The Grapelord of Napa Faces a Threat Worse Than Plague

One balmy winter afternoon, Andy Beckstoffer, a grape grower who has done more than nearly anyone to shape the premium U.S. wine industry, was sitting in Mustard’s, a restaurant in Napa Valley that is a kind of clubhouse for the vintner class. Although Beckstoffer Vineyards, the largest private grower in California, had recently set a sales record with a blockbuster harvest of $55 million worth of cabernet sauvignon, its founder was not in the mood to celebrate. The wine industry was in trouble, facing its worst outlook in generations — and that was before the coronavirus struck.

The generation born between 1981 and 1996 has been blamed for killing everything from napkins to homeownership, and thanks to its passion for hard seltzer, liquid marijuana and other drinkable novelties, it’s been cast as the murder hornet of the wine industry as well. Mr. Beckstoffer finds their health-crazed rituals (Drynuary?) puzzling.

“Wine is plant-based,” he said, shaking his head and picking mirthlessly at a spinach and mushroom burger. “Why don’t the millenniums drink it?”

A few weeks later, Mr. Beckstoffer’s anxiety was borne out by the publication of Silicon Valley Bank’s annual report on the U.S. wine industry — probably the most influential analysis of its kind. For years, its author, Rob McMillan, has preached about the alarming convergence of two trends: higher and higher bottle prices at the premium end of the market, and millennial indifference. Some farmers and winemakers have brushed Mr. McMillan off, and this time, he amped up the urgency, writing plainly: “The issue of greatest concern for the wine business today is the lack of participation in the premium wine category by the large millennial generation.”

The people who make wine don’t just age grape juice, they ripen customers, too, helping them evolve from undergraduate jug-swillers into middle-aged buyers of prestige labels. That process, Mr. McMillan says, appears to have stalled. Even as their purchases of other luxury goods have increased, millennials have balked at high-priced cabernets, which combined with the coronavirus makes 2020 “the worst time since Prohibition for fine wine producers in the United States.”

Hell, if I can’t afford Napa Cab, how can the Millennials?


This was dissected a couple weeks back.

there was a long thread about this article when it came out last month