Millennial Wines: Affordable, with a Touch of Social Consciousness
By Martin Sheehan-Stross
Millennial winemakers and wine consumers seek balance between environment and society.
When it comes to Millennials, numerous topics are up for discussion: our work ethic, our materialism, our inability to take our eyes off our phones. One thing is certain, however: Millennials are thirsty. According to the Wine Market Council, Millennials accounted for 36 percent of the wine consumed in the U.S. last year as opposed to 34 percent for the Baby Boomers. In an age of soaring student debt, low home-ownership rates, and stagnant salaries for many recent college grads, it is safe to say that Millennials are not stuffing their cellar with Classified Growth Bordeaux. Instead, we look for wines that are easy to drink upon release and affordable enough to drink throughout the work week. Still, we are not a generation known to settle. The wines must be adventuresome, exciting, and different from what our parents drink.
Taking the leap
As a new generation of wine drinkers defines its habits, it is great to see a new generation of winemakers world wide also move in new directions. Some winemakers are the first generation in their field. Rickshaw Wines is a great example of wine made by young people for young people. The three friends behind the label were working in various parts of the wine business prior to starting Banshee, a label that began with a focus on Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, not necessarily a wine category that fits into the every day budget of most young people working hard to make rent. By starting Rickshaw the following year, in 2010, and creating unique blends from all over the state, they rose to the forefront of high-quality, highly affordable wine in California. Rickshaw gives 5 percent of its profits to food-related charities in the state. And while Millennials can certainly be a little self-absorbed, we certainly like to feel good about what we are drinking, too.
Stepping into the family business
Then there are those who have taken over the family business and are balancing their respect for the past with their drive to take their estate to the next level. Alexandre Chartogne at Chartogne-Taillet has become not just one of the most well-respected young winemakers in Champagne, but one of the most respected winemakers in the region, period. His viticultural practices show a deep concern for the environment that is typical of a man his age, and his wines show the complexity of those made by someone much older. (The Champenois are now working to reverse the effects of several decades of widespread mistreatment of their vineyards.) While his Champagnes are not inexpensive, their quality represents great value and would certainly be a fine way to mark a 30th birthday. Although price point is important to Millennials, so to is the way vineyard practices effect our planet.
Two and a half hours outside of Barcelona, Joan Anguera continues to establish his own reputation. His father was known as “Mr. Syrah,” but in one of my favorite bottlings from the new head of the cellar, Joan labels his Garnacha as “Granatxa,” the traditional Catalan spelling for the historic grape. The wine is lighter and more fragrant than many of those currently being made in a more dense, rich-style made to appeal to international markets and modeled after the more famous Priorat region next door. As Catalonia continues to lobby for its independence from Spain, it is no surprise that young winemakers like Joan are celebrating the history of the region by revitalizing old-school winemaking traditions. The wines retail for about $20.
The most successful in marketing wines to the ever-growing population of young, wine-drinking Americans in the next few years will be those who are able to embody and embrace the spirit of the generation. The wine should have a social and environmental conscience, an artisanal character at a widely available price point, and a sense of practical rebellion. Long gone are the days of the dominance by the light American lager. In beer terms, we want an inexpensive organic Ale that is made by monks. In wine terms, we want to have it all.
Born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, Martin Sheehan-Stross is the lead sommelier at Michael Mina restaurant in San Francisco. In 2016 he won the Chaine de Rotisseurs Best Young Sommelier in America Competition. He has earned his Advanced Sommelier Certificate from the Court of Master Sommeliers and has begun the challenge of completing the Master Sommelier exam.