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One Millennial's W(h)ine

We're young and broke, but we love wine. How do we reconcile this?
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Are Millennials willing to spend the little disposable income they have on wine?

Posted: Mar 15, 2018 1:00pm ET

By Emma Balter

We Millennials get a bad rap—for being entitled, living too much online, having a poor work ethic ... you name it. While there are certainly bad apples in every generation, one thing many people don't appreciate is how bad we have it.

Yes, you read that correctly. Poor, poor Millennials. Waah.

While we have many modern conveniences at our fingertips, and aren't being involuntarily drafted in wars like some generations before us, we are facing more of an uphill battle for financial stability than our elders did at our age. "Millennials who came of age in the aftermath of the Great Recession are especially limited financially," my colleague Mitch Frank sagely notes.

We do not know a world where it's not difficult to get a job. We do not know a world where we are not crippled by student-loan debt. We do not know a world where it's easy to save money and buy a house. And as far as wine goes: We do not know a world where a bottle of first-growth Bordeaux costs $30.

I hear many Boomers in the wine world reminisce about such a time. Wine prices, like the costs of life in general, have gone up dramatically over the past few decades, and our wages have not kept up with this trend. Last week at Vinexpo in New York, I heard panelists say that Millennials are willing to pay more for a bottle of wine than prior generations at the same age. I think that's true to some extent: Because we readily have access to a trove of information online, unlike before, we're more educated about wine and keener to try new things.

But there's a disconnect here. Yes, the Millennials who are the most passionate about wine, and the most eager to learn about it, will be more likely to spend their disposable income on better wine. As someone whose life revolves around wine, both professionally and personally, I think spending up to $40 of my own money on a bottle I'm really excited about is a really good deal; I'll spend less money on other things that month. But for someone else, that $40, $30 and even $20 price tag can seem ridiculous and—even if they wanted to pay it—unattainable.

This person is most likely on the younger side of Millennialhood, really enjoys wine, but doesn't want to spend more than $10 on a bottle. Trust me, this is most twenty-somethings. Even then, the cost of several $10 bottles a month is the equivalent of a utility bill; when you're on a tight budget, you have to make choices.

Wine-market experts, who have done extensive studies on the matter, will say that Millennials are particularly interested in the stories behind the wine (true), that they are very quality-conscious (true), that they care about sustainability and the environment (true) and that they are attuned to a brand's ethics (true). Congratulations, you have decoded the mysterious Millennials and their deepest desires! (Even though, as a moderator on the Vinexpo panel pointed out, we're already telling you what we want all the damn time on social media.)

Here's the catch: All those things we Millennials are presumably looking for in a wine cost money. It costs money for a small, family-owned winery to get its story out. It costs money to make truly great-quality wine. It costs money to earn a sustainability certification, or to pay vineyard workers a decent wage. So where does that leave us? Is it even possible to make affordable wine that appeals to Millennials? That's a conversation for another time.

You can follow Emma Balter on Twitter, at twitter.com/emmabalter, and Instagram, at instagram.com/emmacbalter


Charles Chambless
Stow, Ohio, USA —  March 15, 2018 5:49pm ET
As a 'boomer' and wine shop manager, I can tell you that the search for quality wines is not limited to Millenials. A lot of my customers are in a similar situation (Social Security) and I make sure I always have quality wines in the $7 to $10 category. Also, just because some people have wealth doesn't mean they don't shop for great wine deals. I have several stories about customers telling me they can't afford wines over $10, only to watch them leave the store and jump into their Mercedes.
Hugh L Sutherland Jr-m
owens cross road,al 35763 —  March 17, 2018 3:03pm ET
Poor snowflake Millennials!! You are finding out that you have to actually work for what you want. You are finding out how hard your parents and grandparents had to work to provide your "many modern conveniences".
"Student loan debt"? we did not know what debt was. We went to that school our parents could afford--local college, 2 year college, or we co-oped or worked for tuition. We were careful to take degrees in fields where there were jobs available. We tried to make sure that we would be able to provide our children what our parents had given us.
With full employment and 6.5 million job opening available, you should find one that over time you might advance enough to afford "the modern conveniences such as first growth wine. If you live in California, moving to another state would save you enough in taxes to afford better wine (not 1st growth however)
Sugestion--learn to enjoy Yellow Tail

George G Galey
New York —  March 19, 2018 2:06pm ET
It is true that quality genuine wines from family owned wineries that are sustainably grown and easy on the wallet are hard to find. May I point you to Killibinbin Seduction Cab 2013? This is made by a fifth generation family winemaker and is a cab with integrity, balance and a Wine Spectator 91 pt score. Oh, and it runs about $15 in NY, probably lower elsewhere.

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