Gamay. So hot right now. Rob McMillan’s latest state of the wine industry report provides the key insight that millennials are drinking less wine, particularly fine wine, and this portents a storm ahead. After reading the report I wondered what segmentation would reveal about the millennial drinker. As an overall category, fine wine is declining with millennials, but my anecdotal experience is that millennials love wine just as much as anyone else, but have different preferences. The wine industry writ large is simply failing to deliver products that meet these preferences. My theory is that wine is heading for a reckoning much like beer did a decade ago with the rise of craft breweries. The difference is the failure of the wine industry from a cross-industry perspective, from small to large, of understanding what younger consumers look for.
The Future of Wine
The so-called ‘fad’ of natural wine has revealed a deeper ethos that is showing up in the macro-trends and in big numbers with real consequences for the overall wine industry. Natural wine does best with millennials. Why is this? It is not about the objective quality of the wine (which of course only exists as a percentage of the wine experience). I think it is instead:
(1) the countercultural force of the philosophy. The fact the establishment has often reacted negatively to natural wine is part of it. The attack on short-termism (i.e. the lack of sustainability in farming). The attack on market research driven wine. All of this attracts millennials, who let’s be honest, are screwed compared to the older generations in almost all aspects of life in the west.
(2) the social-sharing dimension. This is less about status as it is traditionally understood among Gen-X and boomers. As opposed to ‘fine china’ signals of wealth, the wines that succeed now are about value-cache. No chemicals, commune living, sustainable, etc. I am not saying these ideas are illegitimate. Rather, I am highlighting that successful wine now signals certain values that provide consistency and synergy with millennial moral ambition.
(3) price. Non-commodity wine at relatively low prices.
(4) it’s entirely commensurate with both fun and learning. Affordable critter wines worked because they were fun. But now it’s not so fun to buy a wine made by flattening the earth with high yield vines sustained by aggressive chemical farming – i.e. to contribute to the agro-industrial mechanisms that have helped make the earth poorer for younger generations. Today, learning about farming and how it can be accomplished sustainably is essential. How to combine sustainable farming with learning about the complexity of these decisions and how they influence a final product is even more relevant. Combine that with a bon vivant jouissance and you have a winning formula.
(5) micro-scale. No more one wine for all people. Instead, small supply and a huge variety of niches is necessary for sector growth. This is much like craft beer.
(6) recapturing the health debate. The health industry has, much like smoking, successfully taught the younger generations that alcohol is bad for you. To recapture this narrative see the no-sulphur and no-chemical, low alcohol, natural yeast approach.
An Out of the Park Australian Gamay
I write the above to contextualize this wine. It falls within this new camp, as has Gamay as a grape. In fact, perhaps Gamay represents this new movement of wine more than any other grape. In many ways it hits each of the above six factors. It is also routinely delicious. What better grape as a vanguard for new millennial drinkers? It achieves the conceptual requirements but also regularly tastes good and is easy to drink, easy to understand, and easy to share with others who do not know much about wine.
Timo Mayer, a German immigrant to Australia’s Yarra Valley, makes counterculture Pinot Noir, Syrah, and, in tiny quantities, Gamay. It is an excellent Gamay, distinctly Australian in its vivacity, but also classically Gamay in its aromatic expression and easy, juicy fruit. This is a perfect example of the kind of wine that will easily sell out to the millennial wine drinker and bypass the trends identified by Rob McMillan. There is much to learn here.
On the list at Hawksworth