As a millennial in the wine world, much of it can leave me feeling like a sapling in an old-growth forest. However, Asia’s wine scene (especially China’s and India’s) is throbbing with young blood. Known for their technophilia, health-consciousness and willingness to embrace a new, personalised style of luxury, Asian millennials are in some ways the dream market the wine industry has been waiting for. Here, we dig into factors driving the youthful embrace of wine in Asia and suggest some wines to share with your favourite under-40s.
Wine is healthy (ish): Though doubtlessly overplayed in the media, the wine-health link dovetails nicely with millennials’ well-documented wellness fixation. Some studies show health is still the primary reason for wine consumption in China among both younger and older generations. Of course, in India and China wine may be helped by flattering comparisons to whisky and baijiu, the dominant intoxicants in those markets.
However, in markets like Japan and South Korea, and pockets of China, a general interest in “purity” has driven the trend for natural and low-intervention wines. Hong Dongmyung, 37, owner of the Inchon wine bar in Seoul, agrees that natural wines, regardless of origin, have an easy time finding a market there.
Wine is online now: E-commerce is mainly a factor in Mainland China, where giants like Alibaba (Tmall, Taobao and now 1919.com) and JD.com have smoothed the path for millennials outside first-tier cities to access a world of new wine options. Although big brands like Torres, Jacob’s Creek and Penfolds dominate the big platforms, more nuanced selections from such regions as Sicily, the Douro Valley and Mendoza are available from sites like Vinehoo.com, a blog and e-commerce hybrid targeting young wine lovers. However, in many other markets, including South Korea, Taiwan and India, online wine sales remain illegal.
There’s a home team to support: Ian Dai, a 30-year-old wine buyer-slash-winemaker formerly of Amazon China, recently released the first vintage of his Ningxia wine range, Petite Garden, which they sell primarily to under-35s. He says that while earlier generations might have eschewed “made in China,” younger consumers have championed China-grown and China-made products. Meanwhile, premium Indian winery Sula has established a rock-solid connection with Indian millennials through its youth-friendly brand ambassadors, packaging and sponsorship of Sula Fest, a decade-old wine and music festival.
Wine is the OG of story-driven marketing: Before craft beer and microbreweries, who actually knew the name of the person who brewed their beer (Samuel Adams isn’t an answer)? Because of the wine industry’s fragmentation, it has had to trade on personal stories since the days when Barbe-Nicole Clicquot Ponsardin flogged her champagne to the Russian court of the 1810s.
Isabella Ko, 28, of The Merchants Beijing, a highly successful e-tailer turned physical retailer, has taken the idea to the next level by devoting her entire space to one wine range and its story each month. In March, she focused on wine estates run by Chinese millennials, including Howard Kwok (son of Hong Kong billionaire Peter Kwok) of Chateau Tour Saint Christophe in Bordeaux, Ling Lang of Dominio de Cair in Spain’s Ribera del Duero, and Lee Su and Leo Guo of Nocton Vineyard in Tasmania.