Those of us born in the USA from the mid-60’s through late-’70’s have always been viewed as a lost generation. It has become an increasingly inaccurate assessment as this generation of “slackers” slip into our 40’s and quietly lead future generations by example. From a drink perspective, we are the generation that fed the craft beer boom, revived cocktail culture, and created a sizable market for organic options.

Perhaps, our next legacy will be passing on a desire for transparency, honesty, and integrity in consumer products (more specifically, for the purposes of this discussion: wine, beer, and spirits). We have touched on this issue with the trend toward organic/biodynamic products as well as with a tendency to seek out producers with our generational DIY ethic. We intuitively pursue products made by those who create their products in their back yards and market by word-of-mouth and (somewhat counter-intuitively) via the internet rather than in laboratories, by focus-group suggestion and traditional marketing media. While we embody this ideology, it will be the next generation—Generation Y or “Millenials”—that will have to pick up the mantle and make “integrity” the watch-word of beverage consumerism for the next 30+ years.

Why? Because millenials have (and will have) greater buying power. They already have far greater numbers (70+ million to Gen X’s 41 million). While income is currently terrible for both generations (largely due to unemployment), the outlook can only be brighter for millenials during their core, informed drinking years (those years after college when tastes are established and patterns emerge). This will be a generation that can change the practical functionality of a broken industry decisively for the long term.

Hopefully, as a result, I will live to see a day when beverage purchase decisions are made by virtue of real choice between one honest product over another rather than having to sift through what is lab-generated and cleverly marketed to even get to the “real stuff”. This is a subject that will persist throughout the life-span of this blog, so I felt it fitting that it be the first content post.

The impetus for this commentary was (as is often the case with me) a discussion on a LinkedIn forum regarding this article. Here is my response to the article:

“The Millenials will be the first true “explorer” generation that will not, as a general rule, get caught in a predictable wine-consuming pattern later in life and lean on one grape or brand for 30+ years as did boomers and, to a lesser extent, Xers.

The clearest example of that theory is being borne out in craft beer. I use the craft beer boom as the leading example because wine is a big-ticket start-up proposition and is still, largely, an “old money” (or generationally handed-down business) or a product of the less ideologically embraced acquisitional model of the beverage conglomerates. As such, the wine business is more proprietary/less open and ideologically cooperative as craft brewing.

As a backlash to boomers sticking with what their fathers drank and continually building the “big three” (Bud, Miller, and Coors), gen-Xers started brewing beers with flavor, honesty, and integrity borne out of a love of sharing good beer more than a love of its profit potential. They work together, often across oceans, to create new ideas and build an international understanding that there is something “more” to be had as producers and consumers through community acting together than by being insular and hiding factual information from peers and consumers (which is the long-held and current legacy of conglomerates like InBev and Constellation and is why they are in steady decline). This ideology of open access to ideas and information is most embraced by millenials and most craft brewers are smartly marketing primarily to them via social media and in-person interactions at beer festivals and such. That palpable honesty and openness is what will continue to grow craft beer’s market share driven by millenial consumers.

The principal difference between the growth of craft beer and the marketing analysis that tells us that Moscato is a growth varietal amongst millenials is that the former is ideologically rooted and sustainable while the latter is merely financially opportunistic and fleeting. Marketing Mosacto to millenials is the same as Malbec last year and Pinot Grigio the year before that and Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc the year before that. All it really accomplishes is giving bulk growers a means to sell off their excess fruit for a few years. In short order, millenial consumers will move on. In the short-term it may be to a different varietal or region, but, ultimately, they will begin moving in divergent directions.

Individual experience is what drives millenial consumerism more than any prior generation and there are few industries with as many avenues for exploration and tangential paths at wine. The abundant availability of information and opinions to be found and shared today will drive millenials in completely different pinball-like paths, crossing and bumping into each other seemingly randomly.

The winners of this new consumer model will be those that don’t have to spend millions constantly sourcing new fruit contracts and creating new brands and ridiculous back-stories for wineries that don’t really exist. Honest and true winemakers with a connection to their land and local history, and with passion for making good wine with the fruit that makes the most sense for where it is grown will return to prominence.

The lemming is drowned.”

What are your thoughts?