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What can the wine industry learn from craft beer?

Tim Hearden Winery customer
A customer samples wines at a Sonoma County, Calif., winery.
If younger consumers are as enthralled with craft beer and premium spirits as the wine industry likes to talk about, what is the wine industry doing to change this?

Word has it the U.S. wine industry has seen better days. While rumors of its demise may be premature, the latest news suggests the boom cycle has ended, but not for reasons one might think.

The much-anticipated Silicon Valley Bank state of the wine industry pins the blame not on "speculative overplanting" by farmers chasing a high price, but on the wine industry's inability to give consumers what they want. Rabobank has a similar theory relative to the entire alcoholic beverage industry in general. The slowing of wine consumption by baby boomers and the inability of the industry to evolve with the different marketing whims of millennials will continue to challenge the wine industry.

"There are solutions but hoping millennials will adopt boomer values as they age – and, as a result, move away from spirits and gravitate to wine – just isn't a sensible business strategy," writes SVB Executive Vice President Rob McMillan on the company website.

McMillan predicts the U.S. wine industry will face challenges over the next five years as it searches for ways to convince a new generation to drink wine. According to SVB, wineries will need to "reimagine how they sell and market wine."

As beer-centric brew pubs pop up all over the place – these are full-service restaurants with interesting menus and, more importantly, a bar lined with easily over a dozen different beers – could the focus and marketing be any clearer? As one who likes to try these different brew houses out from time to time, it's rare to see someone drinking a glass of wine.

Perhaps this is a good starting point for the U.S. wine industry. I'm not suggesting building more wineries or wine tasting locations common to the California Coast. Rather, there needs to be a paradigm shift that makes wine as common a beverage as beer has become across the spectrum. Personally speaking, my go-to beer is a popular brand that one of these restaurants let me sample once while enjoying a meal. Restaurants tend not to do the same with wine, and even then the choices are limited.

If younger consumers are as enthralled with craft beer and premium spirits as the wine industry likes to talk about, what is the wine industry doing to change this and why the continued drive to wine premiumization when it appears those buyers are consuming less wine as they segue to retirement age?

Along with the attention to marketing will need to come a willingness of those doing the selling to be educated like the craft beer folks are about their products, and to help consumers understand those differences. It's much easier to find a server at the local restaurant who can recite from memory the IBU and ABV of 31 different beers but cannot answer questions about the wine list without looking at it.

TAGS: Grapes
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