New Research Study Highlights Motivational Differences of Wine Consumers by Generation


by Madeleine Rose

Expert Editorial

As a consumer, shopping for wine can be overwhelming. The aisles are full of wine bottles, each with a different label, color scheme, bottle shape, region, varietal, price point, and more. Your eyes scan the bottles and pause on one and then another. You like Cabernet Sauvignon, but you also like Syrah. Perhaps that Merlot might be good. You’re familiar with Napa and Bordeaux, but you’re curious about wines from Paso Robles and Washington. With so many options available to wine drinking consumers, researchers are curious about the most impactful motivational factors that influence wine consumer purchases. What’s more, as there are currently three dominant wine drinking generations – Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Millennials – researchers have been studying how the differences between these generations impact their wine purchase decisions.


As part of a Sonoma State University Wine MBA class research project, 109 wine consumers completed an online survey regarding wine motivations and decision-making. The total sample included 46% Millennials, 31% Gen Xers, and 32% Baby Boomers. Sixty-three percent claimed “to have some knowledge of wine,” and 47% were high-frequency wine drinkers, meaning they consume wine at least once a week or more often. The majority were from California.

Results – Wine Drinking Motivations Differ by Generation

A major component of the survey was to analyze why the three different generations consumed wine (see Graph 1).  Respondents were given a list of reasons to drink wine, and the three top scoring reasons were “To Relax, To Socialize, and Pair with Food.” The results were rather surprising in that Millennials scored the highest with the motivation of “To Relax,” at 74% of the respondents, followed by Socialization at 67% and Food Pairing at 57%.  The highest scoring reason for Baby Boomers was Socialization at 72%, followed by Food Pairing at 66% and Relaxation at 59%. Interestingly, Gen Xers were more divided on the question, but showed the most interest in Socialization at 65%, followed by Relaxation at 55%, and were not very interested in Food Pairing at 35%. These results suggest the subtle differences in these generations, with Millennials wanting to take more time to relax and enjoy life as opposed to their hard-charging Baby Boomer parents who were more interested in socializing, and least in relaxation. Gen Xers, with their penchant for independence, showed the least interest in all three areas.

Graph 1: Motivations to Drink Wine by Generation

Motivations to Drink Wine by Generation

Results – Generations Focus on Different Cues for Wine Purchases

The survey also included questions on how respondents decide which wine to purchase. Based on previous research, the eight major decision-making cues of price, region, ratings, varietal, winemaking, packaging, peer recommendation, and winery story were used (Graph 2). The results illustrate the percentage of respondents by generation that selected each decision-making cue. This shows that price and winemaking are most important for Baby Boomers, whereas price and peer recommendations were more important for Gen Xers. Millennials, on the other hand, used packaging first, followed by peer recommendations. The least important decision-making cues for these survey respondents were grape variety and ratings.

Graph 2: Wine Purchasing Decision Cues by Generation

Wine Purchasing Decision Cues by Generation

These results correspond with other wine marketing research. For example, one previous study (Henley et al., 2011) found that Millennials are attracted to pretty and unique packaging, i.e. fancy bottles, labels, font, artwork, and color, more so than older consumers. Another study (Olsen et al., 2006), found that Gen Xers hold peer recommendations to a higher degree than they do wine expert ratings. In this study Baby Boomers identified Ratings as more important than the other generations, and this is a similar finding to Nissan (2012) who discovered that Baby Boomers are more likely to be influenced by wine ratings than either Gen Xers or Millennials. Finally, price appeared to be important to all three cohorts, but especially Baby Boomers and Gen Xers, which is consistent with other research (Thach & Chang, 2016; Lockshin & Hall, 2003).

Implications for Wine Marketers

Though this was a small survey using a convenience sample, the results of this survey are consistent with other wine marketing research, and therefore suggest several key implications for wine marketers.

For Baby Boomers:

  • Baby Boomers like wine to socialize and pair with food, so suggest food pairings on the label, website, newsletter, or shelf talker. Show advertising with multiple people – ideally enjoying wine with food.
  • Baby Boomers pay more attention to ratings than other generations, so make sure to include this information on advertising materials.
  • Winemaking methods are also more important to Baby Boomers than other generations, so care should be taken to impart this information in both face to face settings as well as promotion materials.

For Gen Xers:

  • Gen Xers are most interested in drinking wine in social situations, so this should be the emphasis in any wine promotional situation with this cohort.
  • Just like Millennials, Gen X takes its purchasing cues from peer recommendations, so encouraging Gen Xers to document their wine opinions on wine apps or social media is a good way to promote this.
  • As a wine retailer or producer, think about organizing a social gathering where people can enjoy your product while mingling with their friends. For instance, maybe host a game night or a movie night, and then encourage photo taking and posting on social media sites.

For Millennials:

  • Millennials are most likely to drink wine to relax, so try to convey an image of a relaxing atmosphere where people can enjoy your wine. Perhaps, it will be an image of your establishment, or it will be an advertisement that you post on social media.
  • Millennials are attracted by unique packaging, so consider modifying your packaging or promotion materials to catch their attention. Perhaps launch a new brand focused on Millennials, and use distinctive packaging such as cans, mini-kegs, unique graphic design, or augmented reality labels.
  • Since Millennials grew up in the age of the Internet, make sure to maintain a strong social media presence. Encourage customers to post about your featured product or brand in order to spread brand awareness.

Selected References:

  • Henley, C. D., Fowler, D. C., Yuan, J., Stout, B. L., & Goh, B. K. (2011). Label design: impact on millennials’ perceptions of wine. International Journal of Wine Business Research, 23(1), 7-20.
  • Lockshin, L., & Hall, J. (2003). Consumer purchasing behaviour for wine: what we know and where we are going (Doctoral dissertation, University of South Australia, Wine Marketing Research Group).
  • Nissen, K. (2012). Influences on Wine Purchases: A Comparison Between Millennials and Prior Generations (Doctoral dissertation, California Polytechnic State University).
  • Olsen, J., Thach, L., & Nowak, L. (2006, July). Consumer socialization of US wine consumers. In Paper to be presented at the 3rd International Wine Business Conference, Montpellier, France. Olsen, J. , Thach And, L. , & Nowak, L. (2007). Wine for my generation: Exploring how us wine consumers are socialized to wine. Journal of Wine Research, 18(1), 1-18.
  • Thach, L. & Chang, K. (2016). Adventure, Tradition, and Semi-Sweet Wines Highlighted in 2016 American Wine Consumer Survey., Dec. 6, 2016.

Madeleine RoseExpert Editorial
by Madeleine Rose, Marketing Manager at Laird Family Estate

“Madeleine Rose was born and raised in California. She is the Marketing Manager at Laird Family Estate, where she has worked for nearly eight years. Prior to that, Madeleine graduated from UC San Diego, with a Bachelor’s Degree in History. After graduating, she decided to pursue a career in the wine industry. In 2010, Madeleine completed the intermediate and advanced levels of the Wine & Spirit Education Trust. Shortly after that, she moved back to Northern California and began working in the tasting room at Laird Family Estate. She recently attended Sonoma State University and graduated from the Wine MBA program. It was there where she completed this research as part of her Bus 545W class with Dr. Liz Thach, MW. For a full copy of her research report, please contact her at”