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America Hits a Wine Milestone Surpassing France in Consumption;
 Millennial Generation Comes of Age Pushing Aside Generation X Preferences

By Fred Tasker, The Miami HeraldMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

April 07, 2011--Has the world turned upside-down? News reports say the French are leading the NATO bombing campaign in Libya, and the United States just surpassed France in total wine consumption.

U.S. aficionados last year sipped 330 million 12-bottle cases, compared to 321 million for France, according to industry consultants Gomberg, Fredrikson & Assoc. Through recession, oil spill and war, the United States increased wine consumption for the 17th straight year, even if it was only by a scant 1 percent.

It's a generational thing, as the Milllennial generation comes of age, pushing aside their Generation X predecessors, who tended to prefer fancy vodkas and tequilas.

We're drinking more wine these days and the French are drinking less -- for a bunch of reasons.

"It's the Millennials, the kids 21 to 25," says Chip Cassidy, chief wine buyer for Crown Wine & Spirits' 29 South Florida shops and a wine professor at Florida International University's hospitality school. "They're a new force. We run seven classes a year at FIU, with 40 students each, and they're all full. These kids are just so attentive and interested in learning about wines."

The rise to the top has been a long time coming. The average U.S. adult drank a gallon of wine a year in 1970. Today it's three gallons, according to the Wine Market Council. (The French do still beat us per-capita, sipping five bottles each to our one. But they're going down and we're going up.)

Beer consumption, on the other hand, has declined slightly in the United States for each of the past three years -- albeit to a mere three billion cases, according to the Beverage Information Group. The slump is led by light beer.

The recession has had an effect. Moderately priced wines are doing much better than the high-priced stuff. Still, "core" wine drinkers -- those who have a glass of the grape at least once a week -- increased from 43 percent of all wine fans in 2000 to 57 percent in 2010, the council said.

The most enthusiastic wine fans are Baby Boomers, now ages 46 to 65, who bought one of every four bottles sold in America last year. Younger boomers led the way, increasing wine consumption by 11 percent since 2000, while older boomers increased consumption by 6.7 percent on average. Overall, wine drinkers who are increasing their consumption tend to like cabernet sauvignon and merlot. Those who are decreasing consumption tended to like white zinfandel or blush wines.

Generation X, born between 1965 to 1981, now ages 30 to 45, came late to drinking wine, but is starting to catch up.

At first, Cassidy says, "Generation X turned to fancy vodkas and beers and tequilas."

The wine industry is pinning its real hopes on the Millennial generation, born 1982 to 2001, as it comes of age. Already, it has added 54 million adults to the U.S. population, with another 16 million to come over the next decade.

Millennials tend to be the children of Boomers, and they are learning their lessons well. They are adopting wine faster than any previous generation, the Wine Market Council says. They're relatively affluent, with total annual income of $200 billion, and can expect to inherit $17.8 trillion from previous generations, according to a Nielsen survey.

Also, the council says, "They have been impacted less severely by the economic downturn than older generations and are sustaining their taste for wine."

Millennials are digitally connected, with two-thirds using Facebook and one-quarter on MySpace, YouTube and Twitter. They use social media to seek information about new varieties, prices, and where to buy it. Of those who have smart phones, 39 percent have wine, food, restaurant or bar apps.

They also tend to go straight to red wine rather than from sweet to white to red, as have previous generations.

"I grew up drinking wine because my father taught me about it," said Alice Price, 24, a West Kendall print shop manager. "I got used to good wine. It made me a pretty expensive date."


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