Lettie Teague of the Wall Street Journal posted an article last week taking a look at how a new generation of technology enabled drinkers might be shaping the wine industry. After touching on some interesting ideas ‘confirmed’ in an unscientific focus group, she came to an odd conclusion:
“[T]o truly claim their position as the most powerful consumers in the world, [millennials] need to develop a broader context and a deeper understanding of the entire world of wine…”
One thought tugged at my brain as I came to the end of her WSJ ‘post.’ Teague rather bluntly seems to conflate the natural trends of a rapidly evolving marketplace with her own broad-stroked criticism of an entire generation. Try as she might to give an analytical yet personal touch to her piece, she can’t avoid coming off as whiny and bigoted. When a Gen X blogger writes this cynical clickbait aimed at millennial bashing snobs, who is really exemplifying the worst qualities of a generation?
Maybe it is unfair to bash a WSJ ‘blogger’ because of her unscientific and brash claims about millennials, after all in the modern age everybody online can publish an opinion. But her article came off as a digital age equivalent of “can you believe kids these days?!” and that she writes for the WSJ seemed incredible. The article is riddled with such beautifully ignorant generalizations such as “I bought wines that millennials were purported to like” (purported by who?) and “a millennial might answer ‘Yaaaasssss!’”(I just can’t even…). Her world-view seems dominated by a couple quotes from two young wine directors (her expert witnesses) and some new data released by Wine Opinions. But Teague is not able to make these anecdotes and data match and instead falls back on the former to make whatever claim feels right for her.
Personal anecdotes can be called up and molded for any purpose. For instance, my experiences with Boomer/X Generation diners while a Sommelier at an upscale establishment, showed a huge lack of “broader context and … deeper understanding” of the wine they drink; those with money ordered what was the most expensive or well known, and those without ordered the cheapest or the second cheapest, and both tended towards whatever regional identiy was part of their cultural comfort zone (napa cab, Provencal rose, Moscato). But is that a sign of moral degradation? And more importantly, is that a feature of just one generation? Choosing a wine based on what you are familiar with or what is in your price point is no more ignorant or wrong than choosing a wine because of a nice story or because its the next big ‘discovery.’
The ability of an entire generation to exert a powerful economic impact has little to do with their intelligence or understanding. I would observe it is only natural within a large segmented industry for “gaps in knowledge” to occur based on a consumers personal interest and investment in an industry. Teague’s shallow examination leaves any kind of critical understanding behind in favor of routine generation bashing.
I want to step back a little to the entire approach that Teague and other major new outlet bloggers share. The silliness behind these trending articles, now picked up and flung far and wide by WSJ, NYT et al, is exacerbated by plain sloppiness. Teague claimed her focus group supported the Wine Opinions research, yet that same research claimed “[Millennials] all like Moscato”, which none of her group did, and none of them found the wine from the “obscure grape” with “hipster cred” compelling, which happens to be the whole crux of Teague’s broad-based critique! As for Moscato, that wine has absolutely no compelling story and is certainly not a rare undiscovered grape. Its popularity has certainly exploded recently (thanks Nicki Minaj), just as white Zinfandel and sweet Lambrusco did before…in the 1970s, driven by boomers. Ascribing the ebb and flow of trends in cheap sweet bubbly to a critical fault that can be pointed to in a single generation is a rookie mistake by a writer who probably feels left behind herself. Teague’s research and anecdotal claims clash in every paragraph as she attempts to force both into a clickbait worthy narrative.
After all, why is it morally better to be the generation duped into paying hundreds of dollars for 100pt Napa Cabernet, than to chase down mediocre wine because it has a compelling narrative or a rare grape? Trends are trends, markets change and evolve, and while they are often driven by the newest generation to come of age, they are chased by people of all ages. My parents and grandfather are far more likely to go looking for a wine that is dry farmed, bio-dynamically grown, and featuring an elegant label with extensive backstory on it than they would have 30 years ago. I hope we can roundly reject the ageist hate mongering that these articles stoke and just like what we like in peace.