Tag Archives: Lagavulin

Millennial Math — Where’s the value in wine?

A few days ago I wrote about the “Boredom Factor” that is sapping Millennials’ enthusiasm for wine. But engaging Millennials with things that are new, interesting and authentic is only part of the battle. The industry also needs to reframe the discussion about value and pricing.

Photo by Ecole polytechnique Université Paris-Saclay. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-2.0

Let’s face it, wine delivers horrible “bang for the buck”–especially compared to other alcoholic beverages. This is true at all price points, but particularly at the low-end (and ironically titled) “value wine” segment.

For smaller boutique wineries, worrying about “value wine” might not seem like a big deal. But the issues impacting the top shelf take root on the bottom.

If you want to know why $100+ bottles of Napa Cab are in danger, head to your local grocery store and look around.

Millennial Math in the Grocery Store

I’ll get to our boutique and more premium wine brands below. But let’s start with a cash-strapped Millennial who want to spend less than $10 for something to drink. You could go to the wine aisle and find stuff like this.

Yellow Tail and other under $10 wines

Then there are other options as well–like Barefoot, Arbor Mist, Cooks, Andre’s and more. At this one grocery store, I estimated that around 40% of their wine selection was sub $10. So, diversity, yeah?

But they all fall into the same “sameness” of sweet, simple or boring Cabs, Chards and Red Blends. Sure, you have the occasional gimmick of things like the “living labels” of Treasury Wine Estates’ 19 Crimes. However, after the novelty of a cute label wears off, it’s still the same boring juice in the bottle.

Now right next to the wine department in many stores is a beer department which has likely been greatly expanded thanks to the craft beer boom.

Let’s see what under $10 options our Millennial shopper has there.

22 oz Beer bomber singles

These are 22 oz “bomber” sizes of beer which is only a tad smaller than the standard 750ml (25.4 oz) bottle of wine. In this one Albertsons grocery store, I counted over 80 different SKUs of at least 20 different styles of beer among under $10 bombers. And this was a rather small grocery selection for the Seattle-area market.

If you think of beer styles (Belgian Tripel, New England IPA, Oatmeal Stout, etc.) like grape varieties, the beer department has the wine industry smoked when it comes to answering the “Boredom Factor.”

Even among the same style (like IPA), you are far more likely to find distinct personalities and differences (hoppiness) among various brews than you ever would dream of finding among under $10 Cabs, Chards and Red Blends.

I have a fair amount of industry folks who read this blog so I’m going to ask you to step back and take off your “wine hat” for a moment. If you were a young post-college Millennial shopper with no personal connection (like having visited a winery) or long-term relationship with drinking wine, what would you spend your $10 on?

Are we just waiting for better times?

Yeah, things suck right now for the broke 20-something Millennial. But can we really predict their future buying potential based on the habits of their 20s?

It’s true that most Millennials have not entered their peak earning ages. Likewise, most have not reached the ages when previous generations started embracing wine.

Jason Haas, of Tablas Creek, makes that later point particularly well as he points out some of the silver linings amidst the gloom and doom assessments about Millennials.

The median age of a Millennial is 30, but the Millennials at the peak of the demographic bubble are just 24. Were many Baby Boomers drinking wine at age 30, let alone 24? No. How about GenX? Not much. Millennials are drinking more wine than preceding generations were at the same age, which should be a positive enough trend. — Jason Haas, Are the gloomy messages about the state of the wine industry warranted? I say not for wineries like us. 2/4/2019

I concede Haas’ point and appreciate his optimism. I’ve certainly not hidden my affection or admiration for Tablas Creek’s business acumen. Though Haas is a “proud Gen Xer,” he pretty much runs Tablas Creek like a Millennial with a brand that embraces transparency, authenticity and sustainability along with pushing the envelope for new and exciting wines.

Without a doubt, if more wineries followed Tablas Creek’s example, the Boredom Factor would almost be a non-issue.

But what I fret that Haas’ optimism overlooks is the habits and perceptions that are being ingrained into Millennial consumers right now. Haas’ generation (and the Boomers) had the benefit of a promising economic outlook before them–where there was the potential for growth in earnings and career development.

That is a luxury that many Millennials don’t have and this is something that we are all too aware of. Even if things get a little bit better into our late 30s and 40s, it’s going to be very difficult to shake the mindset and spending habits of our formative 20s and early 30s.

Valuing “Value”

While things are not as bad as they were during the Great Depression, social scientists and economists are already drawing parallels to the spending habits and mindset of Millennials with those of the Silent Generation born between 1925-1945.

Even though the Silent Generation benefited from the post-war boom, many kept the spending habits imprinted on them during the hardship of the Great Depression. Prominent among those retained habits was the idea of stretching your dollar–even when you had more dollars to stretch.

Millennials certainly like to be entertained. We want experiences and to feel connected. And we avoid boredom like the plague.

But we deeply value “value.”

The $15-25 Sweet Spot

Let’s go back to the grocery store and look at the more premium $15-25 “sweet spot” range of wine pricing–with emphasis on the sweet.

Meiomi & 7 deadly with cheaper spirits

Usually, Meiomi is not over $25 so, for the sake of argument, I’m including it here.

When you get up to the higher price points, wine’s competition is not just beer (with many interesting six and twelve packs available in this price range) but also spirits as well. But spirits adds another dimension because they’re far less perishable and the servings are much smaller.

With wine and beer, you ideally want to enjoy it the same day that it was opened. But a comparably priced spirit can last weeks or even months.

Now I can hear wine folks scoffing at the idea of Captain Morgan or Deep Eddy taking away throat share from anyone older than 23. Yeah, I get it. The “Fireball crowd” eventually grows up. But for those folks who lose the sweet tooth and want something with more complexity, the spirits department still offers numerous options–especially among whiskeys.

Plus, because of how long a bottle of whiskey last, a Millennial could even stretch their $25 drinking budget to $40 and still get some very compelling value.

Old Forester and Woodford reserve

Personally not a fan of the Redneck Riviera but I’d take it over Meiomi any day of the week.

Granted, you have to sometimes deal with the inconvenience of getting the product out of lockup. Also, in some states (like Washington) there are crazy high liquor taxes to account for too.

However, this is all part of the sum-value Millennial Math that we deal with on every trip to the store. What the wine industry needs to concern itself with is how all these figures are adding up.

Banking on Premium Spenders

I want to embrace the optimism that as Millennials feel financially secure, they will turn to wine and start spending in the premium category. That means not only a strong wine industry but also a strong economy overall.

But I can’t shake the feeling that even if Millennials have more money to spend, that they’re not going to be impressed with the value they see in high-end wines. This is something that I’ve personally experienced myself. I’m very fortunate in my financial situation to where I can occasionally splurge on bottles like Opus One, Silver Oak, Cristal and Petrus.

You know what? I’d rather drink Pappy.

I feel this way even though I’m a highly-engaged wine drinker with a personal connection to wine. I’ve been bitten hard by the bug and have a healthy cellar to show for it.

But if you ask me for my brutally honest choice of whether to spend another $2600-4000 on a bottle of Petrus or something like the 1981 Glenmorangie Pride, I would choose the Glenmorangie every time.

And this is coming from someone that keeps a picture of Petrus as their background banner on Facebook!

However, when I step back and let my Millennial nature take over–when I think about the sum-value of what I’m getting compared to what I’m paying–whiskey beats out wine.

If that’s the case with someone like me, then how do you think the math is playing out with my co-horts?

The Petruses of the World are not the ones that need to worry.

Petrus is not going to have problems selling their wine. Even if Millennials aren’t spending at levels of past generations, wineries like Petrus make so little at such high prices that they only need a few folks to bite the bullet each vintage. There is always going to be enough people like me who shell out thousands to attend our Super Bowl–even if it ends up being a 13-3 snorefest.

The real hurt is going to be felt by all the wineries making NFL regular-season and playoff-type wines. They’re the ones that are going to have to convince Millennials that their wines are worth the price of the ticket.

Let’s go back and look at our supermarket shelf at some of the $50-100 options.
$50 to 100 wine vs spirits

That is an excellent price on the Grgich. The only thing that kept me from pulling the trigger was wondering how long it had been standing upright under the supermarket’s harsh lights.

Again, why spend $50-100 for something that needs to be enjoyed mostly in one night (unless you spend another $200+ for a preservation system like the Coravin) over something you could stretch for months?

Wine’s saving grace has been that only a small segment of drinkers have developed a taste for brown spirits like whiskey, tequila and rum. But those categories are growing–especially among Millennials and women.

If the boredom factor doesn’t kill off the $100+ Napa Cab, brown spirits certainly will.

But it all starts back in the beginning, with the spending habits and perception of value that Millennials are developing now with their under $10 and $15-25 options. Here is where wineries are losing the battle before the war even begins.

Yeah, Millennials wanderlust is great and can definitely help wineries that are offering different and exciting wines. But that same wanderlust also fuels our openness in trying other beverages like craft beer and brown liquors. The more we try them, the more those other options become players in the “sum-value” game of Millennial Math.

And, right now, that math is seriously working against the wine industry.

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Johnnie Walker “White Walker” Limited Edition Scotch Review

I like whiskey. I like Game of Thrones. I sometimes like Johnnie Walker. That was enough for me to decide to give the Johnnie Walker “White Walker” Limited Edition Scotch a try.

My experience with Johnnie Walker’s Scotches are very hit or miss. Often when I’m cruising and can’t stomach the exorbitant prices for sub-par wines, I turn to whiskies which seem to be a better value on the ship. Many times (and with some good tips), the bartenders often indulge my geekiness. This has given me several opportunities to try all the different Johnnie Walkers side-by-side.

After one such flight I composed a little ditty of my impressions. With my deepest apologies to Lord Byron.

Black and Blue are overrated
Though the Green is far less jaded.
While Gold and Platinum offer much,
Of the Red should never touch.

Let’s see how much I need to drink before I can think of something to rhyme with White Walker.

The Background

Unlike the highly patronizing and ridiculous Jane Walker Limited Release, the White Walker is a completely new blended Scotch composed primarily of malts from Cardhu and Clynelish. Unusual for whiskeys, this blend is designed to be served cold from the freezer. While serving with a ice sphere will chill it down, the most ideal temperature for many whiskeys are in the 60-65 °F range.

Launched in October, the cheeky packaging features the Johnnie Walker logo re-imagined as the Night King. It also notes that the whiskey was distilled, blended & bottled “north of the wall”. Which I guess is true if we’re talking about Hadrian’s.

The White Walker bottle also proudly touts that this whiskey is “chilled filtered”. While often looked down upon by Scotch aficionados, it makes sense why Johnnie Walker would do this apart from just marketing gimmicks. Serving this whiskey ice cold from the freezer would undoubtedly leave it looking very cloudy which confuses and turns off a lot of consumers. Much like tartrates with wine, aesthetics often trump education.

More GOT Whiskies on the Way

Apparently Diageo, the parent company of Johnnie Walker, will also be releasing a whole line-up of single malts with different bottlings representing the houses of Westeros.

Singleton of Glendullan Select (House Tully)
Dalwhinnie Winter’s Frost (House Stark)
Cardhu Gold Reserve (House Targaryen) UPDATE: Really good Scotch! Click the link for my review of it.
Lagavulin 9 Year Old (House Lannister)
Oban Bay Reserve (The Night’s Watch)
Talisker Select Reserve (House Greyjoy)
Royal Lochnagar 12 Year Old (House Baratheon)
Clynelish Reserve (House Tyrell)

Cardhu
Photo by en:User:Cls With Attitude. Uploaed to Wikimedia Commons under cc-by-sa-2.5

The Cardhu Distillery. Also the source of Diageo’s House Targaryen bottling.

Cardhu has long been one of my favorite Scotches with a great history of badass women. Founded in 1810 by John Cumming whose wife, Helen, became something of an expert in “distracting” the excisemen who visited the farmhouse to collect taxes. When John died in 1846, he was succeeded by his son Lewis with Helen helping to run the distillery. When Lewis died in 1872, his widow Elizabeth ran the distillery until selling it to John Walker & Sons in 1893.

During Elizabeth’s time, the distillery was completely rebuilt with new stills and warehouse. According to Charles MacLean’s Whiskeypedia, Cumming’s Cardhu was one of the few Speyside malts not named “Glenlivet” that was sold as a single malt in London. She also played a significant role in helping William Grant start Glenfiddich.

Clynelish

I haven’t had much experience with single malt bottlings of Clynelish. My one tasting of the 14 year was a bit too grassy for my personal style.

While distilling has been taking place in the parish of Clyne since 1819, the modern incarnation of Clynelish is relatively young and short. Built in 1967, the distillery became part of the Distillers Company Ltd in 1969. After recently losing Coal Ila, DCL turned Clynelish/Brora into a heavily-peated “Islay-style” malt until 1977. In 1975, a new distillery was built and renamed Brora but whiskey under the Clynelish label was still being produced.

Dave Broom notes in The World Atlas of Whisky that Brora/Clynelish had a bit of a post-peat renaissance until 1983. Today it is part of the Diageo stable which produces whiskies under both the Clynelish and Brora labels.

The Scotch is known for its waxy, oily character which often has hints of smoke, pepper and grass.

The Whiskey (Served Cold)

Taking it from the freezer, the whiskey is surprisingly fruity and floral on the nose. Usually the colder something is, the more muted the aromatics are. Medium-plus intensity nose with a mix of cherry and peaches. Not quite sweet smelling like in a pastry but more fresh like making a fruit salad. The Cardhu pedigree comes out with the white floral notes. There is also a little woodsy vanilla but no sense of smoke at all.

On the palate, the whiskey is lively and very easy to drink. The cherries are still surprisingly vibrant but I think the peach notes become more apple. Much to my surprise this isn’t a sweet whiskey at all but is rather well balance and crisp. No heat whatsoever but that is not surprising with its low 41.7% ABV. Moderate length finish lingers a little on some of the oak spice but is mostly dominated by the fruit.

Whiskey Neat at Normal Temperatures

At room temperature the bottle is less glossy and the blue “Winter Is Here” logo is not as visible.

The nose changes dramatically when warm. Instead of being fresh, the fruit smells more dried and all the floral notes are gone. There is much more caramel and even a slight diesel smell which is vaguely reminiscent of Johnnie Walker Red.

On the palate, some of the cherry notes carry through but is very muted. The lightness of the whiskey’s low ABV really stands out more as well. While not quite “watery”, it does feel exceptionally thin on the mouth. Still no back-end heat but the short finish has a slight bitter phenolic quality. Again, this reminds me of Red in a not so flattering way.

The Verdict

On the bottle of White Walker it says “This whisky develops in complexity as it warms to room temperature.” That’s bullshit.

Served cold, this whiskey is definitely a curiosity that’s fun to have at least once. It’s easy drinking and perfectly fine to share with friends while watching Game of Thrones. It’s not quite worth its $35-40 price tag but that’s not an outrageous premium either. It’s far more interesting than Johnnie Walker Black at $30-35.

But warm? This is nothing more than an overpriced mixer.

 

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