Gen Z and the Meaning of Wine
My generation is pushing back against notions of what we "should" be drinking
March 14, 2021 — Once upon a time, wine came in a jug. Then Boomers came along and turned it into a chic luxury product. Millennials brought wine back down to earth — sort of — by championing it as an extension of the farm-to-table movement. If wine is a reflection of who we are and what we care about, what will it mean for Gen Z?
As we begin to embrace our status as the newest wine-consuming generation, it’s worth noting that wine isn’t exactly the most welcoming of industries. I know that I echo the concerns of my peers when I say that navigating this vast world of vintages, varieties, and methods of production often feels intimidating. The purported “requisite knowledge” can take years to build up, and sometimes you just want to drink now. Additionally, many of us are constrained by strict budgets that inhibit exploration.
Thankfully, things are shifting — if slowly.
Today there are more ways than ever to participate in the wine world — and no one right way to do it. Affordable points of entry are on the rise, further opening the door to young consumers.
While this freedom and abundance of choice can be exciting, it’s by no means devoid of stress. Too many choices can be as paralyzing as not enough. With online wine clubs popping up all over, numerous wine apps, and endless variations on conventional wines, it can be hard to know how to take that first sip. Luckily, we’re not above taking a stab in the dark. After all, risk is often rewarded, especially when it comes to drinking wine.
To better understand my cohort’s unique relationship with wine, I asked five of my peers to share their experiences as consumers thus far. And while it’s hardly realistic to view these individuals as the voice for an entire generation, it felt like a better approach than casting broad generalizations that are true to no one at all.
These conversations only reinforced this narrative of individuality. One interviewee used the word “newb” to identify her level of comfort navigating the wine landscape, while another delved into the specific winemaking techniques he looks for in a product. Taking a bird’s eye view approach might useful for spotting general trends, but at the end of the day, nothing beats the insights that arise from one-on-one conversations.
Tyler is a recently retired collegiate athlete who has aspirations of becoming Dr. Ty in the not-so-distant future. Tyler enjoys cooking delicious gluten-free, dairy-free meals and prefers walking over public transport in her native New York City.
I enjoy the occasional glass of dry white or rosé. Nothing too sweet. Mostly I drink wine when I’m out to dinner with friends — or, most recently, for a viewing of the Bachelorette.
I steer clear of red wine. When someone says red wine tastes earthy, I just think, “Oh, they’re describing dirt.” Needless to say, I wouldn’t actively seek it out.
Unlike some people who’ve seen their drinking habits increase during the pandemic, I’ve had the opposite experience. Drinking is a social activity and who wants to drink alone?
Gone are the days when I used to share a water bottle full of cheap wine with a friend. I’m ok with spending a bit more money — let’s say $15-$20 — for a bottle of wine, because I drink so infrequently.
Jake lives in California where he is hoping to get a foothold in the wine industry. Jake grew up helping his father run the family winery in Scranton, Pennsylvania. (Yep, you read that right.)
I’ve been known to hit the Trader Joe’s five dolla holla [a $5 bottle of wine]. But typically if I buy from Trader Joe’s, it’s probably going to be European.
I’m willing to spend a good amount of money on a wine — $20 to $30 — if I’m really stoked on a producer. I get stoked if the winery is farming sustainably and is considered an ethical brand. This requires a bit of research on my end.
While conventional wine has its place, natural wine gives a better sense of place and feels more authentic to me. It’s not usually some big label with a whole marketing team plugging the wine. The term natural wine gets thrown around a lot, but to me it implies low-intervention winemaking. Wine is made in the vineyard and a winemaker’s job is simply to maximize the grape’s expression.
I appreciate how approachable natural wine is. There’s a lack of pretension that I can get behind.
Originally from Turkey, Beren attended Colby College in Maine. When she’s not working on her delivery start-up, she can be found painting abstract art, eating cheese or finding joy in statistics.
I have to admit that as much as I like wine, my favorite drink is beer. There’s one in particular that I just love called La Chouffe. It’s got a gnome on the bottle. But since we’re talking about wine, I’ll mention that I’ve been drinking a lot of dry rosé lately.
When I do go to the wine shop, I definitely narrow in on brands that I am already familiar with. I keep a few brands in mind depending on the price range I am looking for that day. Some brands are my go-to for a regular night, but I also have my special occasion brands when I’m feeling fancy!
I’m not afraid to talk with servers or employees at the wine store if I go there often. Having these kinds of relationships helps me find new things to try. Lately, I’ve been considering joining a wine club to increase my exposure.
In Turkey, I also drink wine — but differently than in the West. I drink less frequently, and I typically only drink with people my age. So I’m less aware of what older generations are drinking.
Sophie spent her youth skiing, hiking, biking, and running in rural New Hampshire. Now in Billings, Montana, these activities remain an integral part of her life. Sophie currently works as an AMERICORPS volunteer.
I graduated from gas station boxed wine after spending a few months in New Zealand. Living in Auckland, I had the opportunity to try some pretty incredible Sauvignon Blanc. I definitely prefer wines that aren’t sickly sweet.
You might say that I’m a bit of a wine newb. I buy the majority of my wine at the grocery or liquor store and I wouldn’t spend more than $20 on a bottle. To be honest, I’m a sucker for a label that is witty or irreverent.
Some people call me the hangover queen — flattering I know — because even after three glasses of wine, I’m down for the count the next day. For this reason, I like to reserve wine for more social situations.
These days my favorite beverages are kombucha and oat milk. And yes, I bring my own bag to the grocery store and own a Subaru with far too many stickers on it.
Yewon grew up in Seoul, South Korea but has done the majority of her schooling in the United States. A current senior at Georgetown University, Yewon credits a trip to Mendoza in Argentina with sparking her interest in wine.
. In the States, I typically drink wine with friends my own age. We buy cheaper wine — under $15 — and our standards are not as high. However, when I enjoy wine in Korea, I am usually with my family, drinking more expensive and rare wines.
Recently in Korea, there’s been increasing interest in wine among young people — they opt for cheap and tasty wines. A YouTuber named Wineking has been gaining a lot of popularity because he introduces wine in a very approachable manner.
My primary purchasing considerations are a wine’s Vivino rating (above 3.6), its price (less than $35) and label design (there was a time when I just bought pretty bottles without really knowing anything about the wine).
I like Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, or anything that is on the drier and bolder side. But wine is about more than taste. It’s also about the people you enjoy it with and the happiness you feel when sharing good wine with good people.
Tessa Schrupp is a recent graduate of Colby College, who got hooked on all things wine after completing a harvest in Sonoma during the smoky fall of 2020. She now lives in San Francisco and works in food and wine public relations.