“Gen Wine”: More millennials drinking wine instead of beer

WE REGULARLY VISIT OUR REGION’S wineries to sip new varietals, taste from the barrel and meet with winemakers. We also enjoy meeting other winery guests. Though most of them are retirees, or boomers like ourselves, we notice more millennials at local wineries and tasting rooms.

We’ve run into these unpretentious and adventurous wine drinkers at the wineries along Hwy. 49, Hwy. 174 or the historic downtown tasting rooms, where they tell us they are seeking out small wineries with a backstory or unique local wines.

We’ve peeked their interest with our own stories: receiving impromptu winemaking lessons from winemaker-owner Mark Henry at Montoliva; learning about the three generations of winemakers at Smith Vineyard; or wining, dining and dancing at events hosted by Pilot Peak, Naggiar, Sierra Knolls or Bent Metal.

This winter, you can expect to find Generation Y or “Gen Wine” venturing out on Valentine’s Day (on a Sunday this year) or President’s Day weekend to experience the “good life” at a local winery.

They’ll also be showing up at our casual foothill wine gatherings, including the Foothills Celebration in Grass Valley (March 5), “Behind the Cellar Door” in Amador County (March 5-6), and Passport in El Dorado County (April 9-10 and April 16-17).

In the wine business, our region is home to a growing number of young wine professionals, such as Jackson Starr, the vineyard manager and co-winemaker at Sierra Starr in Grass Valley. Jackson hosts a group of wine professionals who meet monthly to taste wine.

What we’re experiencing in our region is happening all over: More millennials are adopting wine as a “go-to” drink or as a professional passion.

Research shows that millennials are moving away from macrobrews in favor of craft brews, and higher-end wines and spirits. “As millennials enter their twenties and early thirties, gone are the kegs and Cuervo shots of college days,” writes sommelier Leora Kalikow on her popular blog on Huffington Post. “For the millennial seeking a more sophisticated and social drink, wine has become the beverage of choice.”

By 2017, the younger wine drinkers are expected to have more buying power than any other group. They now account for about 29 percent of the wine-drinking population, according to the Wine Market Council.

Millennial wine drinking habits differ from previous generations. They often drink wine everyday in informal settings, not waiting for a special occasion. At restaurants, they sample wines by the glass instead of ordering a single bottle.

Most younger people prefer a unique story behind a wine, such as how it is grown and blended, rather than relying on a 100-point-scale for rating wine. They prefer to know what their friends think about a wine on social media, rather than hearing about the number of gold medals it has won.

Wineries are taking notice of the trend. They are producing more wines that millennials prefer, often with less tannin and more sugar. They are packaging their wine in recyclable paper boxes and single-serving wine pouches for “on the go” wine drinking. And they are selling more wine on tap for diners who order wine by the glass at restaurants. “Millennials offer the wine industry a growth potential not seen in more than 30 years,” concludes the Wine Market Council.

(Photo: Domaine Chandon)

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