Millennials We Need You!
No other demographic of wine consumer has caused attention like “millennials”. And this week’s post is the first in a two-part series that considers the role of this demographic in the status and future of the wine category in the US.
The “M” word.
If you have tuned in to any wine news over the past weeks and months, there exists a heightened level of concern around the lack of engagement, consumption and overall interest by the millennial demographic with the wine category.
In the recent Silicon Valley Bank State of the Wine Industry Annual Report, Rob McMillan and his team raised both valid concerns and “headwinds” relating to this demographic – primarily around the “Indulgence Gap” slowing consumption and overall interest in the wine category. Changing perceptions around moderation, health, occasion, experience and product engagement by this demographic in the US is garnering much needed attention, and it’s in our own interest to find ways to engage for the long haul.
However, consumers aside, a bigger threat that I believe we face is the lack of interest from aspiring millennial professionals looking to build a long-term career in wine.
Why do I say this?
Fledgling wine professionals have an incredible opportunity to carve their own path in wine and there are more role choices than ever before. This should be cause for hope, but in some areas of the business, we can barely get to the starting line of attracting top-quality talent.
Former Alinea Restaurant Group operations director, and Post Ranch Inn general manager, Gary Obligacion cites both a labor shortage and a limited number of visible mentors in hospitality operations as challenges in attracting new talent:
“We have a serious lack of fresh blood. People aren’t seeing it [hospitality] as a career choice. Chefs and sommeliers are visible roles, but you won’t find many people who want to be a restaurant general manager or front of house professional. At [Chicago fine dining restaurant] Alinea we were able to find people who had the ambition to climb through the ranks from food runner all the way to captain or even floor manager, but you don’t see that drive consistently across the industry.
The sommelier is supposed to be the best 'captain' on the floor, with the added attribute of deep wine knowledge in addition to their service ability. Without having individuals learning the craft of service, it becomes increasingly unclear where the next generation of wine professionals will come from.”
On a different note, the portrayed perception of generous wine allocations, rare bottles and long lunches over shared bottles is a far cry from the reality of relatively low pay, high pressure, and the “grunt work” involved to make, sell or market a bottle.
Professor Damien Wilson is the Hamel Chair in Wine Business at Sonoma State University. He has taught more than 600 wine students across three counties and after 20 years, still laments the perception by many students that the only skill they need for a career in wine, is to improve their wine knowledge:
“I'm still trying to figure out where they get such an idea. For too many wine enthusiasts looking to make a career in wine, the perception of wine as an artistic and creative pursuit reigns supreme. They do not see the business realities and the years it takes to achieve the roles they often see portrayed.”
On mentorship, Wilson takes it further and points back to the industry that lacks what he calls, “pragmatic mentors”. That is, experienced wine professionals willing to be candid about the reality of the tasks and detailed work behind the business card. He also points to young graduates’ reluctance to hear the reality of the work required to fulfill the aspiration of a picturesque life in wine.
So what do we do to attract the best and brightest? Here are a few ideas:
· Recognize this generation of talent are more mobile, digitally connected, community influenced and vocal than prior generations.
· Engage and include talent in business dialogue to help them learn about wine beyond critical tasting.
· Encourage them to break molds, challenge ideas, reshape thoughts and learn from their mistakes.
· Be a visible mentor who is brave enough to listen, learn and consider new ways of working.
· Encourage those who want to invest in themselves for the long haul.
And to the bright, talented and ambitious millennial wine business professionals in the community, we need to hear from you. What do you need from the existing community to stay engaged and active? We want to hear from you, and need your input to continue the dialogue. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org or head over to the ABG FaceBook Group to share your thoughts.
It’s in our interest to continue to build a strong, engaged and diverse professional community. So let’s get moving before more faces turn away from wine towards competing industries whose open doors and checkbooks are ready to snap up bright talent.
Meet The Tribe:
Our community is only as strong as the company we keep, and here we meet some of the folks who make our profession so dynamic.
Owner and Winemaker, Raft Wines
Years In Industry:
Officially seven, but I have been around all my life. Growing up in the food industry in Sonoma County (our family business is Liberty Ducks), we were constantly around wine and wineries. It was an easy transition for my first harvest in 2011. I then received my Certification with the Court of Master Sommeliers, before realizing that production was where I wanted to be. After five harvests in Sonoma, and two abroad, I launched Raft In 2016 and haven't looked back!
My Biggest Challenge To Wellness:
Ultimately, time management. It is so easy to put off a workout because of the looming emails, bottling deadlines, and during harvest it's a full on distant memory. I am always so creaky when I get back onto the yoga mat after two months of driving grapes and moving barrels. The late nights get me too. While I am decisively a night owl, I still need to be active and fresh in the morning. So many events go late into the evening, and are often an hour+ away from home, and the time spent out catches up with me.
How I Keep It Together To Stay Well:
Eating healthy and so much water! With the alcohol and heavy meals while I’m out, at home I try to eat as clean as possible. I start everyday with a green smoothie of a banana, kale, collagen powder, flax, chia, and an assortment of herbs and powders. It starts my day so right. I always drink a glass of water when I wake up, and try to hydrate as much as possible during the day. We eat mostly vegetarian at home, it's easy for quick meals and keeps our stomachs happy.
On the weekends I am trying to limit social media and emails. It is too easy to work when it's all on your phone and right there. I am trying to only read emails, and spend less time managing my Instagram and Facebook. I love social media as I think our world has been opened up to new places, spaces, and ideas, but it is such a time warp. Since most of my posts are related to one of the businesses (Raft Wines or Liberty Ducks) it is truly part of the job. It's taken me too long to realize I need that mental break from it, just as much as you may need a mental break from your computer in the office.
You can connect with Jennifer on Instagram and Twitter, or at her RaftWines website and FaceBook page.
What We’re Reading:
There's no shortage of wine stories and media inundating our IN Boxes. Here's what has piqued our interest this week.
The moderation movement is "absolutely impacting beverage alcohol sales," says David Henkes, a senior principal at Technomic, a market research firm covering restaurants. "It's a huge issue for the industry."
“But, as far as wellness trends go, dry January seems pretty harmless—in fact, it could actually do really great things for your health—if you approach it the right way.”
Let's Meet Up!
As work life has it, we are traveling over the next few months and would love to see you. Check out details on the Let's Meet Up! page.
· Judge at TEXSOM International Wine Awards in Dallas, Feb 18 to 20 (Cathy)
· Presenter at the British Columbia Wine Insight Conference , March 12 (Cathy)
· Presenter at the International Institute for Analytics conference in Portland , March 13 (Cathy)
· Attendee at ProWein in Düsseldorf, March 17 to 19 (Cathy)
· Attendees at Vinitaly in Verona, April 7 – 10 (Rebecca and Cathy)
· Attendee at MUST: Fermenting Ideas in Cascais, Portugal, June 26 to 28 (Cathy)