Ms. Myszkowski is the new wine buyer -- one of 70 million
millennials whose taste for adventure, quirkiness and convenience
will drive the market in the coming decade. The generation, loosely
defined as those born between 1980 and 2000, is taking up wine at
an earlier age than Gen X-ers and they will buy wine just about
anywhere -- including the corner convenience store. And 20 million
of them have yet to turn 21, meaning they will become an even more
Yet wine marketers have only recently started zeroing in on the
market, as opposed to other lifestyle brands which have been
tracking the generation for many years, said one expert. "They only
start paying attention to us once we turn 21, so unfortunately they
are now kind of behind the curve in terms of the research they've
been doing," said Leah Hennessy, 30, who runs a blog called
millennier.com that focuses on wine and millennials. "Now everybody
is playing catch-up."
The most recent player is 7-Eleven, which convened a focus group
of millennials before launching its latest line of proprietary
wines about two weeks ago. The brand, called Cherrywood Cellars, is
priced at $7.99 to $8.99 to lure young adult drinkers whom the
convenience store chain says might be watching their wallets more
closely than Gen X-ers and baby boomers during the economic
"We are targeting millennials because they like convenience and
to try new products," Jesus Delgado-Jenkins, 7-Eleven's senior
VP-merchandising and logistics, said in a statement.
Although beer remains the beverage of choice for millennials,
accounting for 42% of their alcoholic drinks, wine captures 20% --
up from 13% for Gen Xers when they were a similar age 10 years ago,
according to Nielsen. Drinkers tend to shift to spirits and wine as
they get older. If that trend holds, wine will account for 26% of
all alcoholic drinks consumed by all U.S. generations in 10 years,
up from 24% today, while beer will fall from 41% to 38%, according
"The millennial generation offers the wine industry the kind of
growth potential not seen in more than 30 years," noted the Wine
Market Council in its 2009 consumer tracking study.
The last great wine boom peaked in the 1980s as baby boomers
matured, but then sales slid, partly because Gen X-ers were
initially hesitant to take up wine, according to the council. Sales
have grown slowly but steadily since the mid-'90s. Table wine sales
were up nearly 5% to $6.1 billion in the year ending Oct. 31,
according to SymphonyIRI, which does not include Walmart and liquor
The test for marketers is to gain loyalty from young drinkers
whose tastes are only now emerging. For some wine companies, that
means putting members of the generation in charge of their brands.
At Treasury Wine Estates in Napa, for instance, 26-year-old Jenna
Hudson is a member of team of 20- and 30-somethings planning the
national launch early next year of Sledgehammer, which is targeting
the male millennial market.
Marketed as a "no-fuss" wine, the brand "eschews really
traditional wine speak" like "this smells of cherries and berries
and that type of thing," Ms. Hudson said. But the wine will also
seek to subtly educate the new generation of wine drinkers,
possibly using booklets of wine facts presented in a way that's
"funny and sarcastic," she said.
Experts say millennials, as opposed to other generations, have
no fear of asking for wine advice, but a lot of them seek it from
Facebook friends and on Twitter -- which is leading winemakers to
invest in social media. At Jackson Family Wines, maker of
Kendall-Jackson, digital projects are led by 27-year-old Adam
Beaugh, who formerly did web work for Texas Gov. Rick Perry. His
latest initiative is called "every bottle tells a story" and will
encourage drinkers to submit wine-drinking stories online via
various channels. "Wine's a social product," Mr. Beaugh said. " We
need to create an opportunity for people to interact with it a
little better without sounding too gimmicky."
Some companies have formed special millennial divisions, such as
The Wine Group, maker of Franzia, whose Underdog Wine Merchants
unit is enjoying big success with Cupcake Vineyards. The brand was
the 14th-best-selling wine for the four-week period ending Oct. 31,
with sales jumping 250%, according to SymphonyIRI.
Still, marketers risk overplaying their hand if they reach out
too aggressively to the generation, known for its suspicion of
overt selling tactics. For instance, some industry executives are
noticing a backlash against trendy, edgier wine labels.
"If you order a wine that's got a dancing gorilla on it and it
tastes bad, then who's stupid? You are," said Don Sebastiani Jr.,
CEO of Don Sebastiani & Sons, seller of Smoking Loon and other
wine brands that make no concerted effort to reach millennials. "If
you have a great bottle of wine that's priced right in a really
classy package, you will be successful."