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Do Wine Lovers Improve with Age and is there a New Generation of Wine Lovers Coming?
Copyright 2004 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved. Originally printed April 5, 2004. For more information go to

A pair of recent news stories about fine wine and marketing have me shaking my head and wondering whether they could both be right.

First came the not-so-surprising news that members of the Baby Boom generation are virtually supporting the wine industry. "Aging like fine wine," the Los Angeles Daily News headlined this story. "Baby boomers are turning their interests and wallets to the fruits of the vine."

The Baby Boom generation - the huge cohort of children of World War II veterans, born between 1946 and 1964 - accounts for "the bulk of serious wine drinkers in the United States," Associated Press reporter Lisa Singhania wrote from New York on March 31, attributing this statistic to "industry and research groups."

Fair enough.

But then the wire services transmitted a surprisingly similar story by Washington Post reporter Kimberly Edds. Headlined "Young wine drinkers could revive industry," this report finds great wine enthusiasm among "the millennial generation," which Edds defines as the 21- to 26-year-old set. These 20-somethings, Edds announces, "are trading their beer and liquor shots for Zinfandel and Pinot Noir at startling rates when they hit the town, or even the living room couch. And that has wine industry players buzzing."

The Baby Boomers story marshals statistics to suggest that wine enthusiasm increases with maturity, prompting analogies with fine ageworthy wines. Americans in their 50s consumed an average of 16 bottles of wine in the year 2000, closely trailed by 60-somethings drinking an average of 15 bottles and people in their 40s drinking an average of 14 bottles of wine that year. The 30s cohort, in contrast, trailed badly with an average of only 10 bottles, according to the wine-industry research firm MFK. (Careful observers will note that those of us who enjoy good wine and drink it regularly are far above average in any case.)

"Baby boomers tend to have a taste for handcrafted products, for premium products. They're willing to spend," said Vic Motto, founding partner of MKF Research.

A lack of interest in wine among younger adults could spell a long-term problem for the wine business, but the Washington Post report suggests that a growing cohort of younger wine enthusiasts could be good news for the industry.

"The rapidly increasing influx of new wine drinkers, coupled with a recovering national economy and a dwindling of the vast oversupply of grapes in recent years, could turn around the $14 billion California wine market, which accounts for more than 90 percent of the wine produced in the United States," reporter Edds wrote.

John Gillespie, president of the non-profit trade group Wine Market Council, was quoted in both articles. "Boomers came to wine as much as a reaction against the three-martini lunch of their parents as to create a statement of their own," he said in the first story. "Virtually every taste and lifestyle choice made by the boomers in the 1970s was something to set them apart from their parents ... whether it was bell-bottoms, flower power or wine."

Commenting on the growing interest by young adults in wine, Gillespie said, "If we're just seeing the leading edge, the tip of the iceberg, then we are in for a tremendous upsurge."

I don't know about averages, but from my vantage point, based on E-mail from readers and participation in online and real-world wine communities, I see plenty of graying-haired contemporaries and lots of young adults who don't take second place to their elders in enthusiasm, knowledge or passion about wine.

But I suspect that wine-industry professionals, fully conscious of criticism of the tobacco industry for allegedly targeting youngsters in their marketing, will bend over backward to avoid similar charges. Don't look for a "Joe Chardonnay" cartoon character in wine advertising any time soon.


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