Ah, the Millennials. Whatever they decide to get into receives the Millennial treatment: a dozen apps, a few reddit boards, “official” Instagram pages, mentions in pop, dance and rap songs and an almost soul-crushing amount of streamlining and corporate appropriation (a driving force behind this generation’s distrust of institutions). Wine, for better or worse, has been subject to this same Millennial Effect.
In a world where we can order a personal drone from our phones on a whim, the Millennials see no point in waiting to quench their thirst for vino. Craving a unique red blend? No need to interrupt the Netflix marathon and crawl out from underneath your Lovesac blanket – just take to your phone, tablet or laptop. We used to be limited to whatever our local markets, liquor stores, restaurants, bars and yes, even gas stations, chose to stock. Now, there are wine clubs peppered across the Internet landscape poised to deliver wine and convenience in return for a reasonable amount of dollars. Not only that, there are now plenty of apps available at the touch of a screen that will introduce the end user to invaluable wine information.
A simple search for “wine club” on Google yields over 80 million results. Sift through the plethora of clickable options and one thing becomes very clear: a seemingly endless supply of wine can find its way to your door in no time. These clubs aren’t just online marketplaces run by mainstream wineries, either – a good portion of these services are fully realized concepts curated by sommeliers. Some feature small lot California wines while some focus on lesser known varietals and producers. Still others specialize in tastes of international bottles not widely available to or sought by most stores.
So, how do you, as an owner, operator or manager, compete against the digital wine marketplace and deal with a generation of consumers that are equal parts voracious, finicky and tech savvy? After all, you can’t afford to sit back and allow potential customers to stay home and buy wine from online sellers or your competitors. Capture the attention and loyalty of Millennials and you’ll create an army of social media promoters sounding the call that your bar is the place to be for hip wine drinkers.
First, realize this: the common wines most bars stock simply don’t appeal to Millennials. This generation in particular has come to embrace wine more quickly than any before it, and with good reason: online resources, pop culture placement and targeted ads. Ease of access to information has made it simple for them to gain an immense amount of knowledge incredibly easily and become aware of wine and wine clubs. Why would anyone of this demographic settle for overpriced table wine at your bar when they can have, for example, a limited production cabernet sauvignon-tempranillo blend from Crianza in their hands within a day or two of placing an order from a website? The Millennial is looking for what’s unusual, trendy and interesting. This consumer in particular is making purchase decisions based upon the story behind the wine, its producer, its region, etc., not ostentatiousness and inflated price tags. Bragging about the coin they dropped on a bottle or glass isn’t their style, considering they tend to have less money to burn than older generations; they prefer to learn something exciting to share with their peers.
Research, innovation and solid distributor relationships are more important than ever for those seeking to capture dollars from the Millennial demographic. There are distributors out there, like Vitis Imports of Inglewood, CA, who specialize in small producers like Ronco del Gelso and lesser known varietals such as Sagrantino di Montefalco made by Tabarrini. Get to know these types of wholesalers and learn the interesting details behind the wines in their portfolios. There are also winemakers and distributors taking to Twitter in order to get eyes on their portfolios and create on-premise demand. It’s in the best interest of operators and their social media managers to follow and retweet these accounts. After all, the term “Millennial” is synonymous with “social media.” We’ll start you out here, with Diageo.
Operators should also consider the fact that, while over 90% of wine produced in America comes from California, there is at least one established winery in every state. A remarkable total of 754,140,774 gallons of still wine were produced in 2012 alone. Sure, California was responsible for well over 667 million gallons but New York and Washington each cranked out well over 20,000,000 gallons themselves. In terms of bubbles, you may be surprised to learn that New Mexico is home to a critically acclaimed sparkling wine producer, Gruet. Branch out from what your competitors are offering and it’s likely you’ll find several options in your state that’s noteworthy for your menu.
Of course, if you’re in a state with significantly lower yields, the wines on offer may not have been picked up by one of your distributors. In that case, follow West Hollywood, CA’s V Wine Room model and visit the wineries yourself. Strike a deal, pick up a few cases (or, if your budget allows, as many cases as you can pack into a moving truck without risking dead inventory) and make your bar the tasting room for your local winemakers. Educate yourself and your staff on the wines, promote a local wine night once a month or once a week, encourage your staff to share their knowledge with customers and give them something compelling to share on social media. Wine drinkers can rub shoulders with both the beer and cocktail crowds just fine; create a compelling wine menu – even a small one – and give them a reason to do so.
The industry is operating in a world where creating reactions is both more important and more difficult than ever before. The proliferation of social media, phonegazing and a, “Cool, but what’s next?” attitude is making it harder for operators to grab and hold a customer’s attention. It’s obvious that social media and cell phones aren’t going anywhere. Rather than lament that fact, it’s your responsibility to embrace, adapt to and profit from this reality. While it’s obvious that atmosphere and service are important when creating reactions, inventory is just as essential. Make a selective, social media savvy guest say, “Wow, I can’t believe they have that,” or, “I don’t know what that is and I have to have it,” and they’ll generate invaluable buzz for your bar. There are more Millennials coming of legal drinking age over the next several years. Learn to effectively target them now and you’ll blow away your competition.