Why Millennials Are Drinking More Wine Than Their Parents

By Katie Murar

Wine is enjoying a surge in popularity among millennials, bolstered by an increase in availability and variety, though it has not yet overtaken beer in popularity or consumption.

According to a recent report by the Wine Market Council, 42 percent of all wine drunk in the U.S. in 2015 was by millennials, 13 percentage points more than 2014.

Millennials, born between 1980 and the late 1990s, drank around 159.6 million cases of wine last year, downing an average of 3.1 glasses in a sitting.

Glasses Consumed in One Sitting

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In 2015 millennials overtook baby boomers in percentage of wine drinkers. Millennials also drank the most wine in one sitting, averaging at 3.1 glasses. (Katie Murar/MEDILL)

Madison Harris, a 27-year-old Chicago resident, said her mother was the person who introduced her to wine, and she has become a fanatic.

“I first started drinking wine after I graduated college, and I feel like I love it more and more each year. It’s not really something you get sick of,” Harris said. “I drink beer and cocktails too, but wine, especially red, is the one type of alcohol I’m always in the mood for.”

Although wine drinking is increasing in popularity, it’s not yet more popular than beer, according to Joseph Ward, former wine editor for Conde Nast Traveler Ward. Wine may be gaining on cocktails, too, Ward adds, due to their higher prices.

“I think the explosion and interest in wine is big across all ages, but there is something else happening with millennials that is new, which is an interest in other drinks as well as wine, like the massive interest in craft beers, and the interest in cocktails which goes back a couple of generations,” Ward said. “Beer is certainly hugely popular because it cuts across a lot of age groups and income levels.”

The Wine Market Council study, which surveyed 1,200 “high-frequency” drinkers, or individuals who consume wine several times a week, also found that millennials have the most varied tastes in wines, with varieties such as Malbec, Moscato, Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc proving very popular among the younger generation.

“Older generations didn’t have access to good wine in America, and now good wine is everywhere. There isn’t one place that sells alcohol where you can’t get a bottle of wine,” Rob Shouse, wine specialist for Chicago store wineHouse, said. “So now it’s available, and there’s a greater variety available, and with greater variety comes greater consumption.”

Shouse said this may be because younger wine drinkers are more engaged in trying new wines, and are more open to drinking a variety of wines.

“The gen x’s will come in and take whatever we recommend, where the younger generation seems to ask more questions. It’s a conversation to try to discover what they like. They seem to be more engaged,” Shouse said. “Another big factor is you can now try wine before you buy it, whereas before it was hit or miss. Many shops will offer tastings so people can try wines ahead of time, encouraging them to buy more of it.”

Ward said the increase in millennial wine drinkers reflects wine’s becoming more popular as a whole in America.

“From when I started writing about wine 32 years ago, wine drinking is so much more prevalent in America,” Ward said. “At that time, it was a small minority of people who drank wine regularly, and it was an even smaller group who drank good wine. And that has changed”

Wine is now produced at a higher quality in higher quantities, Ward said, with younger drinkers emerging into the wine scene at a very vibrant time.

According to statistics from the Wine Institute, in 2010 the United States was ranked fourth for production of wine, behind Italy, France and Spain. In 2010 the United States had increased the amount wine produced by 6 percent since 2007, while France, Italy and Spain had cumulatively increased production by 25 percent.

Percent of World Wine Production

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According to a 2010 report by the Wine Institute, America is fourth in wine production, trailing Italy, France and Spain. (Katie Murar/MEDILL)

Greg Peterson, a 26-year-old law student at Northwestern, says wine is his drink of choice, even though he is “supposed to be drinking cheap beer.”

“Me and my friends love wine, and wine was the first alcohol that I first properly got into,” Peterson said. “There’s so much going on with wine, there’s always something new, there’s always something exciting, and I think that’s why there are a lot of twenty-somethings drinking wine.”

Joshua Betson, an employee for Vino et Spiritus, a small Chicago wine distributor, definitely sees the surge in millennial wine-drinkers, and thinks it is extremely beneficial to the wine industry.

“Thank God,” Betson said. “Millennials are great with the way they embrace new styles and new regions, and they don’t have any stigmas. Very few of my friends will turn down a wine because it’s a screw cap, or because they can’t pronounce it. The older generations drink stuff that they have had their entire lives, whereas millennials are embracing new trends and trying whatever is out there. I’m all for it.”

At Binny’s Beverage Depot, wine has been the biggest mover of all beverages sold since its opening in 1940.

“Historically, wine has seen the most sales in Binny’s,” Greg Versch, director of communications for Binny’s, said. “Everyone drinks wine, from 21 to infinity, and it’s exciting to see younger generations getting into wine, and to try new types as they get older.”

Versch said younger wine drinkers typically start out with a sweeter wine, such as a Moscato, before progressing into heavier wines. The evidence of millennials drinking wine speaks for itself, as Versch said Binny’s has seen explosive sales of Moscato in the past few years.

Shouse noted that beer is still more prevalent than wine, bolstered by a dominance in advertising and marketing. Wine has thus taken to non-traditional forms of advertising, Shouse notes.

“Traditional advertising isn’t as big for wines as it is for beer or spirits, so now the way you’re going to find out about it is through alternative media, such as blogs, social media and apps which are largely embraced by younger generations,” Shouse said.

Despite the discrepancy of media attention, wine is increasingly becoming a conventional drinking option, Shouse said, claiming wine is just as common as beer at parties.

“Wine is now sort of like beer, because wine used to be for special occasions only but now it’s more commonplace and it’s something that you can have everyday, while expensive bottles of wine and champagne are reserved for special occasions,” Shouse said.

Photo at top: According to a study by the Wine Council, Millennials now make up almost half of the wine-drinking population, and have the most varied tastes. (Katie Murar/MEDILL)