Today’s wine drinker is not who you might expect. You’ll still find ladies-who-lunch sipping their Chardonnays and snooty “cork dorks” sniffing out barnyard aromas in Burgundies from obscure wineries.
But today’s wine drinker is also a 20-year-old uncorking a Chianti for the first time, a young professional enjoying a food-friendly Riesling, a mid-lifer embarking on a wine country adventure and the retiree sharing a half-litre of B.C. red in a pub.
In short, today’s wine drinker is everyone you know.
“There’s no doubt that Canada is now a wine-drinking, wine-loving nation,” says Natalie MacLean, the Ottawa-based editor of the wine newsletter Nat Decants (www.nataliemaclean.com) and author of the bestselling book Red, White and Drunk All Over. “We’re not only drinking more wine than ever, but we’re also drinking better-quality wines from a wider range of regions.”
Statistics show each Canadian consumes an average of 10.6 litres of wine annually.
Over the past five years, wine consumption has increased about three per cent, while beer and spirits consumption has decreased.
Leading the growth are the so-called “millennials,” the 19-to-30-year-olds whose social lives revolve around going out to pubs, lounges and restaurants.
“Younger people are choosing wine at an earlier age than previously,” says DJ Kearney, a Vancouver sommelier instructor and wine consultant.
Typically, she says, a young drinker used to start exploring with beer, then spirits and finally wine, beginning with what she calls “wine with training wheels,” fruity, off-dry wines such as Liebfraumilch or white Zinfandel.
Now, Kearney says, “young drinkers are moving to wine sooner than ever in their drinking evolution, and not necessarily through the ‘training wheel’ phase with soft, fruity wines, but heading for more robust, slightly more expensive wines sooner.”
Of course it’s not just the youngsters who are drinking wine.
“Affluent baby boomers are willing to spend money on lifestyle products and they’re knowledgeable about wine’s health benefits in moderation,” MacLean says. “More Canadians of all ages are drawn to epicurean travel and therefore sample great wines.”
The development of Canada’s own wine industry — in B.C., Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia — has been a contributing factor to the increased popularity of wine. It has brought attention to a homegrown product that’s unique, delicious and affordable.
Indeed, the growth of quality value wines from around the world has been a significant contributor to the growth in wine consumption.
“Globally, over the past 10 to 15 years, the wine industry has made a shift to producing a new tier of wines that are well-priced and already drinkable without having to be aged,” says Leeann Clemens, a wine industry professional in Vancouver.
“There’s no fear or risk, and you don’t need to know vintages.”
At the Queen’s Cross Pub in North Vancouver, for instance, co-owner Chris Greenfield has noticed a huge growth in wine sales, especially among younger customers. When he chooses his wines, he’s careful to follow trends — which right now skew toward reds from B.C., California and Argentina — but he also has to keep his wine list within a price point that will sell.
“People aren’t going to the pub to drink a $100 wine,” Greenfield says. “But it’s pretty common for people to come in and have a $50 bottle of wine with food.”
There are two other important factors contributing to our evolving wine culture.
First, we’ve become more adventurous. Consumers are increasingly seeking out wines from Israel, Tasmania or Patagonia, says Kearney, who’s also seeing “a tidal wave of interest and support” for sustainably farmed, organic and biodynamic wines.
Second, the average consumer has become more informed about wine, about its varietals, regions, techniques, etiquette, and accoutrements like proper glassware. And that consumer wants to know even more.
“Our International Sommelier Guild classes are slammed here at VCC (Vancouver Community College),” Kearney says. “They are full of students in the wine profession as well as serious amateurs who seek more precise, formalized knowledge of how to buy smarter, drink better, what to cellar, how to pair food and wine . . . The thirst is insatiable.”
And why not? As MacLean puts it, “Wine is one of the greatest pleasures in life and judging by our consumption and appreciation of it, Canadians are living better than ever.”