Boomers' love of wine propels U.S. industry

Posted: Friday, April 02, 2004

NEW YORK (AP) When Gregg Wurdeman wants a glass of wine with dinner, he has a big selection at his fingertips. His new custom-built house includes a special wine refrigerator that holds up to 175 bottles.

The 51-year-old business consultant spent more than $2,000 on a high-end, glass-doored wine cellar, which can store everything from $15 bottles of merlot to $100 bottles of champagne at the precisely correct temperature.

''It's part of our life and reflects my love of wine,'' said the suburban Dallas resident. ''This way the wine is right there, and I don't have to go out in the garage to get a bottle when friends come over.''

Baby boomers like Wurdeman account for the bulk of serious wine drinkers in the United States, according to industry and research groups. The generation, which consists of those Americans born between 1946 and 1964, first began drinking wine as young adults and their interest as well as consumption and spending has increased since then.

People in their 40s drank an average of 14 bottles of wine in 2000, while people in their 50s consumed 16 bottles, according to MKF Research, a wine industry research group. Outside the boomer demographic, people in their 60s consumed an average of 15 bottles, and people in their 30s drank an average of 10 bottles.

''Boomers came to wine as much as a reaction against the three-martini lunch of their parents as to create a statement of their own,'' said John Gillespie, president of the Wine Market Council, a nonprofit industry trade group. ''Virtually every taste and lifestyle choice made by the boomers in the 1970s was something to set them apart from their parents ... whether it was bellbottoms, flower power or wine.''

Vic Motto, an investment banker and founding partner of MKF Research, said that until the boomer generation, wine drinking was relatively unusual in the United States and confined mostly to European immigrants whose cultures embraced the practice. He said boomers' interest in other cultures and their desire to experience things unique have made wine-drinking more popular.

''Baby boomers tend to have a taste for handcrafted products, for premium products. They're willing to spend,'' Motto said. ''And, of course, with wine, any price you want to pay or quality level exists. We make wine from $2 to hundreds of dollars per bottle.''

Those tastes translate into a market for top-of-the-line wine gadgets.

''Boomers are the core of our business,'' said Jody Tullos, a spokeswoman for International Wine Accessories, which sells wine cellars starting at $200. ''They tend to be connoisseurs who want to protect their investment.''

Wine also has healthy living appeal. Some researchers believe moderate red wine consumption can improve heart health, and many boomers say wine is just easier to drink.

''It just seems to me you can have a glass or two of wine and not feel like you've consumed too much,'' said Hollis Hope, a 45-year-old communications coordinator in Boulder, Colo. ''I think I also believe the European philosophy that a glass of wine is probably helpful to your health, though that's not the main reason I drink it. I drink wine because I enjoy it.''

Wurdeman, who did not grow up in a wine-drinking household, says he occasionally drank the beverage when he was younger, but really became interested in wine in his 40s.

''What changed was my education and disposable income,'' he recalled. ''When I was younger, I didn't drink wine that much. I tended to drink more hard liquor and beer.''

Today, he enjoys a glass of red wine perhaps a pinot noir or a cabernet several times a week. His budget per bottle has increased too, and he'll occasionally splurge on a $100 bottle of wine for a very special occasion. But most LhPJhRZJXPJf'J 1/4Hf LBdXJff 1/4 hNfDJFZJBLj 1/4NBZJLdZJ 1/4LR 1/4HhPJDJfhnR 1/4JfFB 1/4 LR 1/4HXnPJhPJdhPJrDJFBDf, merlots, pinot noirs, or whatever, for under $25,'' he said. ''That forces me to educate myself and to try different wines.''

That interest in education is a common trait among baby boomers, according to Wayne Belding, co-owner of the Boulder Wine Merchant, a wine store in Boulder, Colo.

''They want more service and they want more information,'' Belding said. ''Every wine has a story behind it, and they want to hear it.''

The most significant contribution to the wine industry by boomers, however, may be the next generation.

''Just in the past few years, we've seen an interest by younger adults in their 20s and 30s ... and they're entering the category at the premium level, rather than at flavored wines or wine coolers,'' Motto says. ''These are the children of the baby boomers, and they are drinking wine because they saw their parent drink wine.''

That's what happened to Ryan Stone, a 27-year-old public relations representative in Chicago, who grew up watching his dad drink and collect wine.

Stone estimates he has about four bottles of wine at home, each priced in the $10 to $20 range.

''I would say that I'm unusual in that regard. Not all of my friends drink wine,'' he said. ''But I definitely learned this from my dad. I can taste the difference, and I really appreciate a good wine that complements a meal.''

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