FOR SHAR­ING THE WINE THEY DRINK, EX­CITED TO BE THE FIRST TO POST A COOL FIND.

Sis­ters Lisa and Ari­ana Peju are cre­at­ing wines, bot­tled un­der the Tess la­bel, with mil­len­ni­als in mind.

Blaine East, owner of P ar­adise Wine in Naples, car­ries the new U nity wines, de­signed to be more af­ford­able and ap­peal to a younger gen­er­a­tion.

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