The Post-Boomer Wine World Landscape

Like Mark Twain, I’m not a huge fan of statistics. The only thing I find potentially more misleading are demographics and associated sweeping generation generalizations. If I see one more article about how to market wine to Millennials, I will scream. This all said, I find myself compelled to comment on our emerging new wine world landscape, which I think can largely be traced to this post-Boomer era we’re entering. 

Boomers were undoubtedly a gift to the twentieth century wine trade, and they still are, for the time-being. Recent research by the Wine Market Council in the USA has shown that Baby Boomers account for the greatest total volume of wine consumption and the greatest proportion of high frequency wine drinkers in the U.S., compared to either of the other current alcohol consuming generations (Gen X and Millennials). But, as we’re all painfully aware, the Boomers aren’t getting any younger. Their wine cellars are pretty full and there’s not much point in them continuing to stock them with young vintages.

I can’t totally accept the premise that a “generation” can be put into a neat little personality box for marketing purposes or otherwise. But I do agree that a group of people raised with similar ways and means will demonstrate similar habits such as purchasing dynamics. What do purchasing dynamics have to do with our emerging new wine landscape? A lot, in fact.

In the 1990s, I worked for a U.K. wine merchant, selling wine to avid private wine collectors (mainly Boomers) and restaurateurs (also Boomers) in London. My target was to make at least 20 sales calls per day—on the phone or in person. We didn’t have email. My clients had access to what I then considered to be a fair number of wines, which were available in the cellars of maybe three or four U.K. wine merchants with whom they had longstanding accounts. The competition amongst London merchants, even back then, was fierce. But I knew, personally, the needs and preferences of my 500 or so clients and my major sales tool, apart from lugging heavy bottles around, was my ability to recant the remembered histories and stories of my wines. Today that sales job, as I performed it, doesn’t even exist anymore. 

Mechanisms for the sales and marketing of consumer retail goods throughout the world have been transformed by the internet. By the time most Millennials were in high school, they already had the internet. By the time they were 21, they were buying things online. By 2002, wine reviews were available online, via the first wine criticism website: and a few years later, wine bloggers emerged and multiplied quicker than Duracell bunnies. Then came texting, social media, Messenger, WhatsApp, etc., etc. Into the new millennia, while Boomers (and Gen Xs, I hasten to add), were still comfortable with taking direct advice from experts on wine collections, Millennials were not. Bang! Millennials were brought up with far more choice, price transparency, prolific peer reviews, free information galore, next day deliveries and scant direct human sales interaction (aka, salespeople). And it is their purchasing dynamics that are now changing our wine landscape.

I don’t have a crystal ball, but I don’t think I need one to make a few predictions about how our new wine landscape is shaping up:

1.) Wine collecting will soon be a thing of the past. Why hoard, when you can source just about any wine from anywhere at any time, all while honing-in on the cheapest deal? 

2.) Online wine retailing, while slower coming than for a lot of other products, is the wave of the future. Yes, Amazon had a hiccup a few years ago, but only a few weeks ago the online retailing giant announced that it was back in the wine game, this time partnering with a winery in Oregon on the sale of a new wine—available only via Amazon and the winery. 

3.) Digital and in-bound internet marketing, pandering to short online attention spans, augers that wine will be sold more and more on price, click-bait tidbits and viral memes than substance. Consequently, off-trade wines will be bought less and less on stories, history and, dare I hazard, quality.

Post-Boomers, the future of fine wine collecting and off-trade retail sales may look somewhat bleak, but let’s not forget today’s premium on-trade market, which is holding steady thanks to renewed interest globally and across generations in food, dining and high-quality cuisine experiences and education. Consider, for example, a report published by Mandala Research in 2013, concluding that the majority of American leisure travelers were already classed as culinary tourists. Another more recent report by Morgan Stanley revealed that Millennials eat out more often than Gen Xs or Boomers. It is amongst such backdrops that the human engagement with wine, after the death of the wine salesman, can flourish. Consider the relatively recent rise in high-end wine events and the thirst for wine education around the world. Over a coffee a couple of months ago with WSET International Development Manager, David Wrigley MW, my jaw dropped when he told me that over 72,000 students from 73 countries sat exams with them last year. Here at Robert Parker Wine Advocate, one of our most popular new developments in recent years has been supplementing our written reviews with events hosted by our critics. It is amongst the somms, wine educators and wine event communicators that our wine story bards need to survive and thrive.

My skepticism over statistics and second-guessing generations remains pretty much unchanged, but I can’t deny that we are on the brink of a wine world shake-up that is linked to the generational changing of the guard. Alarming as this all may sound to hardcore winos, I am not alarmed. The way I see it, where there is change, there is opportunity.

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