There’s a Wine Generation Gap ...I’ve fallen into it and can’t get out
by Alan Goldfarb
Reader Comments... [38]

Walla Walla, WA
I agree with the high octane wine comments. And I see winemakers here in Walla Walla beginning to complain themselves. Things will change. But as a member of that younger generation, I see my peers exploring more possibilities than the older generation. We don't just drink Cab or Merlot. They are good wines. However we also drink Gruner Veltliner or Tempranillo. They are good too. We expand our palettes with new wines. As for food pairings, I too often see wine drunk for the sake of the wine. I see it with my peers, but also with the older generation too. So the complaints are valid, but I am not sure it is necessarily the generation gap that is to blame. If anything, the wine culture in our country is still young and we must all grow up.

Tracy, Manager
Chateau Lorane Winery, Lorane, OR
I myself am a 30 something and have grown up with wine. With alcohol being taboo for those under 21, the young have little time to develop a palate. Most 20 and 30 somethings do develop that palate over the course of years. I have served some very sophisticated younger drinkers and know they are out there. Wine is a lovely thing, it is an opinion of taste. One article I read not too long ago spoke of how the younger generation prefers lighter, fresher, lower alcohol wine. Look at what Paris Hilton is doing with her own wine label! Take heart, there will always be those rebellious kids!

Katie, Writer
I’ve got to disagree on one point here, Alan, despite the fact that I sit whole-heartedly on your side of the gap. To your last comment, I don’t think we can say with certainty that the other generation’s palates will mature as they do, nor can we assume that they will ever look for wines that we consider distinct, complex and nuanced. Unless they are turned on to such wines by someone that sits on our side of the gap, I sadly believe they will spend the rest of their lives perfectly happy with their jam. To that I will say that if they are happy, who are we to judge? But if it affects the market we purchase from (and obviously it does) then we may not see the market swing back to our side. There will always be wine makers that thumb their nose at trends and continue to make what they believe to be art, with the knowledge that there are still those of us who treasure that art. And if we take our children under our wing, hopefully they will develop palates that relish that art also.

George Bacon, Owner
Friar's Choice / Six Hero, Santa Clarita, CA

Good, right on article today -- Wine Generation Gap.

~ George

Spoken like an old fart critic still wallowing in the snob-ridden recesses of the wine industry. Resisting the inevitable and thankful change in wine is futile. Young people don’t do, drink or think the same things as the old guard. Thank god.

Nicolaas Steyn, Sales Director
Avinya Imports, Los Angeles, CA
Dear Mr. Goldfarb:

Enjoyed your article! We import South African wines and I would appreciate the opportunity to send you a few samples for your evaluation. I guess I am also a geezer that enjoys similar wines. Wines that have character and structure that do not overpower food.
Thanks and Regards,

Nicolaas Steyn

Arthur Z. Przebinda, Founder and Publisher, CA

This ongoing debate reminds me that the best way to get ahead in the world is to validate the beliefs of your audience. If your audience is made up of the big/sweet/ripe wine loving consumers, it is clear what you need to tell them if you want to keep their attention.

All this talk of better wine being made today is a double edged sword: yes the wines are cleaner, but are they the best true expression of grape and site? Does that matter anymore? That ideal has been cast aside with one sweeping statement: "a wine is good if you enjoy it". This relativist notion paves the way to mediocrity in wine.

While I do become disappointed with many a wine because of its alcohol content, I think it’s important to look past the alcohols and consider the makeup of the wine so that we can identify the true nature of the problem. If the wine is raisiny or pruney and lacks primary varietal characteristics, we are dealing with a different problem than if the wine does have the appropriate characteristics of variety and site on top of a high ABV. This is not a blanket endorsement of a 16% ABV Pinot Noir with stunning varietal typicity. Balance is not everything. Grace, elegance and sophistication count as well.

We, as wine writers/critics/commentators have a responsibility to inform and educate. We should continue to point to distinctions between balance and elegance. Informing and educating may be very difficult to achieve in a culture which espouses the principles of “selective ignorance” and a “low-information diet” proposed by people like Timothy Ferriss. In the face of such realities, it is no wonder, then, that wine awareness campaigns have a greater ROI than wine education. However, wine awareness campaigns typically benefit the producers not the consumers.

Perhaps the time has come to create a wine education campaign. However, that would entail challenging the beliefs of a large portion of the consumer base…

~Arthur Z. Przebinda

Healdsburg, CA
Traditions are fine, and deserve respect. They arise from some convention of an age that is more or less universally appreciated, and are therefore carried forward. But new traditions can arise over time, and sometimes the newness of these can be off putting to those who are married to the older. But that doesn't make them invalid, wrong, or bad. Heck my mom hates rock and roll - it's not the traditional music she grew up with. At one time most wines were made with residual sugar, and volatile acidity was much more tolerated. Hmm, not a traditional style I would ever like to return to! Maybe today's ripe, bold, juicy wines are the result of a clearer understanding of how to grow grapes and coax flavor from them. Maybe they're just better.

Amocat Cellars, Cascadia, WA
Yawn. More ramblings from the entitled generation. Linking the proliferation of high alcohol wines to a younger generation is simplistic. And what does it solve? The trend of cranking out high alcohol wines started years ago. I'm really not looking forward to the mass of boomers heading into retirement if they are just going to be cranky whiners! There's a great opportunity to become part of the solution. What are you going to do about it?

Kimberly Charles, Owner
Charles Communications, San Francisco, CA

Well done… and you have a firm position which is nice to see… I’m really curious about delving into this theory now…

~ Kimberly

Anthony Nicalo, Owner
Farmstead Wines, Canada/USA

Your criticisms of much of the wine industry today are accurate, but I don't think the reason is a generation gap. In fact, many of the "big, juicy wines" you refer to are a direct result of the efforts of an older generation of wine critics and reviewers. Particularly those critics who see wine as a competition to be scored out of 100 points.

Please. It was your generation that started this trend. We are simply stuck with the fruits the seeds you planted are bearing.

Having been weaned on wine as a babe, with it offered with food… watered down for me at first… and discussed as much as the foods it accompanied (by my French chef father), and then when I matured into wonderfully cheap and available French wines, before many CA wines were even available, and then only the most interesting, I find today's offerings woefully lacking. Alcohol is not the be-all and end-all to the wine tasting experience. There are many nuances one can and should seek in order to do justice to the "juice". I re-read my wine journals from those days of yore and weep... how could I have found such nectar lacking??? Nevertheless, I cannot give up on the products of today, but insist on wandering the streets with my lantern looking for the next affordable, drinkable, interesting wine for an old geezer to indulge in and expand on the virtues thereof to all my compadres. GOOD ARTICLE.

Mike Pollard, Blogger, San Diego, CA
Alan, maybe you should move to Australia! The prediction there is for the only age group of the population to increase their segment of the wine drinking are the 50+ group. Check out the CONSUMER SNAPSHOTS - March 2008, especially the presentation by Gessner/Kellliher from Morgan Research.
And fear not. Australia exports all of their now-era wines… well most of em; there is certainly far more diversity than is exported.

Jason, CPA
Denver, CO
I agree completely. I would like to refer you to these two great articles:

-- Why European Wines? (Part 1)

-- Why European Wines? (Part 2)

They really explain how these new-fangled wines are meant to be drunk alone and not with food.

~ Jason

San Francisco, CA
Some of the comments above have concentrated on tradition, as if that's what Alan cares about. From reading this post, it seems clear that what he really cares about is the wine itself. He's not advocating traditional winemaking for tradition's sake; he's asserting that the wine of yesteryear is better - or at least it represents a unique expression of wine that shouldn't be lost (by the way, if you haven't tried it, have some Homewood Winery Dry Creek Zinfandel; it comes in at 12.5 percent. Talk about a food wine!).

I agree with him personally: balance and elegance are characteristics I search for in a wine. And the last time I had a 15.9% Syrah, I wasn't in the least impressed (and hey, I'm 22). However, I disagree with his analysis of the struggle itself on two points:

1.) If people want to drink wine on its own, let them. The wines they'll drink will be closer to cocktails than their food-friendly predecessors, but if that's what people want out of wine, who are you to tell them differently? Yes, you're worried about systemic change in the supply of wine, making food-friendly wines not just predecessors, but dinosaurs. Here's why I think your worries are overblown:

2.) As long as there are people like half the readers who commented, Alan, and myself, there will be well-balanced wines. Where there is a demand for such a style, there will be a supply. The premium/ultra-premium/luxury wine industry is a fairly well-functioning market (e.g. lots of small producers). There will always be a segment that wants the wine we want, so there will always be wine to service that market. In fact, this trend should be lauded - a widespread fall in demand for well-balanced wines may lead to falling production, but it will surely lead to falling prices as well. I guess we'll see where it goes!

Oenophilus, Healdsburg, CA
W. H. Auden, while a great poet whose writing I do admire, had a view of human society that probably led him to make this statement in a voice of irony or satire. His personal life was hardly embraced by "tradition". While I probably share your taste in style of wines to appreciate, I find it tremendously provincial to claim that appreciation of these elegant, subtle, and "food-friendly" wines are the result of a mature palate that the younger consumers will someday grow up and appreciate. The new generation of wine drinkers - who don't deserve your insulting tone when you refer to them as "Kids" - are engaging wine on a level that has never before been seen. They are reading publications and blogs, going to tastings and seminars, learning about food and wine pairing, tasting more wines than their fathers ever dreamed of, and learning which writers to just ignore when they notably become irrelevant. By the way, as a winemaker who has worked in Napa and Sonoma, I can tell you that it is the "geezers" sixty-something wine collectors who buy the HUGE 95-point Oakville Cabs and the jammy Howell Mountain Zins for their VinoTemps. It is the Parkers and Laubes who pour accolades on these Sugar and Alcohol bombs, not the 22 year-old bloggers. We must accept that there is a reason why wines all taste so different. There is a reason why Michel Rolland MUST fail in his evil plot to Parkerize the world. There are wines for every palate, every culture, every occasion, and every age. I wouldn't dream of criticizing you if you told me you love White Zinfandel. We all age, change, and evolve; our palates will also do the same. Vive le Diference!

Dr. Debs
Good Wine Under $20, LA, CA
I find it hard to square this article with the rising consumption of Riesling in this country. Off-dry they may be in some cases, but alcoholic, showy, fruit-bombs they are not. And guess who's driving the numbers? Yep, those kids in their 20s and 30s. I don't buy the argument that the under 30s don't drink wine with food, either. Been to a trendy tapas bar or tasting bar lately? I have. They're full of 20- and 30-somethings. Me thinks you do generalize too much.

Patrick W Fegan, Director
Chicago Wine School, Chicago, IL
Alan, I don't know how old you are so I don't know the kinds of wines that were popular in your wine-formative years. Mine were Mateus and Lancer's. To a degree, I hold them in the same regard as the Candy Cabernets that are so popular now. My point is that whatever wine does the trick is fine in order to introduce someone into the wine world. Human growth -- and evolution of taste-changes -- will usually see a shift to the less obvious. I see it -- the current love of sweet-tooth sipping -- as the first brick in the road of becoming a "traditional" wine lover.

Andrew, Lab Monkey
Please quit whining. If you can't find a wine that you like then simply make your own to your own tastes. Commercial producers will always follow market trends. They can't be blamed for that; they need to make a living.

chicago, IL
Funny… the only people I see drinking over the top, jam jar, high octane wines are the suburban, frat boy country club member lemmings who wheel their carts around Sam's with a Wine Spectator opened up to the high scoring, high alcohol fruit bombs that said publication loves to laud.

Drink, Memory, Writer, New York City, NY
I will soon be thirty, and my friends and fellow wine drinkers are all in their late twenties/early thirties. I don't know of one person who enjoys the high alcohol, sweet, juicy, wines of which you speak. Who are these people? The wine drinkers I know drink very food friendly wines, both with food and alone. Usually 12% alcohol. I prefer NY wines in part because the low alcohol equals more wine for me :)

Ray Krause, Vinificator
Westbrook Wine Farm, O'Neals, CA
If a wine shows equal excesses in fruit, acid, tannins, alcohol, and wood then it can only be called "balanced", yes? Not that we would know…

Heather Sanft, President
Lunenburg County Winery, Nova Scotia, Canada
Thank god for the young with their open minds and love of fun and exploring. They will undoubtedly make their own traditions as they settle into their own tastes. Traditional is wonderful but so often it breeds comments which come from people who are very stuck in their ways and unwilling to try anything other than what they have convinced themselves or been told by others they respect. Sometimes traditions are just plain old comforts and we are unwilling to change. Ahh to be young with the world as my oyster again. I raise my glass to the young and hope they don't just all fall into traditional thinking. I hope that some continue or end up loving all those wines that don't fit the category. Otherwise we are a boring old lot all thinking the same things and believing ourselves to be drinking blackcurrants and grapes and maybe chocolate in our Merlot and citrus and straw in our Chardonnay. Boring!

Pam Walden, Owner
Daedalus Cellars, Dundee, OR
Dear Alan,

I loved your article. Thank you. Pinot Noir is often referred to as a woman and while women come in every size and shape, so does Pinot Noir. Personally I'd rather drink a Katherine Hepburn or a Grace Kelly, than a Paris Hilton any day. They may not open up on the first night, but they'd be much more interesting in the long run.

Cabrilla Azulada
Athens, GA
I do think there is a division between wine consumers as Alan has sketched out, but it isn't generational. At least, I haven't observed it. I know many, many Boomers who love the "new California" style Cab Sauvignons and Chards, as well as the sugary fruit bombs from producers like Yellowtail. (Yes, I sat next to a 50-something woman at a wedding in Napa last week, and she told me Yellowtail was her husband’s and her house wine. o_0 ). And I (and many of my Gen-X cohorts) prefer French wines (in the "traditional" rather than the "Parker International Style"), and we chowhounds generally prefer to drink them with food. I don't actually know any Gen-Ys who drink wine.

In Burgundy many harvest with the leaves red or even gold. Those types of phenolics are pretty much out of reach in the New World. So we cold soak for color but then press away the parts they keep, because the tannins are so green they defy integration. Meanwhile sugar readings deliver that New World alcohol/acid/tannin profile Mr. Goldfarb decries.

MW, Proprietor
Winery, Central Coast, CA
IS MR. ROBERT PARKER COMPLETELY WRONG - Excerpt from Sunset Magazine Article:

Back at the Greystone tasting, were all waiting to see what Parker thinks of the 19 wines he’s chosen as the California Cults. And we want to see how our opinions of the wines compare to his. He tastes. We taste. Are the wines three, five, 10 times as good as their $50 counterparts? No. That’s why they call cult wines a phenomenon. But are they good? Yes, and how powerful, complex, elegant. All harbor the hefty levels of alcohol that distinguish most California Cabernets from their French cousins. But, while many possess almost shameless layers of ripe fruit, others are leaner, almost Bordeaux-like testimony to the diversity, not the monotony, of Parkers taste. As for Parker, affable and unassuming, he minimizes his influence over winemaking styles. “Hey, I’m a fruit guy. I’m only one opinion, but wine is made from fruit. It needs to have fruit.” Still, he makes a striking pronouncement, sure to ruffle some feathers in Bordeaux: “I think people need to come to terms with the fact that California Cabs are better wines.”
...nuff said.

MW, Proprietor
Winery, Central Coast, CA
I could write all day on this subject but I won't because I agree with Morgan [comment #9] from Amocat Cellars....YAWN. This subject is so old. You guys at APPELLATION AMERICA are starting to get on my nerves. Do you have a vendetta or are you just having serious writer's block? Come up with something fresh to write about, sheesh. So, just find other wines to enjoy that are made in your preferred style and QUIT complaining all together. Why can’t you do that? Are there not a bazillion wines to choose from these days? Why do wine writers even waste their time and ours by putting these thoughts to paper? Just purchase the wines you enjoy and shut up about the ones you don't. Better yet, go out there and make some yourself... it ain't so easy there, bub.

Kelly, 30-something "traditional" wine lover
Great Article Mr. Goldfarb. Thanks!

As for MW [comment #29]:

If APPELLATION AMERICA is getting on your nerves so much, perhaps take some of your own advice…

“So, just find other wines articles to enjoy that are made written in your preferred style and QUIT complaining all together.”... bub

Alan Goldfarb, Senior Editor
Appellation America, Napa, CA
It's humbling and gratifying to see that so many of you have responded to what I had intended to be a statement of what I see happening in this country apropos wine consumption, and where I see it headed.

Despite the subject, which inherently seems to have divided us, I've come to understand that indeed, we now seem to have a wine culture in America. That is something that I never expected to see in my lifetime. But what concerns me most is that because of your new-found love for wine, the market will continue to produce what I think are unbalanced wines.

However, what I've come to understand after reading your comments – in addition to knowing that there is a fair segment out there that agrees with me – is that a younger generation too rails against homogenization; and you seek wines that are an adjunct to food.

As part of my work, as a consultant to a restaurant in San Francisco that caters to a demographic that is late-20s-late 40s – well under my age group – I know there are a goodly number of you who relish the idea of drinking a Tempranillo, a Riesling, an Albarino, a Pinot Blanc, or a Malbec. I hope you'll continue to try wines of diversity. Despite what you might think, I'm not stuck in the past. Because when I go to a restaurant, I'm always – always – seeking out Gruners and Nortons and Seyval Blancs, and their ilk. I'm excited by those wines, and relish the challenge of finding good ones.

All I was saying (sounds like the start of a song from my generation), is that I hope American winemakers, as well as their new consumers, get the opportunity to produce and taste well-made wines that are nuanced, unique, and wonderful. None of us should have to drink wines that one cannot separate from another.

Finally, I hope you never tire of learning about what wines can bring, and I hope that you continue to love wines as I have these last 35 years.

I once asked the great California patriarch Andre Tchelistcheff, when he was 90, "Why do you keep working?" He responded, "Because everyday I learn something new."

~ Alan Goldfarb

Terry Hughes, blogger, New York, NY
I feel your pain on this, Alan, but I have to agree with those, such as Dr. Debs [comment #18], who say you're generalizing a bit radically and may be barking up the wrong tree.

New York isn't America, as they say, but I have observed the aversion of younger people here to the now-old-school hedonistic fruit bombs and such. They want fruit but they want a freshness that is lacking from the wines you decry. I think their form of snobbery is to find wines from obscure grapes and regions and brag about it... sort of like dropping your year abroad in Tibet into the conversation.

I have long felt that the Parker Gen's (my gen too, I am 62 today) tastes were the Coke and Kool-Aid influenced, with a bow to America's long tradition of loving oaky dark sweetish spirits (rum, whiskeys). Tastes are changing, and my feeling is that they are reverting to a more classic profile.

I also think some of the comments about "educating" people to appreciate the great wines of the old world miss an important point: unless Daddy's rich, really rich, young Sean or Caitlin will never be educated in that particular form of wine appreciation. That wasn't so when I was a lad. But the kids are finding their own way, and I for one believe it's a valid and exciting one.

Spoken as one old fart to another, of course.

Greg , owner-winemaker
T-Vine Cellars, Calistoga, CA
Wow, here we are again... one of our own finding the negative when there is so much positive to say about the new generation of winemakers (I can’t consider myself one of those any more). I love what Thomas Brown, Dave (prisoner), Jamey Whetstone and countless others are doing within our industry... unusual, vineyard focused wines that have great character and reflect love of art.

Being a part of the industry for 25 years and a consumer for nearly 30 years I’m always amazed when I have an opportunity to taste a table full of open wines... nearly every one being (in my opinion) better than the tannic, lean (maybe this will be good in 10 years) wines we drank in the 70s and 80s. I’m not saying there are not some over the top wines, as there have been in every era, however, if you don’t like those don’t drink em.

I have over 18 lots in barrels from the 07 vintage and only 3 are over 14.5% alc and 2 are in the 13% range (all reds).

I have a shot of J.D. or tequila from time to time so I don’t have a problem with a percent here or there!

Cheers... enjoy the privilege of being a part of this extraordinary art form of wine.

Arthur Z. Przebinda, Founder and Publisher, CA
Terry [comment #32],

I agree that blogging about a $3000 (+?) bottle of La Tache is not feasible and represents a bizarre curiosity to the average reader, but there are plenty of good to great old world wine under the $50 mark that represent the character of their region and can be instructive and don't require one to be a trust fund kid to afford. I think comment about education is too dismissive and overlooks the opportunity (and the responsibility) wine bloggers have.

The education of the neophyte wine lover is the responsibility of everyone who writes about wine. Bloggers and internet wine writers/commentators have the platform and opportunity to do more than just deliver partisan opinion. People seek out free wine education information. My site's wine learning resources are responsible for a very large part of my daily traffic. Blogs and websites like APPELLATION AMERICA should (and some do) include robust, accessible, accurate and understandable wine educational content. It benefits everyone.

This is not a jab at you or your blog, but it’s very easy to open a blogger or word press account and start posting (or spouting). If the requirements of starting a blog or website included putting up good educational background material, there would be a lot less takers willing to jump up on their virtual soap box.

Keith Pritchard, proprietor/winemaker
Slate Run Vineyard, OH
A lot of this started with the over sterile approach forwarded by UC
Davis and even Emile Peynaud. Then they got the idea a lot of sun on the
grapes is good to ripen up everything equally and this makes better
fruity wines. More like less complex and simple to me, as not as many
different compounds are available. Some vegetal characters are good and
enjoyable. Like a lot of things, a little of the approach is good, a lot
of it swings the pendulum too far. Which is where we are now.

All this is combined with over worked palates of wine critics that require a lot
of punch in the wine to get the neurons firing in the brain. A lot of
people for some reason like to be told what is good. Unfortunately they
are being told by people who make a living tasting too much resulting in
a lot of palate fatigue.

As to response comment #23, he forgot sugar is
needed to balance, which would make the wine a dessert wine.

The reason
grapes are different from other fruit is that they contain a lot of
compounds so that when fermented make a wine of much more complexity
than the simple fruit they are made from. Otherwise just give them some
juice and a bottle of vodka, it amounts to about the same thing. It's
all about making something greater than the components that go in to
making a good wine.

All in all, I see it more as a matter of education
and trying to dispel some ignorance being proffered. If some people see
trying to seek complexity, balance, variety, and quality as snobbery
then maybe they should go back to drinking Budweiser and Pina Coladas.
They would enjoy them more and are a lot cheaper.

Kearna, Hospitality Manager
Ballentine Vineyards, St. Helena, CA
Wouldn't it be beautiful if wines could be made with both styles in mind? Here, we have the young, fruit forward style as well as the more structured old-world wine you spoke of. Cheers!

Christine Rorden, Owner
Cantiga Wineworks, Fair Play, CA
Dear Alan,

You chose a really interesting topic, and I enjoyed the article. If I may, I'd like to contribute an observation from the perspective of a winery that does not conform to the popular trends. At Cantiga we set out to make wine for the dinner table. We regularly talk with young customers who say they do not drink wine with dinner. However, most of them give the reason that they simply have trouble finding wines that go well with food! We find that our visitors in their 50s and up often appreciate and seek out classically-styled wines, which obviously pleases us. Even more encouraging is that the younger crowd, enthusiastic about educating their palates, are generally very open to trying new things. Tasting food-friendly, aged wines is an eye-opening experience for many of them, and we suspect that as they gain the financial means, they will eventually become great customers of these wines. In conclusion, I think that consumer tastes are largely shaped by what is available, and if wineries stick to their guns and try to re-educate the younger generation, that has had limited exposure to quality wines, the market is ripe for a return to "food wines."

Ed McCarthy, author, wine journalist
Wine For Dummies (Wiley), New York, NY
Dear Alan,

Well done, you, as the Brits say! If enough of us keep complaining about the high-alcohol sweet berry juice passing for wine these days, perhaps wine producers will start getting the message.