The conference is just a week away, and the Wine Curmudgeon is excited. Even a little giddy, actually. And how often does that happen?
But I have good reason to be. The conference looks like it will be a huge success, much bigger than we had hoped. Registration has been beyond my expectations, and there is a chance we will sell out. Frankly, for a first-year event about regional wine in the worst recession since I was in high school, that’s amazing. Plus, we’re getting terrific media attention (you can see some of it here, here, and here), and even the Wall Street Journal inquired about the conference -- and used something.
Maybe there is something to this regional wine thing after all. A few more thoughts, after the jump.
In one respect, I shouldn’t be surprised. The wine world is changing, and the rules and the assumptions that I grew up with -– the most important of which is that the only wine that matters comes from France, California and maybe Australia -– mean less and less to the couple of generations of wine drinkers who are younger than I am.
Not only do they buy wine that they like, and not what others tell them they should like, but they aren’t intimidated by the wine world the way people of my generation are. If they want to drink a sweet wine from Ohio, they drink it. They don’t scurry around like rats in a maze looking up scores and searching for tasting notes to see if it’s OK to drink sweet wine from Ohio.
My pal Richard Leahy, who is one of the panelists at the conference, is convinced that the future of the wine business rests with these younger generations, and particularly with the Millennials. Two trademarks of this group, who were born after 1977 (when I was in college, believe it or not), are the irrelevance of institutions and the need to rewrite the rules. This is not good news for the U.S. wine business, which is based on rules and institutions. There is a hierarchy, and for the most part wine drinkers obey it. That is, the best wine costs lots of money, the Wine Magazines tell you what the best wines are, and everyone tries to get on the good side of the Wine Magazines. And anyone who doesn’t follow those rules isn’t a real wine drinker.
This is why regional wine will benefit –- and has benefited -- from the Millennial attitude. If they think that drinking locally is more important than a Wine Magazine score (and apparently they do), regional wine will have an audience that it has never had before. Now, what the regional wine business does with that audience and how it offers quality and value is up to it. But it will have a chance that my generation rarely gave it.
Having said all this, this change isn’t easy to see, and it’s not going to happen overnight. It’s one of those incremental things that you don’t notice until it’s actually here. And when it does arrive, I’m looking forward to having played my small part in it.