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The Rise & Rise Of Generation W

Wine market gurus on both sides of the Atlantic, reports Sourish Bhattacharyya, have discovered a new darling -- the young wine drinker looking for a sustainable lifestyle and not a hangover.

After Generations X and Y, the demographic category that's making people sit up and take notice is Generation W. These twenty-somethings are exploding the twin myths of the vodka-guzzling young adult and the stodgy, suburban wine snob. These are young people who regard wine as a healthier lifestyle choice, together with being an ideal accompaniment to good food and good company. And they're already quite a force to reckon with.

In a thought-provoking article on "wine's youthful fans" in, New York-based freelance writer Maureen C. Petrosky reports that 25% of those buying wine in the United States are between the ages of 21 and 34. At Vinocity Wine Bar, Atlanta, 80% of the customers are between 25 and 45. And they're drinking "a lot of red wine," according to Vinotcity's co-owner, John Turpin.

The article quotes Joel Quigley, Executive Director of Wine Brats, America's largest wine club, which prides itself on irreverence for entrenched "wine rules," as saying: "The young adults are lookng for a more sustainable lifestyle and not a hangover."

Wine X publisher/editor Darryl Roberts, who has been targeting his magazine at young wine consumers since 1996, confirms Quigley's observation. He credits globalisation with introducing young adults to rich, flavourful food and wine from around the world. Young wine consumers

aged 25 to 34, moreover, don't mind spoiling themselves -- according to the Scarborough Research Reports, in the United States, they're 76% more likely to buy high-end wines. That means three out of four young customers of wine are not buying the plonks that their parents grew up with.

The lowering age profile of the wine consumer is bad news for Old World wines. At Vinocity, for instance, New World wines are the hot favourites, because they're more approachable than their French competition. What's working in their favour is the simplicity of their labelling -- French wine labels, says Vinocity's Turpin, intimidate younger wine drinkers with their sheer complexity.

Interestingly, or rather ominously for the French wine industry, even the grande dame of wine is no longer immune to the swing in favour of the New World, reports Claire Gibourg-Guindre in With younger wine drinkers becoming increasingly significant for marketeers, venerable French institutions are doing the unthinkable.

When Pommery, for instance, some years ago introduced a champagne named POP that came with a straw, it was considered blasphemy. Today, it's commonplace to see young people in France going on picnics with their Veuve Cliquot Paint Box four-packs, which come in colourful ice buckets, with the four baby bottles capped with contraptions similar to pour spouts to help bubbly fans to enjoy their favourite fizz without the need for a glass (or a straw for that matter). Drinking Champagne from the bottle? How loutish can you get? But who are we to question the market?

No wonder, it doesn't come as a surprise anymore when one's told that Bordeaux's Chateau Petit-Boyer has hired a Venezuelan wine-maker to give its products the New World edge and a label designer to create a more fresh and appealing look, attracting young wine drinkers. As the writer, who lives in Paris, describes the pheonomenon: "France's newest generation of wine drinkers and wine makers, much like their American counterparts, are ripe for change and not afraid ot challenge tradition." Not surprisingly, at Lavinia, Europe's biggest wine shop located in Paris, out of over 5,000 different wines in its inventory, 2,000 are from outside France, especially the New World. The story doesn't change at Wine & Bubbles in the centre of Paris at Les Halle. And at Chai 33, in Paris's Bercy Village, the inspiration is the American Best Cellars, where the wines are listed not according to regions and appellations (now, can we start writing the obituary of the French obsession with the AOC system?), but according to descriptors like "fruity and intense" or "luscious," or even "seductive".

So, when Chateau Lynch-Bages, the Bordeaux Fifth Growth grand cru, unveiled Circus, the newest wine in its portfolio, at Vinexpo 2003, it was doffing its well-worn hat to market reality. As the average wine drinker gets younger, unpretentious yet high-quality wines with comprehensible labels from previously underrated regions like Languedoc, which is what Circus is, will gain greater acceptability. Especially among young people who drink wines only because it makes them feel happy, and not for any snob value. If there's a new force in the wine market, it's Generation W.

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