Boomers vs. BeatBox
"The kids may be alright, but wine sure the fuck isn’t!"
Every year for the last two decades, an executive at Silicon Valley Bank named Rob McMillan has published a report called “State of the U.S. Wine Industry.” It’s a massive document filled with research and polling and sales data about the business of American wine, and insiders and analysts alike consider it bellwether on how things are going, oenologically speaking. As it has been for the past several years, the 2022 edition painted a pretty dire picture for the future of the U.S. wine industry.1 Aside from the standard headwinds, the biggest, most intractable problem McMillan2 sees for the category—and particularly its volume-driving sub-$15, “starter” bottle segment—is one you could probably guess even if you’ve never read a page of the SVB report.
Namely, old people drink a lot of wine, and young people don’t, and the former is apt to die a lot sooner than the latter. I swear that’s only slightly more crass than McMillan, a boomer himself, puts it (emphasis mine):
The median boomers are now on the other side of their normal retirement age of 66, and the spend in that cohort will have to decline unless they somehow get a reprieve from death and taxes.
Rob’s got jokes! About the inexorable march towards death that characterizes the human condition! A man after this boozeletter’s heart, he is. Anyway, being as how I know way less than wine than spirits or beer, I spent some time with this year’s 102-page report this past week. It’s a very thorough document, with colorful charts screaming “the kids may be alright, but wine sure the fuck isn’t!” from a variety of different angles. Like this one, which shows that younger millennial/Gen Z drinkers are more likely to bring White Claw to a party than white Zin:
Okay, I’m editorializing slightly, but you get the point. If you’re interested in the American wine business, I recommend reading all of McMillan’s 2022 dispatch in full, or at least skimming it while ignoring everyone on your next Zoom. It’s great! But once I was about halfway through it, I started getting a nagging feeling that something was missing. A little CMD+F-ing confirmed that neither “BeatBox” nor “BuzzBallz” appeared even once in the entire report.3 With respect to Mister McMillan,4 omitting these rapidly growing wine-based brands from an industry report sounding the alarm on younger drinkers’ apparent lack of interest in wine feels like a missed opportunity. Here’s why.