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Millennials Are Tired of You Criticizing Their Wine Habits

Yet another industry is blaming millennials for its decline - but is it true?

Janice Williams By March 25, 2022
Colorful illustration of young people drinking wine at a party
Illustration by Chanelle Nibbelink

John Haltiwanger is 33. As a senior politics reporter, he chases down breaking stories from Capitol Hill, covering national security and foreign policy. Occasionally, he appears as a talking head on news networks like MSNBC. And most recently, Haltiwanger reported on the war between Russia and Ukraine, live on the ground from the sidelines in Poland.

When he got back to his Brooklyn apartment, Haltiwanger resumed his usual after-work activity: whipping up a meal and cracking open a bottle of wine. 

“There’s almost no point in cooking without having a glass of wine in the process — it’s a nice little treat,” he says. 

And yet, the plethora of headlines that have recently emerged about millennials’ wine habits makes it seem as if young wine lovers like Haltiwanger are an anomaly. 

According to Silicon Valley Bank’s State of the U.S. Wine Industry 2022 report, only 20% of millennials drink wine. And the industry is expected to face a 20% decrease in volume of wine consumption over the next 10 years, an effect predicted to be primarily influenced by millennial-drinking trends. 

What millennials say 

From Haltiwanger’s point of view, as an average consumer who enjoys a glass of 19 Crimes wine, “Millennials love wine.” Plenty more people between the ages of 25 and 40 think the same about their peers.

“From everything we see, our friends, who largely happen to be millennials, all drink a lot of wine,” says Liz Paquette, one-half of the popular Millennials Drink Wine Instagram and blog. “Our generation has been accused of killing nearly every industry at this point. Wine’s just the latest victim.” 

As the handle suggests, Millennials Drink Wine was created to prove that millennials are, indeed, drinking wine. More than 15,000 people regularly follow and engage with Paquette and Millennials Drink Wine co-creator Tina Iannacchino — both of whom are 32 — on their social media pages. A large share of their growing following is, in fact, millennials. 

What the data says

Overall, wine sales were lower in 2021, but interestingly, the decrease isn’t impacting profitability. There was growth in the premium and luxury wine sector, according to the SVB report, with more wineries managing to sell a higher volume of wines at higher prices. 

That’s because drinkers, in general, are trading up. Rising interest in more premium-priced options played a role in Constellation Brands’ 2019 decision to sell off many of its lower-end wine brands — particularly those under $11 a bottle. Meanwhile, the success of Deutsch’s low-luxe strategy of marketing millennial favorite Josh Cellars wines, priced between $13 and $19, has paid off exceedingly well. The brand’s Cabernet Sauvignon is consistently the top-selling red wine on Drizly, which is largely used by millennials, and, increasingly, Generation Z drinkers. 

Though millennials are making conscious decisions to purchase wines priced above $10, those 55 and older from a “more affluent, urban elite customer segment” are generally buying more of it, according to an IWSR report

However, there are some wine categories embraced by millennial drinkers: natural and canned wines. 

IWSR said that sales of canned wines have doubled since 2018, and millennials account for 40% of the consumer base while baby boomers only account for 8%. Meanwhile, sustainable and low intervention wines have continued to grow in popularity. The core audience is millennials and older drinkers within Gen Z, proving that, like most generations, younger people simply don’t drink what their parents drink.

“Fine wine, while wonderful, isn’t where millennial drinkers are putting their focus on right now. Will we get there? Absolutely. But right now, we’re satiating our palates based on our respective tastes and our budgets,” says Chasity Cooper, a 33-year-old entrepreneur and wine culture expert living in Chicago.

Don’t overlook millennials’ appreciation for sparkling wine — they’re driving the category. Millennials have become more likely to opt for Champagne and sparkling wine on a regular weeknight while boomers are still predominantly drinking it on special occasions. 

According to Nielsen data released to Pix, drinkers aged 35 and younger without children bought Champagne at a high consumer rate comparable to senior couples. However, there were differences between younger people living in metropolitan cities and middle-class, working families, who were less likely to buy bubbly than their counterparts in more prosperous areas.

“Millennials are, by far and large, a health-conscious generation, and the wine industry isn’t helping itself by being cagey here — whether deliberate or not.”

All around different

Millennials aren’t drinking like Generation X, and they’re certainly not drinking like their grandparents. As noted in the SVB report, consumers within the millennial demographic — born between 1980 and 1995 — “have different values, are more health-conscious, have lower discretionary income and wealth, and are more ethnically diverse than previous generations.” 

Those differences show in millennials’ purchasing power as they opt to put their dollars toward products more in line with their core values. Look at the success of natural wines and the growing popularity of sustainable, low-intervention wine — all categories expected to advance in 2022, according to IWSR, largely because millennial drinkers are deeply concerned with environmentalism. This desire for wellness wines, with lower alcohol, fewer calories, and more ingredient transparency, is something the mainstream wine industry has yet to recognize.

“Millennials are, by far and large, a health-conscious generation, and the wine industry isn’t helping itself by being cagey here — whether deliberate or not,” says Paquette. 

Many millennials also support businesses that address problems they care about.

“Something that I consciously and intentionally started before the pandemic was seeking out and purchasing wine from Black wineries and makers,” says Hakeem Holmes, a 29-year-old actor and freelance marketer from New Orleans. “Wines by the McBride Sisters have become favorites.”

And they aren’t all that interested in wine scores and flowery reviews. 

“It wouldn’t hurt to make the process of choosing a wine feel more approachable and less pretentious, because I think it can be intimidating for some folks who don’t really know what they like yet,” says Kristan McCann, a 33-year-old music coordinator in Los Angeles. 

Relatable marketing

Millennials also have more options and enjoy exploring all of them, from craft beer to spirits, ready-to-drink cocktails, and hard seltzers.

Sales of craft beer, RTDs, and hard seltzers continued to boom in 2021. The most significant and obvious difference between those categories and wine is that wine hasn’t made a great enough effort to reel in younger drinkers, whereas beer, spirits, RTDs, and hard seltzers have been quick to use social media for marketing and exposing millennials to products. 

Not to mention the activation events, product placements in popular TV shows and films, and collaborations with pop culture icons. Some wineries have capitalized on this, like 19 Crimes with their Snoop Dogg Cali Red and Rosé wines, appealing to millennial drinkers who grew up listening to the rapper’s music.

“There is a market between ‘No laws while you’re drinking White Claws’ and my grandmother that is clearly being ignored,” says Emily Cappiello, a 36-year-old avid wine drinker who works in media relations. 

Cappiello adds, “The wine segment needs to refresh. They need to rebrand. They need to accept that millennials want something more relatable, more fun, and they want to know it’s evolving. There are so many things in the wine industry that align with millennials’ concerns, so it’s baffling how we keep missing them.”