Do younger wine drinkers prefer imported wine?

One study says they do – which means the California wine business could be ever more dependent on aging Baby Boomers

Do younger wine drinkers prefer imported wine to that made in California? That’s a tantalizing thought – and one that may be true, given a recent Wine Opinions study.

The survey queried more than 1,500 people who are part of the organization's wine panel, looking for age and gender differences in who buys imported wine. And there may be significant differences based on how old they were. Respondents younger than 40 were more frequent purchasers of imported wine than those 40 and older – and that held true for each of the seven countries in the survey.

Most interestingly:

• France: Almost three-quarters of those under 40 had made "several" or "frequent" purchases in the past year, compared to 56 percent of those older than 40.

• Italy: 72 percent vs. 63 percent.

• Spain: 56 percent to 49 percent.

The point, says Wine Opinions’ John Gillespie, is not that older wine drinkers don’t buy imported wine. Of course they do.

But if younger wine drinkers – who drink less wine overall than their elders – buy more imported wine, then they’re probably buying less California wine. And that’s not a good sign for the future of California wine, if it means its future depends on an aging, Baby Boomer customer base.

“The age differences are more important, in my opinion, than the gender differences we also found, which really weren’t significant,” says Gillespie, who added that Millennials have consistently bought more imported wine, especially from France, over the past several years.

“I think the love affair with California wines among Boomers goes all the way back to their early days of wine drinking, with wines like Hearty Burgundy, Almaden Mountain Red, etc.,” he said in an e-mail. “As the California wine industry grew in the ‘70s and ‘80s, the Boomers were there, trying every new thing that came along, and they are still very loyal.”

The other thing that I find intriguing? It’s easier to buy California wine – the labels are in English and the grapes used in the wine are on the label. This usually isn’t the case for European wines; unless you know what you’re doing, buying a Rioja or a red Rhone can be a crap shoot. Yet younger wine drinkers are doing it anyway. Is there a lesson California is missing there?