Thursday, November 22, 2012

Bordeaux and the Millennial Wine Market

In the lead-up to my September trip to Bordeaux, I posted a brief note on Bordeaux wines' place in the United States. Throughout my stay in France, that question would pop into my head at various times and continues to do so on a regular basis.

I am fascinated by the stratification of the wine market in this country, how we have so many different levels of consumer spread across age, gender, education level, and income level. Overlaying my experiences in Bordeaux with this broad demographic map, I began to see where the wines could easily fit or conversely, not fit at all.

Often I would think more about the Millennial demographic because it's where I reside, and during my years in wine retail sales, I was always interested in the buying habits of my fellow 20-somethings. We're a fickle bunch, and even within our ranks there are multiple levels or layers of wine consumers. As all of this slowly percolated through my brain, the question became "where do Bordeaux wines fit in the Millennial market and what can the Bordelais do to capture our attention?".

To answer it, several things must be established first. We must accept that Bordeaux wines have a place here in on our tables (and in our glasses). We must also accept that there is a Millennial wine market. Current data puts the Millennials' purchasing power at over 170 billion dollars. Of course not all of that is spent on wine purchases, but we (sic) do make up (with over 80 million members) the second largest wine buying group in the country.

How can the wine producers of Bordeaux tap further into the Millennial market? Marketing of course works,  provided it's tailored to what we respond to. Packaging the wine in ways that appeal to us is also very important, perhaps more important for Millennials than any other generation. Understanding the preferred flavor profile my generation has will also help efforts to tap into our wallets. The increasing use of social media to generate conversations has been shown to enhance brand awareness and even drive a percentage of sales among Millennials.

Marketing to Millennials is slowly being shown as somewhat straightforward, especially for luxury goods and lifestyle image. We respect authenticity and a great story. Heritage is important to us, but we're loathe to be told to respect or admire something "just because it's old". We like being told what's new and hot, provided we are the ones who initiate that conversation. A Millennial wine buyer will respect the tradition and heritage of a region like Bordeaux provided that it's explained to him or her in a casual manner, where authenticity is stressed over things like price or exclusivity.

Multiple times throughout my time in Bordeaux, someone in our group pointed out how much the labels from producer to producer looked pretty much the same. To someone (like a Millennial) unversed in Old World wine labels, it gets confusing. If every label is white or some shade thereof, says "Chateau XYZ", then has a picture of the house on it, followed by the recognizable words "Bordeaux" or "Bordeaux Superieur", what's a person to do, especially one who has very little experience with the region (or the Old World labeling system in general)? Taking a page from New World producers and putting the grape varieties on labels has helped break down barriers. What's needed is a move towards more attention-grabbing labels though. To the right is a picture of a label at Chateau Feret-Lambert that I love. The color is eye catching and it's easy to read the writing. It sure doesn't hurt that the wine was wonderful too, a great introduction to Bordeaux Superieur.

Flavor Profile:
Often forgotten is that there is a large group of Millennials that have a different flavor preference than the Baby Boomers or Generation X. Yes, that's a generalization, but for now we will use it. Sometimes we're referred to as the "Juice Box Generation", that grew up drinking sweet fruit-based juices and nowadays tend to hold onto the sweet wine preferences a bit longer than previous generations. As such, wines with fruitier, sweeter flavor profiles can be more successful than wines with more acid and/or tannin. Yes, this Millennial is disappointed by that, but facts are facts. I'm not suggesting the Bordelais leave residual sugar in their wines, but considering working towards softer, fruitier reds might help turn Millennials on to Bordeaux. This can be relatively easy to accomplish too, with the creation of second labels or sub-brands. Before you crucify me, remember, almost all Millennials will graduate from those wines into more traditional reds (and whites).

Social Media:
It's no secret that the use of social media spans demographics, but how social media is used and how it influences buying habits are the core point I'm making. Within the Millennial market, use of social media as a purchasing aid is growing. Currently there is an incredibly limited presence among Bordeaux producers, whom instead rely on organizations (@PlanetBordeaux among others) to generate and drive conversations. This has to change, though there are some logistical hurdles. For one, the time difference can prevent instant replies (something more important on Twitter than Facebook). The culture in Bordeaux isn't one that promotes the most cutting edge marketing and outreach technologies. That may change though, given the younger generations' ascendance to control of the wine trade. These are just two issues though, and shouldn't be taken as a complete breakdown of social media in Bordeaux.

That's a 1959 Chateau Recougne. OLD!
I want my generation to experience Bordeaux wines and feel the way I do about them. The region, steeped in history and authenticity, produces some outstanding wines at great prices. The price range runs from around $5 for a generic, mass-produced Bordeaux to $2,000 for a First Growth. Within this huge area lie so many great wines that should be tasted and enjoyed, especially by Millennials. We have reason to pay attention to Bordeaux, and plenty of reasons to respect the heritage of the vines. It is my hope that producers in Bordeaux continue to expand their efforts at actively targeting the Millennial generation.

What are some other ways Bordeaux producers can target the Millennial market, educate us, and create loyalty?

For the numbers I sourced in this blog, I used this article from Millennier, this slide show on Millennial buying habits, and this slide show about expert opinions on Millennials.

Beau Carufel

1 comment:

  1. I liked the Feret-Lambert label so much, I bought the sweater. ;)